Dear West End Producer: ‘How can I tell good acting advice from bad, potentially sabotaging, advice?’
How can I tell good acting advice from bad, potentially sabotaging acting advice?
— Chris Dover (@Chrissonofsteve) January 29, 2019
You can’t. Acting is a personal craft, and what works for one will not work for another. It’s about trying many methods and ideas, and discovering which work for you. If you’re in training, your tutors will offer advice and introduce all the methods to you. There’s a lot to choose from. Stanislavski’s method, Meisner technique, Uta Hagen, Lee Strasberg method, Stella Adler, Chekhov, emotional recall, and my personal favourite – the ‘stand in the right place and shout at the right person’ method.
Most people won’t offer advice to sabotage you – unless it’s from an acting friend who fears you’ll get all their roles. So be sensible. If someone advises you to avoid eye contact with fellow actors so you come across as ‘mysterious and charismatic’, then you should think twice. Certain methods don’t work for ‘normal’ actors – for example it’s not appropriate to do a ‘Day Lewis’ and stay in character the whole time when doing a regional tour. It can get dangerous, particularly when playing Macbeth.
You can find a lot of good and trustworthy advice in acting books – even funny ones offer crucial gems of wisdom. For example (blatant plug alert), may I recommend my book: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Acting, But Were Afraid to Ask, Dear. This will take your acting to another level, and provide you with an acting compass that helps you navigate safely from stage left to stage right.
To aid your quest for good acting advice, here’s a selection of the best I’ve heard:
• Say only the lines that are written for your character.
• Pause often. Everyone pauses. And if Jamie Lloyd is watching he’ll cast you in his next (pause) Pinter (pause) season.
• Face the audience (unless the front row is particularly ugly).
• Follow the grammar. If there is a comma say ‘comma’. If there is an exclamation mark ensure the word is said excitedly.
• Imagine what animal your character is. All top drama schools teach this. And at random points during the performance turn into your animal and run/trot/bark/gallop around stage.
• Always tell the audience what accent you’re doing – it prevents confusion. For example, say: ‘I am Australian’ before every line.
• Be sure to wear the correct pants. Every successful actor says to find their character they need the right pants. Wear rehearsal pants on day one of rehearsals.
• Practise emotional recall. If you’re playing Shrek, remember the time you lived in a swamp, farted, and had big, green feet.
• Analyse the scene. Study the dialogue and decide which lines to say loudly and which to say softly. After practice you may even be able to say lines that start softly and get gradually louder (but this takes years).
• It’s important to include movement. If you stand still for too long, the audience gets bored – so every five minutes jump and roll around. All great actors do this, dear.
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