THE DAWS BUTLER WORKSHOP

 

Daws Butler and Students

"Before him is a stack of his own cleverly penned scripts, which are then passed around to all the participants."
the INNER SANCTUM
by Corey Burton

Making your way up the concrete pathway (formerly just a driveway) running along the right side of the lovely yet unassuming Beverly Hills home of Daws and Myrtis Butler, past the small patio with its canopy of flowering vines, you could see the festive light glowing from the open doorway of the converted two-story garage-now the hallowed headquarters of our voice acting "Boot Camp." As you approach the doorway, the animated "cocktail party" cacophony grows louder. The small crowd is milling about in the fairly large room, which modestly displays a smattering of select artifacts from Daws' wonderful career (gold records, animation cells, toys and knickknacks bearing the familiar likenesses of his cartoon personalities).
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To the left, past the little piece of hallway that houses the staircase up to son Charles' room, is the thick, heavy door of the small, rectangular recording studio. It is outfitted in classic Radio Station style, with dark wood paneling coming halfway up the walls, in sharp contrast to the top half of the room, which was covered in old-fashioned cream colored "acoustic" tiles-those large square cardboard-like panels freckled with holes of varying small diameter arranged in an evenly scattered pattern. To your right, there are two large monitor speakers mounted up on the wall overhead, several feet above the extensive LP collection, smartly arranged and displayed in a retail store style bin; and in the middle of the opposite wall hangs a small drawn curtain. At the back of the room, perpendicular to those walls, another bulky door is taking up a considerable portion of the space at the left corner, and centrally located at eye level is the wide control room window peering in on a well maintained compliment of genuine vintage vacuum tube studio gear, complete with its awe-inspiring full-sized Ampex professional tape deck, poised just inside the gaping doorway. The back wall of the shallow booth bears an expanse of sturdy shelves which house The Master's reel-to-reel tape library, the box spines all labeled in his familiar scrawl. In the center of the wood parquet tiled floor of the recording space looms the huge and heavy stands which suspend the impressively substantial classic RCA ribbon microphones from the thick chrome arms of their fishing pole booms. Wow. But not now... Recording will come later. Maybe months later, after our lessons have begun to 'take root.' For now, it's back to the workshop area, as we gravitate towards our informally chosen folding chairs surrounding the long dark table set up in the center. There are the usual meeting room compliments of canned sodas, cookies, candies, nuts and other snacks laid out in bowls and trays scattered about, and the traditional West Bend coffee maker and Solo Cups set up on a snack table near the "garden variety" sofa, upon which sat the proud parents of our younger students or the occasional observer. Daws calls for us all to settle down, and is seated at the head of the table.

Before him is a stack of his own cleverly penned scripts, which are then passed around to all the participants. His writing is purposely difficult to get a 'handle' on; carefully crafted to be open to a nearly infinite range of interpretation. A genuine exercise which actors must first struggle to decode, then apply great depth of imagination and creativity in a complex exploration of character and emotion, through a virtual rainbow of possibilities.

"Okay... Once you've all had a chance to look it over... If anyone feels they'd like to start off... When you feel you're ready. Any ideas? ...Anyone? If not I'll just pick someone." Perhaps someone sheepishly volunteers. (the first brave soul is usually female, I recall). "It's just a cold read, so no one expects you to be great. Just terrific, is all." he chuckles. "No pressure here...okay?" then, with great authority, he lays out the workshop's 'credo': "...But don't be afraid to be lousy: that's the only rule here." He looks over to the now eager volunteer, scans the table thoughtfully, and calmly selects the others who will round out the cast for the cold read. (If it was a monologue, he'd line up 4 or 5 students to read in succession) "Just dive right in. No pressure..." Others suddenly decide they'd like to give it a try. "Don't worry, everyone who wants to will get a chance to read. But let's just hear this group for now... then we'll go over it together, and after that we'll do it again with whoever else wants to give it a try. ...Okay?" He tentatively nods to the first group with a half-smile.

Daws would first listen to the reading without interrupting, unless prompted by the students themselves. They read the scene straight through. All eyes refer back to our mentor. "Any comments?" Some of the classmates might make a remark or two about what they'd heard. Those who just performed make some apologetic or politely defensive remarks. "That's all valid..." was his general response, which would be followed by his own commentary on the performances-always expressed in the positive, with suggestions on how to make it better next time. "Okay, now I'd like to show you how I was thinking this might be interpreted..."

Then, with the polished sincerity of a master craftsman, Daws himself would brilliantly show us 'how it's done'; first straight through, as he imagined it when he wrote it, and then "tossing it around" with us-all the while frequently stopping to illustrate, often by giving an assortment of skillfully executed variations to each line's delivery, the reasons why he would give a particular line the specific "shading" he'd just demonstrated. He would ask questions we should be thinking about as he reread each phrase with his unique "line-by-line" commentary. Let me give you my own made-up example of how he went over the lines with us...

"I think I'd better close the door." Why is he closing the door? Is he embarrassed about what he's going to say to her, and afraid someone might hear? Does he suddenly realize that he always forgets to close it, when she had repeatedly warned him that the cat would get out? "I think I better close the door" giving it a falling inflection, showing her he knows she was just about to scold him for leaving it open again. ...or he could be getting a subconscious signal from her that she would like to get 'intimate' with him: "I... think I... ah... better close thee, ah... door." Or maybe he sees a nosy neighbor out on the sidewalk, that he doesn't want interrupting his date: "I think I better close the door." ...notice the rising inflection there? "close the doorr" ...see, it's almost like a question; like, "Uh oh, that idiot across the street is coming over to mess up my evening again, so I better close the door this time..." And you wanna "tumble" those words, like you really gotta go to the bathroom. Not quite panic, but if you don't get up and do it right now you're really gonna regret it! See?..." In this way, Daws showed us how to convey not just the apparent meaning of the words (what is intentionally being said, enabling the listener to clearly follow what is going on in the scene), but also the emotions and logic behind each thought the character expresses-the imagined sub text that betrays the true feelings and internal thought processes which invariably exist below the surface of the dialogue. Not a great example, but that is basically how he'd go over a script with us.


Once every line and possible detail was fully explored in this manner, the script would then be reassigned among the students, who would take what they had just learned and hopefully apply it to their performances. Then more review and comments. Perhaps another group or two would then perform the scene. After everyone-who wanted to-had their turn reading it, another script would be passed around the table, and the process would start over again. There might even be a third script, if things were really 'cookin' that night.

After a "potty break," we'd reassemble around the table to toss around ideas and lively conversation, maybe try something we hadn't thought of before, then gradually dissolve, as the group members began to head home. There were always a few "stragglers" who would continue gabbing into the 'wee hours,' slowly meandering out to the sidewalk next to our dew-shrouded parked cars, for continuing gusts of extended conversation and heartfelt hugs shared with our mentor. I was always among the last of these, never wanting it to end, no matter that it was already 2 AM on a weeknight. Hey, what could possibly have been more important, anyway?

Exerpted from
Corey Burton's foreword
to the book
"Scenes For Actors and Voices"
by Daws Butler

Scenes for Actors and Voices


Book By Daws Butler & Joe Bevilacqua


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