Five lessons that helped me become a better actor
These are the lessons that helped me become a better actor. I hope they can help you!
#1 Punctuation is important
At the time, I was quite cocky when I started acting school. I believed I had a great understanding of the craft. I had also done professional work, so I felt ahead of the rest. In the immortal, bastardized words of Ygritte (wildling), “You know nothing Pat Cullen,” punctuation is really important. Punctuation can be described as the writer communicating with the actor, possibly from beyond the grave (spooky, right?).
Punctuation can also be sung with inflexion. Use your inflexion to ask the question if you use a question mark. A slight upward inflexion can be indicated by a comma or a dash and a semicolon, colon, and semicolon. A complete stop is a downward inflexion. An ellipse signifies a hold on the vocal tone. Text suddenly becomes music, words become tonal shifts and you, as an actor, begin to find an emotional life that you didn’t even know existed just by paying attention to punctuation. This isn’t the only way to act, but it was a very important lesson that helped me become a better actor.
#2 No one will believe you if you don’t.
George Costanza famously told Jerry in an episode on Seinfeld that Jerry should remember, “Jerry, just keep your head.” This quote is the foundation of our acting work. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe what you’re saying or if it seems absurd or unrealistic. The moment won’t work.
I’m funny and orange, so I often go in for commercials. Patrick, I booked every commercial that I’ve ever done because I believed what I was saying. An ad I did for a telecom company featured a character who was very annoyed at his coworkers and made fun of them. Casting people were disorganized and ran behind on the day. It wasn’t hard for me to believe what I said, and I booked the gig. This audition was different from all the others I missed due to my inability to believe what I said about the insert product.
#3 You must be intrigued to be interesting
This is an exact quote from Andrew Lloyd, former head of acting at Actors Centre Australia. These were just a few of the many statements Lloydie made as an exceptional actor trainer. Because it is so simple, this one stuck with me.
You must be interested in what is happening around you and the actors you are performing. You must be interested in the same things that make you fascinating if you want to be interesting. It all comes down to understanding your characters’ history and their environment. What does the location mean to them? Who are the other characters in this scene? What drives them to be curious?
An actor obsessed with themselves, or worse, obsessed by the world onstage, is more well-suited for being an Instagram influencer rather than an actor.
#4 Listen. You are not.
My most embarrassing moment, or at least the top 10, was when I realized that I had never really been listening on stage. One of my friends noticed that I was muttering the dialogue while he spoke. I knew the text well enough to be so sure of it, and I was so anxious about missing his next line that I wasn’t listening. The same young, cocky actor in the first scene had his entire world turned upside-down.
How did I fix it? An acting teacher taught me that it is a good idea to examine my partner’s face while talking and ask questions such as “Did they shave today?” What is he doing with his eyebrows? What does he say to make you feel?” I was able to focus on my partner and completely changed how I listened as an actor.
The breath is what makes everything possible. It is essential for stage work. You can only hit the back of an 800-seat theatre by breathing deeply into your diaphragm and using all of your vocal power. You can also manipulate your emotions by simply breathing. Take three quick, deep breaths in and then exhale. It will feel like you are about to weep. You can reverse that process, and it almost feels like laughter.
This is an acting hack that I recommend to you. Larry Moss, the great actor and author, said that if you feel your feet on a floor and allow your emotions to guide you, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.