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Straight Acting for the Gay Actor

We learn through our training what our habits are. However, for us gay men, our habits are sometimes more distracting than most. How often have you sat in a theatre watching an actor play Macbeth and thought to yourself, “This man is gayer than cum on a mustache?”

nathanlaneCALEB MCMULLEN ON PLAYING STRAIGHT FOR PAY

I am a proud homosexual. I like my jeans tight and my sexuality loose. I like to sing Whitney Houston power ballads at the top of my lungs (Buddha rest her soul). I still believe I’m going to have a private love affair with Zac Efron who will eventually pay me to keep me quiet. But, I am also an actor. And being an actor requires me to be able to present myself as a ‘white canvas’. We spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to achieve this neutral state of being so that the director can mould us through our imaginations, so that we can effectively embody a creature completely different than ourselves.

We learn through our training what our habits are. However, for us gay men, our habits are sometimes more distracting than most. How often have you sat in a theatre watching an actor play Macbeth and thought to yourself, “This man is gayer than cum on a mustache?” (Happy Mo-Vember by the way)

When I was in theatre school, one of my directors pulled me into his office after watching me rehearse a scene in which I was playing a heterosexual man.

“Caleb, may I be frank? What is your sexual orientation?” He asked, casually leaning back in his reclining office chair.

I laughed silently in my head. During theatre school I was a flammy little homo with an affinity to wearing dressings and silicone boobies and calling myself Trinity DiMarco. I politely told him I was gay, something he clearly knew already.

“Well, here’s the thing: when you act, I know you’re gay. And I’m worried for you and for your career. There’re not a lot of gay roles out there and do you really want to be type-cast based on something as personal and irrelevant as your sexuality?”

It took me about thirty seconds to shed my affrontedness and understand that he truly had my best interests at heart. This director did me a huge favour. He pointed out that I act gay when I shouldn’t. He then proceeded to give me practical advice on how I can convincingly play a hetero.

THE VOICE

Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason and I was no exception. I had a very lovely, very effeminate voice. The only thing hard about it was my sibilant ‘S’s. Upon unbiased studying of my voice for several months, listening to the qualities that gave away my sexuality, I realized that there was much that I could do to condition my voice to mask my vocal eccentricities.

It’s the same thing we do when we study accents; we identify where the sounds come from. My hard sibilant ‘S’s were coming from an exertion of my tongue against the back of my upper teeth. I realized that I could soften this sound by placing the tip of my tongue closer to the roof of my mouth near the gum line. I also allowed for the tip of my tongue to use less muscular strength, making the ‘S’ sound a little lazier. I found that these small adjustments made a big difference in this consonant sound.

The other thing I had to learn was to not over-pronounce. Now, this is something that a lot of theatre trained actors do, but being a gay actor, the articulated sound wreaked havoc on my otherwise ‘straight’ performances.

I found that if I let my mouth relax, releasing any tension in my jaw, tongue and lips, that I actually created more space in my mouth (insert blowjob joke here). More space allowed for more vibrations to bounce around in there. More vibrations in the mouth allow for a rounder sound. In this regard, I had to stop thinking of my voice as an arrow that pierces, but as a wave that washes over the sand carrying with it a multitude of sounds that together create the beauty in what society glorifies as the ‘ideal male voice’. It’s not about deepness per say, but more about resonance.

THE BODY

I’m a floater. I float, moving from space to space, like a graceful butterfly (or like a turd that just won’t take the hint). However, when focusing on my heterosexual façade, I had to learn to anchor my body to the ground, put some weight in my steps and mould through the air (watch any Clint Eastwood movie). Now, this might seem like a rather general approach to learning how to move like a straight man, but there is real truth in it.

The cure for me was this: gain more weight. I started going to the gym. I put on fifteen pounds of muscle. I looked good and I felt good. I started to see a change in the way I naturally moved through space, specifically when I was just leaving the gym and was tired from my work out.

One day after several months of my weight training routine, I noticed my shadow extended in front of me, the sun receding behind my back. I watched my silhouette putting one foot in front of the other. I was weighted and grounded and without focusing or trying, I was walking like a straight man (or at least the way society has dictated that straight men should walk). Of course, after this realization I proceeded to squeal, jump up and down and then skip all the way home.

The other challenge I faced was an excess of gesticulation in performance. My hands gave me away. It’s almost as though my energy boiled over on stage and found itself dancing through my arms, into my wrists, my palms and my fingers. It was this abundance of upward energy that presented me as a gay actor playing a straight role. The excess gesticulation stemmed from an excess of energy and the answer was simple: be more tired.

So, I started doing push-ups before making my entrances on stage. I still do this, as many as one hundred to make sure that my body is exhausted. When I take the stage my body only has the energy to gesticulate with it is absolutely necessary (and justified) to do so. The other side-effect is that after eight shows a week, my chest, shoulders and arms are in fabulous shape.

THE BIG GAY CONCLUSION

Look, I love being gay and I have no problem sounding or acting “gay”. Get two drinks in me and I become the queen of the night (R.I.P. Whitney Houston). However, because I have decided to be an actor, I must know how to manipulate my voice and my body to facilitate the demands that my characters make of me. These are my tools, my crayons, and if I only have pink and purple in my crayon box, how will I ever be able to play blue, or red?

There is also an argument that has been thrown around (perhaps a couple of years ago now) that gay men can only play comedic stereotypes of straight men. However, what it really comes down to is this: If you are a good actor, then it doesn’t matter who you are, who you fuck, who fucks you or if you took your Metamucil this morning. If you are a good actor then you can shed your personal physical habits and fully embody the character you have been entrusted to play. Hell, if Wentworth Miller can do it…


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Caleb McMullen

Written by Caleb McMullen

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheatreisforSuckers.com

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