I am not here to insult your intelligence. We have a broad readership here at the Green Room, and I know some of you reading are veteran actors – the makeup and limelight are no stranger to you. But others of you are only just starting out. And as far as I’m concerned, I feel we all need to have a foundation of terminology from which we can understand each other. If we are to discuss acting, we must first define it. As I addressed in the previous article, that definition has been evolving for everyone in different ways for thousands of years. I am not claiming to have unlocked the depths of the meaning of the term “acting.” Therefore, we shall be evolving our own working definition of acting throughout the course of this series.
I am a huge fan of simplifying things. Maybe to a fault. But I want this series to be insanely practical. To that end, we are going to boil away all the crap that we are not ready for yet, strip away the cliche’s and preconceptions that are misguiding us, and find the skeleton beneath all that fleshy acting theory.
So, Google is awesome. I’m not trying to be scholarly here. I just want to get you thinking. I want a discussion to evolve. And I know you know this stuff. But take a moment and read Google’s attempt to define our craft.
ACT| V. 1.) take action; do something. 2.) behave in the way specified.
N. 1.) a thing done; a deed. 2.) a pretense
ACTION| N. 1.) the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim. 2.) a thing done; an act.
ACTOR| N. 1.) a person whose profession is acting on the stage, in movies, or on television. 2.) a person who behaves in a way that is not genuine. 3.) a participant in an action or process.
ACTING| N. 1.) the art or occupation of performing in plays, movies, or television productions.
ADJ. 1.) temporarily doing the duties of another person.
Obviously these are all terms we would expect to be associated with the craft of acting. No one is surprised here, right? I didn’t think so. But I bet some of you are a little intimidated by acting. Some of you have found yourselves in a role and you just didn’t know what to do to make it “click.” If you have ever been frustrated on stage, set, or in rehearsal, then I always recommend taking a moment to step back from what you are doing, and ask yourself – “What am I doing?”
Did you ask yourself? Ask it again. What are you doing? Now look at those definitions again. What words do you see perforating each and every definition? What are you doing? – “DO,” “DONE,” “DOING.” Also, “TAKE,” and “BEHAVE.” These terms each imply action. They imply activity. They imply “acting.” Not helpful yet? Seem circular? It is a bit. Hang in there.
Stop acting. Start doing. Get this ideal image of what an actor is out of your head. Are you alive? Are you breathing? Can you move and speak? You are the ideal actor already. The ideal actor is capable of action. Anyone can act. I’m not the first person to say that, either. Get over it. Go do it.
Is this inspiring to you? Liberating, maybe? Not satisfying to you? Frustrating, even? Consider the celebrity whose performances you cherish the most. The only difference between them and you is the status “celebrity.” But “actor?” They share that status with you. You are equals.
Don’t believe me? Let’s examine the actor’s inventory, shall we? Every actor has 4 things. Really, every person possesses them too – well, at least 3 of the 4.
1.) MIND | You can think, right? You can reason, and you can understand. You can study. You can grasp ideas – take them apart and put them back together. You can do basic math. You can hear, and taste, and see, and smell, and touch, and your brain can process that stuff, right? You obviously can read, and even despite my slaughterings of the English language! Congratulations.
You might say, “Yeah, but I’m not very introspective.” Or “I don’t do logic so good.” Or “I hate working my brain, I’d rather go for a run!” If you say those things then SHUT UP. You’re missing the point. The point is you are an intelligent being – and probably more so than you give yourself credit for. Heck, compared to some of the air-heads in Hollywood you might be a freakin’ Einstein. Some of you know you’re rock solid in this category, if so – good for you. Go read another book – or the next category….
2.) BODY | Limbs. All the physical senses. A voice. Eyes. A face. I’m not talking about body type’s distinguishing characteristics that determine whether or not you get a specific roll. I’m talking about your flesh and blood person that an audience can see and hear. Especially concerning you live-performance actors – your body is perhaps your greatest asset.
If that is the case, then sure, there are a lot of implications that go along with that. We will delve into them in greater detail later, but here are few things to consider. You got to be healthy. You got to be physically active. I’m not saying you have to be Michael Phelps, but your life should not be completely characterized by activities that require sitting. You got to care what you look like – at least a little. I’m not saying you have to be a Victoria Secret or Calvin Klein model, but you should know what you look good in. You should practice things like basic hygiene. You should learn how to breath and how to take care of your voice…… Okay, so we will spend a lot of time on that one in the future. If you remember nothing out of this paragraph remember this – and basic hygiene – seriously, wash your socks now and again.
3.) SPIRIT | Okay, so this could get weird, new-agey, and super unhelpful really fast, so i’ll be brief. When we come back to this, we will go into much greater detail. This is sorta what I mean by Spirit. Spirit is characterized by some of the following key terms: Will, Drive, Commitment, Passion, Ingenuity, Creativity, Ethic, Imagination, Inspiration. We will have a pep talk later, but basically, to be good at acting, you have to want it. You have to pursue it relentlessly. These key aspects of your person go deeper than your brain. They are beyond logic and more powerful than reason. They are your Spirit.
4.) TEXT | This last one is broader than you think. And I don’t mean to be vague, cause we’ll discuss it more in the future. It’s not necessarily words on a page, though often it is. The text of performance is the rich matter that you develop into an artistic form. The potter’s text is his play. The painter’s text is his paint. The musician’s text are his notes. The writer’s text are his words. So what is the actor’s text? It’s life. Ever hear someone speak of an actor “Wow, they really brought that character to life for me!” or ” His performance was just real.” These are indications that an actor understands their text. Some people might say,”Hamlet is just words on a page.” But I would say, the character Hamlet, or any part you may play are words on page, but if he stays there, no acting has taken place. No life has been given. So, what does this mean? How is this remotely helpful? We’ll talk about that more in the future. But for now, just know that you are in the business of life.
So, have you done a self inventory yet? Every body has the first three. An actor with a job has the 4th. This is your acting skeleton. These are the muscles you need to exercise. You should be empowered to know that you have the same tools any award winning celebrity ever had to do what they do. And what do those actors “do”? They do things. You can to.
Everybody needs to sharpen these tools, and we all can be better. Actors, which tool do you think you need to develop more? Comment and let us know your thoughts.