Acting Tip #11: You Can’t Get There From Here!

I was talking to David, one of my students, about emotion in my Saturday class.  He said something like, “when I make a face, I’m showing emotion.”  I explained that you just can’t get there from here!

In other words, we’re not wired to summon up emotion like we turn on our TVs.   Would that we could, but I explained in Acting Tip #1 that we’re not wired that way.  Instead, we need to find the physical action or sensory element that triggers the feeling or circumstance within us that we want to portray in a particular scene.

In a documentary entitled “Love, Marilyn” the other night on HBO, I watched Lee Strasberg rant, “what would happen if the scene wasn’t written; how would these people behave; what would motivate ME to behave that way?”  Strasberg was my boss and mentor, and I can’t tell you how many times he ranted in exactly the same way in class and at the Actor’s Studio.

Because the primary acting style is realism in our culture, we expect our actors to walk and talk like real people.  That’s the bottom-line requirement for an actor.  And I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon, as we depend upon our TV and movie folk to remind us that deep emotion is a primal human need.  And that they can present it for all of us who can’t.

So, to find that behavior in yourself you have to have an open channel to it.  But, in order to survive in society, we have to learn to close down these natural channels.  We can’t throw back our heads and bellow at the top of our lungs without others thinking we’ve gone ‘round the bend.  The only way I found to do just that, and to find an outlet for my own open channel, was to sing in musicals.

And I think it’s gotten even worse today with the burgeoning use of technology.  People text and talk and interact less and less in the moment.  It makes me sad when I see phones held up recording videos and people looking at the ground instead of taking in everything going on around them.   As a result, they miss the joy of an important moment entirely.  How are actors supposed to work more and more in the moment when current interaction today pulls us further and further away from it?

The answer is always, and it hasn’t changed since my own acting experience, to train, train, train!  Even talented actors need to train to understand their expressive apparatus and learn to reproduce an emotion time and time again.  I remember my first pilot where I had to cry on cue ALL DAY!  My eyes were horribly puffy, and I had to be made up every half-hour, but I got through it!  When you train, you learn what works for you and you alone as an actor.  And the EXTRA COOL thing is, the more you train, the more you learn to trust your expressive apparatus.  And the more you learn to trust, the better and easier it will work for you.

The way you feel at the end of the day when you know you’ve done a good job and the director is thrilled with your work is the most glorious thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.  It’s like painting a painting and every image that you see in your head shows up on the canvas!  So if you want to create fully as an actor, find the coach that’s right for you.  And stay with them for a good long while.  That’s my advice.  And I’m stickin’ to it!  Because that’s what I did.

I’d love your comments, my darlings!  So feel free to write me below . . . can’t wait . . .