“ Live in the moment!”
This is a line acting teachers (including myself) have been peddling for years. And it’s a line that I totally understand. One of the most exciting aspects of the work is that feeling of total transcendence when you are in connection with another actor, living truthfully in the moment.
However, if you’re like me, the second you find yourself in that “in the moment” state all of a sudden you realise you’re acting, become aware of the audience, and you completely snap out of it. Your inner monologue is shouting “stop acting, and go back to the moment!” And the more you shout, the more you start moving and talking like a piece of cardboard.
Living in the moment is the goal, but thinking about it never helps. So here are my thoughts on being a more present, moment to moment actor, without actually panicking about being in the moment.
Meditation is the secret weapon of many successful artists. It’s the practice of accepting and calming those negative or outlandish thoughts that are all too familiar for actors. Getting into a daily mediation practice (even just 5-10 mins a day) will start to smooth out those frantic thoughts. Meditating before a show and focusing on your breath helps to relax and centre you, which in turn allows you to be more present with your fellow actors.
Focus on the other actor. It shouldn’t be your turn, my turn, tennis-match acting of the scene, it’s a conversation between two characters. One technique is to underline the word the other actor says that inspires you to speak. Shifting your focus to the other actor’s words and actions will help you to actively listen, and therefore naturally respond.
You’d be surprised by how often you hold your breath on stage. Make sure you are breathing. Breath is the key to feeling grounded and calm. Like most things, it’s a habit, and it should begin in rehearsals – not during previews, or on your first day on set. It also comes with experience, the more you put yourself in challenging situations, the more you get up and do the work, and breathe through it, the less you’ll have to think about it.
Golden rule: the more preparation you do, the more freedom you will find in your work. If your lines are solid, you can then experiment and play. If you know the character’s in the play, you can trust that the work is there and you don’t have to push or demonstrate any relationships. We all have our own process, so whatever that is, do it, and the more detailed and specific it is, the easier ‘being in the moment’ becomes.
Note: work doesn’t have to mean written, intellectual work. It can mean thorough rehearsal and imaginative work about your character and the play.
Forget the work
You’ve done a tonne of acting prep. Scene breakdowns, inner monologues, objectives, super objectives, backstory, emotional exercises, actions, tactics, vocal technique, physicality. Now all you want to do is show the audience or the camera all of that wonderful work you’ve done. The problem is that turns you a mechanical bull actor. You have to let go. The work should ignite your imagination and give clarity to your relationships in the scene. But holding onto that work will take you into your head and out of the moment.
Stop trying to be a good actor
We all have that nagging little voice in our head that is monitoring our every word and gesture (geez, why did you do that). Unfortunately, that voice isn’t going anywhere, so don’t waste your energy trying to make it stop. Simply become more forgiving of your work and stop trying to deliver the perfect performance, whatever that is. There is no such thing as a perfect performance, there is only your absolute best. So if you’ve done the work, and you let go of it, you will certainly do your best. And be proud of that.
The present moment is a beautiful place. It’s warm, exhilarating and all actors want to live there every single day. But the more we desire it the more elusive it becomes. Instead, we should focus on listening and engaging with our fellow actors. If we feel flat, disengaged, tired, crap, stuck or despondent – embrace it. There are enough critics out there, don’t make one out of yourself. The aim is to tell stories and share experiences, so fall in love with that, instead of end results and the rewards.