Insights about acting that arise in acting class at Andrew Wood Acting Studio in Los Angeles.
A prospective student for my Los Angeles acting class presented me with a question recently that I thought was worth discussing. She said that when she first starts to work on a scene or monologue, she is able to be fresh and spontaneous, but the more she rehearses, the more she starts to feel stilted and stuck in certain ways of delivering the lines. She wanted to know what I suggested with regard to this.
I have a few thoughts. First of all, it’s important to recognize that we all have an inner critic, a part of ourselves that judges what we do and usually finds it wanting. There’s nothing to be done about this directly, except to accept it. By accepting that the critic is there, we have a chance of muting it a bit. If we stop trying to get rid of it or fretting about its input, it loses some of our power over us.
Beyond this, it’s important to focus on working off of the partner. Stanislavsky posited that all actors face the challenge of self-consciousness, the inhibiting awareness of being watched and scrutinized and evaluated and judged. He further suggested that the way out of this self-consciousness was for the actor to put their attention outside of themselves, usually on their scene partner, and to engage in the solving of some problem, or in the achieving of some objective. If the actor succeeds in doing this, then she is getting input from the partner, and she responds to that input as she speaks her text. Because she is working off of what comes from the partner, which is going to be a little different on each take, her responses in turn are going to be a little different as well.
In the approach that I teach in my acting class, we try to identify a “hot” need that the actor can embody and pursue from the partner. If the actor truly needs something from his partner, something “hot” or visceral like love, respect, acceptance, worth, control, freedom, or security, this will naturally incline the actor to direct her attention to her partner and keep it there. And again, the more the attention is on the partner, the more the actor is being fed impulses by the partner, and the more likely her work will be fresh and spontaneous.
There are some other technique, such as points of concentration, which I teach in my advanced acting class, which can help maintain the freshness of a scene as it is rehearsed, but the main thing is to work off of the partner. That’s what keeps things alive.