In a recent class I had two actors on stage doing the Meisner Repetition Exercise. If you’re not familiar with “Repetitions,” it’s an exercise in listening, reacting, and working off the other actor, as you repeat your partner’s behavior and they repeat it back to you again. (That’s a quick and simple description of repetitions. I assume most of you reading this are already familiar with the exercise. If not, don’t worry, as I’ll be addressing this in a later blog.) These two actors were on stage for about three minutes, and they shared great chemistry. When they finished I asked them this:
Fran: How was that for you? In the time you were on stage, did you feel the soul of your character was fully realized? Did you fully express yourself and who you were in that moment?
He: Yes, I thought I was pretty much in there.
She: Not fully, but pretty close. I could have said more.
Fran: Like what?
She: Well, I was attracted to him, and I could have told him that.
He: Yeah, I would have liked to kiss her.
Fran: Why didn’t you?
He: I thought she might get mad.
She: I don’t know. I might have liked it.
Fran: We’ll never know. If you didn’t express yourself fully, the universe didn’t get to experience it. That moment is over and gone forever. What we saw was what we saw. The moment has passed.
He: Can we do it again?
Fran: If this were an audition, what do you think? Maybe. If they had the time and were interested enough, they might let you do it again. Chances are there’s another actor coming in either before or after you who will live fully in that moment, bringing what translates to a richer, fuller experience of that character.
Are you living truthfully in your work?
Here is one definition of the acting craft: “Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances, moment to moment.” That sounds pretty simple, but the question remains: are you living truthfully in each moment, and are you making the strongest choices that bring out your character’s authentic truth?
Acting must be bigger than life, without anyone realizing it. This is what I tell actors (along with some homework for you): Next time you’re at a restaurant or airport, watch two people talking and listen to their conversation. Chances are you’ll get bored pretty quickly. But watch a scene in a movie of two people eating at a restaurant or on an airplane, and you’re fully invested. Why? Because it’s bigger than life; there’s motivation, purpose, destination, needs. The choices are big without the audience noticing.
I’ll say it again, acting needs to be bigger than life without looking like it. If it’s not bigger than life, it’s boring.
If you can tell that it’s bigger than life, then it’s overacting. You need to find the truth of your character, be connected to your motives, your needs, and the behavior of the other actor, and you need to do that moment to moment, because the camera catches everything.
Part II of this conversation continues in next month’s blog.