The Work of Acting, Part 1

Used by Creative Commons license. Photo from Vancouver Acting School.

I need to start by saying that what I really wanted to do today was address the kerfluffles caused by Michael Kaiser's and Howard Sherman's recent blog posts. However, it's requiring a little more time to assemble. So I'm going with the post I originally had for today. But fear not, something is coming. But for now, read about acting!- n
A lot of times, people view actors as having a very glamorous life. You just show up for your rehearsals, tapings, shows, whatever and then you’re done. Most don’t think about the hard work of acting. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as in both the musical theatre class and in the Godspell rehearsal process there was not a lot of time to focus on that work as a group. Students and performers had to work on their own. And it was completely obvious who had.

But it is really hard to narrow down what that “work” is. Because it’s different for every actor. It’s different for every role.

Some of the work is easier than others. Like watching YouTube clips to hear a dialect. Or renting movies and watching them for the acting, for the physical comedy, for the mood.

But then of course, you have to practice what you see.You may stand in front of a mirror delivering your monologues 800 times until you like what you see. Or, use that mirror to practice your emotions. You may use a tape recorder to record yourself delivering lines. And then listen to it, and retape, as many times as it takes to not cringe when you hear your own voice. Flip cams are great too. You can record rehearsals or performances, then take notes on yourself.

I’ve had a couple of performances in the past month, and they each required a different preparation. For Esther, in Center City Opera Theatre’s libretto reading of Slaying the Dragon, I had only hours to prepare. I watched Schindler’s List to help set my character’s back story and walked around my house saying everything with an Eastern European accent. For a monologue performance, I delivered it to the mirror. Approximately 800 times. I worked on my facial expressions and gestures until it was just right.

Neither of these work sessions were glamorous. As a matter of fact, they were downright tedious. And neither of them may be considered “work” by those who are not performers. But they were. I mean, it’s great that part of my job gets to be watching movies and YouTube clips. But if that was all I did, it probably wouldn’t make that much of an impact on my performing. Practice is the real work. And it can’t just be in rehearsal or in class. The work of acting requires a commitment to practice. It requires deep honesty and self-appraisal.

Giving yourself constructive criticism may be the hardest part of an actor’s job. It’s easy to make excuses. It’s also easy to be overly hard on yourself. But an actor at work is insightful, authentic and honest. S/he finds the ways to make it better.