It’s a horrible feeling, being on a job or in an audition and thinking to yourself, ‘Holy moly there’s a lot of acting going on here’ or ‘I’m not doing enough’ or ‘Reign it in! I’m doing too much’ none of these thoughts are useful when you are trying to work on the floor. Sometimes it can just be that it doesn’t quite feel right and there could be a variety of reasons for this – but that feeling of ‘acting’ as opposed to being alive in the moment largely comes down to three factors, preparation, attention and nerves.
It is all about preparation, ladies and gentlemen. Preparation is the entire ball-game. The more preparation you do, the more you can rely on and trust the work that you have done. The times when I have gone into auditions feeling confident that I have done all of the work that I need to do to be ready are more often than not the times I get a callback. Sure, once or twice I have rolled into an audition hungover and underprepared and scored a gig – but usually it’s because the role suited that particular preparation. These occasions are few and far between (literally once in 11 years!) and the best and most reliable course of action is to maximise your preparation.
In so many ways acting is like being an athlete, and just like being an athlete how you prepare is how you play. If your preparation is erratic, unfinished, inconclusive and indecisive, in the room you’re going to feel like you are ‘pretending’ or doing lots of ‘acting’. For casting directors and producers it is obvious within the first few seconds that an actor is underprepared or did not prepare appropriately.
These performers are nervous, uncertain and when the opportunity arises to make a bold choice, they make a safe one instead. The key here is getting to the root of the scene. Getting right down into the nitty-gritty and finding the genuine truth in the text for you. No idea where to start? Check out our article on scene analysis, learning lines, objectives and then practice pulling it all together in our online scene club.
Declan Donnellan says in his seminal acting book ‘The Actor and the Target’:
“Without the target, the actor can do absolutely nothing at all, for the target is the source of all the actor’s life.”
What he’s talking about here is where you are placing your attention and your focus while you are in the midst of the scene. The truth is, if you are feeling like you are ‘acting’ you are thinking about yourself, and how you feel ‘out’ of the current moment. What helps you most get back ‘in’ the moment? Taking your focus, your attention utterly off yourself and placing it completely on the other person. Making them the target of your attention.
What if instead of being stuck in a performative rut, being unsure of yourself, making choices for the sake of making choices, you just genuinely listened to the other person in the scene? Not only to their words, but their body language and emotional state also. What if you fixate your attention on that and allowed yourself to genuinely react subconsciously to their words, actions and emotions as they changed throughout the scene. Sounds good right? That is where the magic happens, where your focus is on the target of your attention, the other person.
If you have become the target of your own attention, your performance will be insular and you will be more inclined to feel the differences between the script you’re saying and the truth of who you are – thus ‘acting’. There must be a target of your attention, and they hold all of the energy and the life you need to be alive in the moment of the action. That target must be outside of yourself, a person or a thing or even an image in the space. If you are fixating your attention on your performance, you are on a hiding to nothing.
Les Chantery, renowned Australian acting coach says; if things aren’t going the way you want them to during a scene, go for extreme love or extreme hate. Break the cycle that you are in and in that moment fully take in your partner’s reaction, this might be the kickstart you need to reactivate yourself into the moment.
There are always going to be nerves, a 2018 poll by Gallup polling found 41% of Americans had a phobia of public speaking. Performing in front of people is nerve-wracking even for the most seasoned of professionals. There is always a lot at stake and these factors combined mean feelings of anxiety or stress are going to be a very common thing for performers. If you are stressed or anxious, there is a chance you might not let yourself become vulnerable, you might find it difficult to listen to the other actor, you might be challenged to allow yourself to react naturally to the circumstances of the scene. So what can you do?
Firstly, prepare as I mentioned above, and then trust that you have done the work to be successful. By the time you’re in the audition room or on the job, you are out of time to do more work, and worrying about whether your preparation has been significant enough is not going to help you. Instead, the time has come to believe in yourself. Believe in your preparation and trust that you can do what you need to. You can rely on yourself. If this is true and you believe it, you should start to feel relaxed.
Secondly, understand the science. Nerves or anxiety is the reptilian part of your brain, the amygdala kicking in and giving you a flight or fight response. Now you probably aren’t going to come into contact with a sabre-toothed tiger in an audition room. But that doesn’t mean you wont feel like you are under attack sometimes, see the Gallup polling above. Because you are always going to feel a little stressed going into work, it’s just about managing your stress response. Make sure you breathe, try and stay as calm and relaxed as possible and trust yourself.
Finally, and this is some of the best advice I have ever received, remember that it’s fun. Acting is fun! So often we get caught up in the pressure cooker of auditioning and performing that we can forget why we do this thing. It is incredibly fun and challenging and wonderful and magical so enjoy every possible moment you get the chance to do it!
So there are a couple of things to help you next time you’re feeling like you are doing far too much acting! Keep yourself alive and present in the moment, really connect with your partner and react genuinely to them and stay cool! So often the reason that we feel like acting is going on is because of one of the above factors, but there could be other options at play as well. If you have experienced other challenges in your craft why not comment on this article? Or join our online scene club below! Hopefully, next time you are on the floor these tips help you rock it!