Mugging for the camera 

Have you ever seen the movie in which George Segal plays a woman in her 12th hour of labor? Better yet, would you want to? Unfortunately, we can’t offer you a screening because such a film has not yet been made (thank goodness).But, "In Character: Actors Acting," a witty little photography exhibit with portraits of famous actors, can certainly give you a taste of what that would look like.

The exhibit, at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum, is based on the book "In Character: Actors Acting" by photographer Howard Schatz. The blown-up portraits — some black and white, others in luminous color — show actors like Segal, Giancarlo Esposito, John C. McGinley and Jason Alexander assume different characters and make appropriate faces to express them.

These are not real acting sessions in some Hollywood bunker. The film stars are acting out special scenarios created for them by Schatz. In fact, each photograph contains the directions an actor received before the shooting, and it’s fun to guess what they are just by looking at the photo.

Under a great shot of a happily surprised Chevy Chase, the viewers will find the following: "realizing that the woman at the corner holding open her raincoat is wearing nothing else."

The photos are not just single shots, but a superimposed mix of several Kelsey Grammers or Don Cheadles with their heads up or down or laughing or scowling in response to Schatz’s directions.

Patrick Stewart, for example, shuts his eyes as a man listening to his wife and daughter fighting and puts his hands smugly behind his head as a CEO receiving a huge raise.

One great gem of the exhibit is a short video of Schatz telling actor Robert Klein to be a football coach, then a playful child, then a hysterical actor. You can see Klein carefully absorb the instructions and then throw himself almost ferociously into improvisation, while Schatz captures each expression.

Schatz also presents photo collages of several actors expressing one emotion, such as fear, suspicion or anger.

In a way, this is Acting 101 with the benefit of famous names. But that is a goodthing. While we can always watch our favorite actors do a full, two-hour performance, we rarely get to isolate the tidbits of acting magic that makes them unique.

"In Character: Actors Acting" shows us just that — the rarely seen basics of the actors’ craft.

If you go

"In Character: Actors Acting"

Where: San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum, Veterans Building, Fourth Floor, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays — Fridays, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes Feb. 24

Tickets: Free admission

Contact: (415) 255-4800 or visit the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum web site.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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