3 Things That Will Greatly Improve Your Acting
The BEST way to memorize your lines
How many times has a friend told you a story, you hear it one time, and then go off and repeat it to another friend who says, “No.” To which you reply, “Verbatim, that’s what he said.” And wasn’t it pretty much verbatim? You didn’t forget anything did you? You didn’t leave anything out. You even manage doing the accents of the colorful characters your friend described as well as re-creating the, “Gigolo with the limp.” In life, this happens every day. You hear stories, then go off and repeat them practically word for word. You do this all the time yet never question how you do it. It’s an ability everyone takes for granted.
Many times you have no idea how long the story will be. Sometimes they are short and sometimes they go on and on, yet there never seems to be the need to make any notes. How is it that we can so easily remember in such magnificent detail these long, involved stories that are told to us? And without making a conscious effort to, remember so much?
First of all, in life we don’t try to actively memorize a story as we are hearing it. While we certainly hear words when someone tells us a story, we don’t really see words. We see images. For instance, if I told you I was fishing off the end of a very old rickety dock that stretched out onto a beautiful glacier fed lake in Alaska, and just as I caught a huge fish, the dock gave way and I fell in; what are you seeing? You don’t really see words, you see images. You probably saw your idea of a rickety dock, the cold lake, and the surrounding mountains. In your mind’s eye, you would see this unfortunate episode play out, and it would be this scene as explained by me, which you essentially saw, that you would recollect and retell to someone.
Actors get so preoccupied trying to memorize all of the individual words in the scene, they frequently fail to understand the larger story the words support. This is why actors get lost and forget their lines. They haven’t fully understood the gist of the scene or story. They have made their primary concern memorizing all their words in the correct order without first fully understanding why the words fall where they do.
Most actors start memorizing by highlighting their lines and saying them out loud, trying to sound natural. This is exactly how you’re not going to start. First you’re going to detach yourself from the piece and just try to understand it as a scene you’re observing. Forget acting it. Do not concern yourself with how you’ll say the lines. Take each line and make quick and simple sense out of why you respond the way you do. You don’t have to write these thoughts down, just have a dialogue with yourself and come up with a logical through line.
Just like in real life, if I asked you the reason why you just said what you did, you would be able to give me a logical explanation, in short order. Don’t try to memorize any dialogue until you are comfortable with your overall understanding of the scene and the logic of your lines.
Next, have someone prompt you, and using your logical response through line, see if you can at least give the gist of the proper reply. Once you get to the point of being able to give an, “in the ballpark response” start accurately memorizing your lines. Make sense of your words, don’t worry about, ”acting” them. Know your lines so well that you can say them at any speed and in any way. Do not learn them at one tempo. I’ve asked actors in rehearsal to pick up the pace of the scene and they were so totally thrown, they lost their lines. This is because they had learned them at a particular pace and in a particular way.
The final test in making sure you know your lines, is to have someone call out random cues and see if you know the response. If you’ve created a logical through line of cues and response, this one should be an easy test to pass. Most actors never try this. The truth is, most actors only know their lines by rote and by the order they’re in. Which means they really don’t know them.
Owning your words
Is nothing more important than owning your words. There is nothing more important than owning your argument. Actors tend to borrow these things and then pretend to own them. Herein lies the difference between a true professional and the novice amateur. Pretending to care is never as effective as actually caring. Pretending to mean what you say is never as effective as simply meaning what you say. Most actors sit with their text, trying to come up with the proper inflection and emotion to make the audience think they actually care about the things they are pretending to care about. They try very hard to sound sincere so no one will notice they’re actually faking it. They try to say their lines and affect their emotion in a way that would make one believe they meant every word they said.
What alternative do you have to pretending to care?
You simply care and you do it the same way people do, by making the choice to care. In every day life, you make decisions to care about new things all the time. Why do you care about these new things? Is it because you’re forced to? No, it’s because you chose to. You care about the new stray cat that’s been hanging around your door, the elderly neighbor who is always alone, or the article in the paper about the overfishing of our oceans.
If you’re confronted with the question as to why you care about such things you might say the poor cat looked hungry, the old man seems lonely, or overfishing is a global concern. No one forced you to care about these things. It wasn’t your duty to care about these things. You simply choose to care. You don’t pretend to care. For some simple reasons, you decide to care about these things. When you speak about the cat, the neighbor, or overfishing, you will speak with sincerity. You won’t have to worry whether or not you seem sincere. You won’t need to concern yourself with phony things like inflection or the right amount of emotion.
As soon an actor breaks down his script, making notes as to how he plans to say his lines or emphasize his emotion, he has accepted the fact that he is going to pretend to own a point of view. Whether they mean to or not, this is generally the actor’s main focus: trying to fake the audience into believing they actually mean what they say. Instead, simply choose to sincerely care and stop with the calibrated, meticulous preplanning of how you will fool us into believing you care. If you can allow the conflict in a given scene to be more important to resolve then you’re need to be convincing, you will never need to worry about being convincing.
Honestly owning your character’s point of view, story, desires, and conflict is the foundation for being a grounded, powerful, and convincing actor.
Justify, justify, justify
Since humans have the ability to reason, choices are never made without justifying the choosing. Behind every act committed on earth there is always some form of justification. We justify why we go to war, why we vacation, why we diet, why we are angry, sad, mad, glad; there is always a justification. Justifying our choices helps us to make sense of things. It helps us to live with ourselves. It helps us to find peace. It helps us to sleep.
Fully justifying your character’s choices and behavior, resolutely and without question, is what makes an actor’s work powerful and uncompromising. Above all else, it is the engine that drives your performance. It is being clear about what you do and why you do it. It is being secure in what you believe and why you believe it. It is self confidence.
In life, when confronted with a new issue or dilemma, we make a choice as to how we feel about it and then we solidify this new belief with a reasonable justification. Scenes are generally a battle of justifications; one character is upset with the other characters actions and it is the justifications that are offered as support. It is the justifications that are brought into question. The stronger your justification, the stronger your position. The stronger your position, the stronger your character. Just like in life, justification is what gives your choices strength and clarity.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a bad guy. Bad guys will give you solid justification for doing their bad deeds. Don’t come up with weak or faulty justification just because your character is in the wrong. Always give your character the best reasons and defense for doing what you do. Just like in real life. The story will always determine who wins and who loses. Not to worry. It’s in the script. You could be the worst guy in the world with the best justifications, it won’t change the outcome of the story, but it sure will be more interesting to watch.