Acting Techniques - The Actor's Body - Using your body effectively as an actor
by N J Howell
Stephen Tobolowsky Interview
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Do you know how to cry on demand?
Improve Audition Skills with Coaching
The actor's body must be completely open and available for the expression of ideas and emotion. This acting lesson can help to get you back in touch with your body as the optimal performance tool it is designed to be.
This is acting lesson number 2, of the Empowered Spirit (Power Connection) Online Acting Class. If you have arrived here from a search engine search of link, you will need to go back to the acting class information page, read the information and complete the introduction before doing this lesson on the actor's body.
CHARACTER GOES FROM HEAD TO TOE
The body is very literal and remembers physical reaction to external stimuli indefinitely. You can prove this easily, by recalling an experience in which strong emotions were present, whether negative or positive inn nature. Not only will your mind recall the event, but your body will reproduce the sensations that resulted from it. The body is the best improvisational tool you have as an actor. The mind doesn't know how to improv. It knows or it thinks it knows, based on logic and thought. The body bypasses the mental entirely when placed in a true situation of danger. Impulse and instinct take over. The same thing can happen in a performance.
Is it Improv if it's Real? Method actors utilize this body/brain connection quite often, when facing tough emotional scenes. A personal experience, similar in emotional context as the scene the actor is being asked to portray is recalled by the actor, with as much detail as possible, so that the body reacts in a truthful manner. This exercise will often produce an almost painful reality into the scene and can be very emotionally stimulating. In a way it's still improv because the actor is using that memory to inform what they hope will be a fresh, improvisational response in the scene. However, is this the easiest way to bring a strong emotional truth into a scene?
For example, let's say you had to play a scene where your child had been killed. It's one thing to imagine "a" child being killed. This could call forth true emotion in anyone who has a love of life. However, if you truly get into a place where you imagine what it would be like for "your" child to die, you better believe there will be some tremendous things happening to your body, voice and delivery of lines in the scene. It will be real for you but will it best serve the audience?
If you are able to then release your personal memory while keeping the emotional, mental, vocal and physical changes it evoked in you, and transfer all of that to your fellow actors in the scene and the scene itself, it can. However, the problem which so often occurs when the actor attempts to transfer that memory into the current scene is that they either they are unable to transfer or they are unable to hold the intensity of the recalled memory after transfer. Then, the scene either looks forced or they hang on to the memory which enabled them to produce the desired effect and work from that place of memory, rather than honoring the material in the scene.
If you can imagine it this way: Let's say that, in real life, a child dies. The mother tells a dear friend that her son has died. However, the friend somehow has the mother's son confused with her other son. See? The emotions of a son dying would still be there but it would not be addressing reality because the friend sees a different child in her mind.
When I see actors take a personal memory and transfer it to a scene, I see them looking at someone who isn't there. It kills the scene for me. If a transfer is complete, and it takes a highly skilled method actor to pull that off....I've rarely seen it.....then the actor is able to completely engage in the scene they are doing, with the other actors, and be in it, moment to moment, while allowing a flow of emotion that originated in another place and time.
If the transfer is incomplete, which is what I almost always see, the scene will lose the interest of the audience and they may never know why.
On the other hand, if the transfer never happens at all and the actor, instead, just re-experiences the emotional reality of a personal situation while they are delivering lines that have to do with an entirely different story, the result is a very real performance that can be emotionally powerful but disconnected from the action of the play or film.
It is powerful because it is real but, in some way that the audience may not consciously understand, they don't feel touched by it in context to the story they are watching in the film. It rings false to what the audience has seen up to that point. It is powerful but only on it s own merit; Pulling memories from one's own life into another story is discordant within the context of the production.
The good news is that it is not necessary to recall a personal memory at all, in order to find, in the body, everything that is required to truthfully play any scene! Although we'll be doing some personal recall in the exercises within the class, we are doing those to open up the body's ability to feel and remember. If you have a body that is accessible, you don't need to dredge up painful memories to play a painful part truthfully.
By doing the exercises in this class, and by developing a wild, uninhibited openness with your own body, it is possible to have your body deliver exactly the truth, and to have it be in full accord with the character you are playing, in the circumstances as written. The reason this doesn t happen automatically is that few of us listen to the body, and fewer still allow it to express, independent of our analytical processes.
Ready for the next acting exercise? Getting to know your body as an actor