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).
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
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
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?