Way back in the fall of last year—remember last year?—I posted Part 1 of a series of “Actor Absolutes”: the skills, tricks, or mindsets that set actors apart from the crowd, but which the crowd might employ to good use themselves.
The truth is even most actors don’t think to apply these tools in their own regular, “civilian” lives. Why we think we need to stop doing what works for us onstage once we step offstage is a mystery (although it might just point to why there is so much bad acting out there!). Jump back here to read about the first three hard-won gifts you’ve probably been underutilizing, then come on back to read the rest.
4. Don’t feel things; DO things. As an actor, you are probably unlike most of the people you play (or meet IRL) in that you LOVE to feel things. Civilians hate it, as a rule; they’ll DO just about everything to avoid FEELING anything. This is why when you play a scene, your director, coach, or teacher is constantly after you to find actions to play. When good actors play a scene, they don’t sit around having feelings; they act. Literally. They seduce, swindle, beguile, unearth, provoke, or a thousand other action verbs that get them off of themselves and onto the other person.
This is applicable in a wide variety of ways as you move about the cabin of your actual, real life. Most obviously, and closest to home, should you ever find yourself in the position of having to communicate with one or more other humans, get off of yourself and onto them. Use those action verbs when you’re giving a presentation at work, substitute-teaching a group of seventh-graders, or taking someone’s drinks order. Try to change who you’re talking to instead of rolling around in your own feelings.
Since it makes a game of things, you’ll have more fun. And the person on the receiving end of your communication is likelier to stay awake and receptive to what you’re saying because you will be more alive and in the moment. Win-win for all!
The other hidden-in-plain-sight value to doing rather than feeling is actually accomplishing things. Sure, you might have all the feeling in the world that you are a great actor, that you deserve work and recognition and a bigger trailer. But feelings get you none of those things. Actions might not either, but they will always net you something, because even failed things are lessons learned and knowledge accrued.
5. Rehearse like your life depends on it…because it does. Have you ever gone up on your lines in the middle of a scene? If so, you know it’s about the worst feeling in the world: you’ve been given the exact thing you wanted, and you blew it. So before we move on to the real-life application, let me give a big plug for not just learning your lines, but for getting them embedded in your muscles. Pace and memorize. Run lines in the car, on your bike, as you run. Run lines in different accents, at different cadences, with different stress on syllables. Get them so inside of you that they are as familiar to you as whatever body part you shave frequently (or the hair that covers them).
Once this is done, practice them in front of anyone who will let you. Run, run, run them until you’re past being sick of them and back in the sheer joy of soaring with them.
Offstage? You can apply this same muscle to getting down the mechanics of any skill, from food prep to driving to writing to yoga. Think of this activity as the “wax on, wax off” approach to mastery. If you practice your guitar every day for 15 minutes, you’ll end up with the ability to make music. If you do sun salutations or skip rope every day, you’ll build flexibility and endurance. (Pro-tip: any skill you learn as a human will somehow benefit your acting, if you need incentive.)
6. Bring your full attention to where you are, then let go. When you think back to your favorite scene in any movie or any play, or in any concert or in any talk, the real magic happens when the actor lets go of the controls and feels the Force, Luke. When the words and the homework and the tactics and the intentions all fall away.
Let. Go. You know how; you were born knowing. Maybe you forgot while you were busy becoming a grownup. And make no mistake, any actor with longevity has made it to Real Adulthood. But they are also able to be fully present wherever they are, able to take in the full moment at any point in time. On stage or on camera, it will make you come to life. But off-stage, off-camera, it will give you the gift of enjoying life.