Technique

Meryl Streep on acting

HS: Every time I see you on screen, whatever role it is you chose, the second I see you in it, you own it. Your voice is different. You physically may be different. How do you do that?

MS: Oh, well, that’s acting. I mean, it is. That’s what I like to do. That’s total immersion into possibility. A life I could imagine I lived. And that’s infinitely interesting to me. There’s no bottom to it.

I read a lot of scripts, and my heart starts to race at some point when I read a character that I want to do. And so that’s the recognition—of a like soul or something in there that I want to say. I’m so inscrutable to myself I don’t really know—you know I’ve never been in analysis and I don’t understand very much about why I do what I do…

This is why, you know, I’ve been very shy to give an acting class or anything because I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to construct it in a logical method that I could impart to someone. I think a class given by me would be something like, ‘Well, you know. You just kinda like, feel it,’ and ‘You know, just trust yourself,’ and all the stupid platitudes that don’t help.

[sighs] A lot of it is just great, deep belief. It’s just like religious faith in what you’re doing. And you just believe in the character.

“Meryl Streep.” Interviewed by Harry Smith. CBS News Sunday Morning. CBS. 13 Sep. 1998.

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Technique

Widor’s Toccata


The fifth movement is often referred to as just Widor’s Toccata because it is his most famous piece. Lasting around six minutes, its fame in part comes from its use as recessional music at wedding ceremonies.

Widor was pleased with the worldwide renown this single piece afforded him, but he was unhappy with how fast many other organists played it. Widor himself always played the Toccata rather deliberately. Many organists play it at a very fast tempo whereas Widor preferred a more controlled articulation to be involved. Here, organist Janez Rus tries to do just that in the chapel of St. Stanislaus Institution, December 2011.

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Technique

voice inflection

On the first morning of the convention, dozens of agents sit in a ballroom while Jeannie Davis conducts a seminar on telephone imagery. She gives them shopworn advice, such as putting a mirror near the telephone to make sure they’re smiling when talking to customer, since the person on the other end of the phone will be able to tell the difference in the sound of their voice.

She talks about the importance of inflection, repeating the same sentence—”I never said you stole the money”—six different times, emphasizing a different word with each pronunciation; as her inflection changes, so does the meaning.

It’s a reminder that just as a jazz trumpeter must learn to master his instrument, every good real estate agent must learn to command the sound of his voice to effect sales.

Related: “I will sell this house today.”

McGinn, Daniel. House Lust: America’s Obsession with Our Homes. New York: Currency Doubleday, 2008.

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Technique

effortless style

Vashti, sunk in the depths of a cool chartreuse chair, fanned her flushed face with an availing handkerchief. Her inward eye on her own expanse of beige silk, her outward eye on Leslie’s slim grey-blue shantung, she voiced the self-doubt that tormented her.

“Look, Les, does this look too fussy? Traveling, I mean. Light beige?”

“Well—beige is—is good in Texas. The dust.” The soft dark eyes kind, friendly.

“I don’t know,” Vashti panted unhappily. She narrowed her baby-blue eyes to contemplate the entire effect of Leslie’s costume. “Now, take you, piece by piece—shoes and stockings and dress and everything, why you’re just right, every single thing. But to look at you quick you don’t look like anything.”

At the startled glance and then the quick flashing smile of the other woman Vashti’s customary high color took on the scarlet of embarrassment. “Oh, Leslie, I didn’t mean it mean! I just meant no matter what you’ve got on it doesn’t hit you in the eye first thing, but take you apart, why, everything is perfect. Just perfect.”

On her way to greet Mott Snyth Leslie Benedict’s hand rested a moment on the shoulder of her guest’s moist and crumpled bulk. “Dear Vashti, that’s the nicest thing any woman ever said to another woman.”

Ferber, Edna. Giant. New York: Doubleday, 1952. 1920. Print.

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Technique

opening line

youve-been-here-before
“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.

The best first line I ever wrote is the opening of ‘Needful Things.’ Printed by itself on a page in 20-point type: ‘You’ve been here before.’ All there by itself on one page, inviting the reader to keep reading. It suggests a familiar story.”

—Stephen King, author

Fassler, Joe. “Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences.” The Atlantic. 23 Jul. 2013.

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Technique

funeral flower arrangement


“Being able to arrange flowers properly has many benefits. It maximises the life and beauty of the flowers and is also a tremendously rewarding hobby—or indeed career—that brings hours of pleasure. I am delighted to say that scientists agree. Many studies have found it to be therapeutic, which is why I always say that doctors should prescribe my courses. As students walk into the calm of the school, their shoulders visibly relax.

I look forward to welcoming you to the school—and sharing the joys of floral design.”

—Judith Blacklock, Owner, Judith Blacklock Flower School

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