I’ve never taught acting, which is just one more reason why I never got to be the best actor I could have been. However, I did have the opportunity several years ago to share the best of what actors knew better than anyone else with a large group of civilians.
What never occurred to me at the time was that the same muscles actors build at the actor gym (i.e., while acting, rehearsing, etc.) would probably come in handy for actors when they’re out and about in the real world, too. I mean, if we approached the rest of our lives with a tenth of the vigor (not to mention rigor) that we bring to acting, we could clean up the environment, activate the citizenry, and solve world peace—not to mention live in tidy apartments for good!
So what is it that actors do as actors that they’d be well-served to do in their own civilian lives?
1. Actors do their homework. Good actors know a script inside out, from what the characters eat to where they poop. A good actor scours the pages for details, then researches what’s not there (helloooo, dramaturgy!). Most of it won’t even get used on stage directly, but all of it helps us move around more naturally and confidently in this elaborate world of make-believe we’re constructing: the more we know about the dank walls of a dark castle in medieval Denmark, the more an audience can relax and forget they’re in a well-lit theater in 21st-century Manhattan.
Have you thought about how much calmer you’d be going into an audition if you knew every single bit of information available not just about the script and your character, but about everyone else in that room? Can you imagine the poise and confidence you could bring to any situation if you approached it like an acting job? Maybe it’s time.
2. Actors embrace constraints. If you’ve ever stared at a blank piece of anything you know the truth won’t set you free: parameters will. Good actors love girdles–literal ones that help them move like a Mid-Century housewife, or cultural ones, that make crying a big deal for the Mid-Century breadwinner. Any “fixed given” a gift: a place in time, an overriding emotion, :30 of airtime. The more unknowns you eliminate, the narrower your parameters, the more you can play wildly and passionately in the space you have left.
Of course, this will serve any actor who also wants to write. (Re-read that bit about the blank thing, above.) But having constraints it is also a great approach to bring to goal-setting: discrete tasks parceled out in sensible packets of time = goals unlocked!
3. Actors are GREAT at playing. At least, the best actors are. Not just in front of the camera, while they’re pretending to be someone else, or in rehearsal, when they’re figuring out the best ways to do it. We can fall into grooves where we play ALL THE TIME, moving through life in a perpetual and occasionally annoying childlike state of wonder. You don’t have to treat every trip to the DMV like a day in Disneyland, but the more you can embrace your innate, unique playfulness, the more you will be able to connect with people.
All well and good, but where is the one place where, all too often, we leave our best, most uniquely playful selves at the door? At auditions! Ridiculous, yes, but as someone who has been on both sides of that process, I can vouch for it: most actors tense up and stop playing in the one place where it’s really, really called for. Usually because OMG THERE IS TOO MUCH AT STAKE. I don’t believe we can consciously bring ourselves to be less self-conscious (which, of course, is the secret to authentic, infectious playfulness). What we can do is bring our attention to the process, though, because what’s watched cannot help but change, however slowly.
How did you do, reviewing the above? Are you using your actor tools to the max in all areas of your life?
Think about it over the next month, and pay attention. We’ll be back in May with Part 2 and more tools….