By: Jess Canty
I head something interesting in a podcast - and I can't for the life of me remember which one because I listen to too many... but the person being interviewed off-handedly remarked (and I'm paraphrasing) "you know, like with great actors, where you can't see the homework in the performance."
Ooooo I loved that!
Because that is IT.
Is acting a craft that requires study? Yes. Do you need to be constantly studying? Yes. Why? Because humans are infinitely mind-boggling and as an artist it is your job to interpret and reflect this.
You need to be doing the RIGHT kind of studying. For YOU. At this moment. You need to do the thing that will make sure that we can't see the homework in your performance.
What I didn't really viscerally understand until the end of my time at UCLA TFT was that you aren't trying to learn "technique." What you ARE trying to do is practice many different techniques so you are able to actually develop your OWN technique.
And really, this is true in any artistic endeavor. You can learn the formulas of Screenwriting, and the formatting shortcuts in final draft. But then you have to just sit down and write. Free yourself and trust that the scaffolding is there and will hold up your story.
If you are a photographer, yes you must learn how the camera works, what lenses are available, how to find the light, the shadows but if you don't watch and wait for the right moment you will never catch THAT photo.
So classes are there to give you the space to play, to fail, to try out different things. I mean, you are welcome to stand up in the middle of Starbucks and practice your audition material, but sometimes its good to have a space specifically set up to help you grow and play, you know?
As an actor you have four tools at your disposal at all times: Your head, your emotions, your body, and your voice. That's it. That's the toolkit.
Is your toolkit over-worked in one area but under-worked in another? Is it time for a trip to Home Depot? How do you know?
I have found - in my own artistic journey and even way back when I was acting, it can usually be found in what you have a strong negative opinion about re: acting.
Do you find yourself saying: "ughhhh... the 'method' is so lame. All of that internal delving into your past it feels so self-indulgent, like therapy." Ok fine, but if you are REALLY good at breaking down a scene (head) and you haven't taken a method class in a long time maybe that little judge voice is trying to actually tell you something. Like - "hey man, time to go to get your heart on."
What is the part of your toolkit you are avoiding? Are you great a crying on cue, but perhaps you aren't doing it when it is appropriate? Are you playing every scene dramatically? Are you mis-reading the scene, tone of the audition sides (because when you go watch who actually booked the role when it airs you go - oh WOW that's not how I pictured it). Then you may need a scene study class.
Do you have control of your emotions and you're great at breaking down a scene and doing research but your performance always feels a bit the same? Like there's something familiar about all of your tapes? You probably need a movement class. Ballet? Jazz? Hip-Hop? West-African. You need something that will get you out of your head and heart and into your body. How does the character move, walk, stand, sit? If you never ask yourself these questions before an audition then this is the tool that needs work. Watch your last self-tape with the sound OFF. Would you know what is happening in the scene without the dialogue? Just based on the expression of movement, the gestures, the behavior in body language, facial reactions? I will tell you 100% that if you watch Roma without the subtitles you will probably be able to follow the story. Because the behavior is there, the movement, the reactions, the body language.
And finally, do you find a voice for your scenes? Do you have control of pitch, volume, accent, pronunciation, or are you at the mercy of the voice you were born with and the accent of the place you grew up?
When I am stuck, I find that it is helpful to go back to basics. The beginning. So let's go all the way back...
A Greek term for actor is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally "one who answers."
But this implies a question. And I think as a creative person you need to be able to ask yourself the difficult questions about your craft and your position in relation to it. And answer back with the truth, even if it hurts.
There's a story I love that I think I have told before in a post - where Aloe Blacc met, I believe it was Dr. Dre once and was complaining that his songs weren't being produced. Dre's advice? Write better songs.
Ultimately when it comes to getting hired, the question is invariably a tough one: Are you good enough? Are you getting it done? As an actor this means - head, heart, body and voice.
If you are not booking then something is missing. Which one is it - what is the answer? Be honest with yourself and then go get it fixed.
Take that stand-up class that scares you.
Go roll around on the floor imitating a pig if that is what you find laughable about acting classes.
Take a voice over class.
Learn to sing if you can't carry a tune.
Take ballet if you're used to lifting weights.
Have a perfect plie? Go punch something.
Take a standup class if you can't imagine ever writing a 5 minute set.
Look inside that toolkit. Put down that rusty old hammer and pick up the power-drill that you've never plugged in and give it a try.