"Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances."
Not too long after I moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles to leave a job I didn’t like, I discovered a Groupon deal for acting classes. It was a beginner’s class for people who have never acted before. I never did any drama or theater in school. I was always a more logical and analytical person, and never had any interest in the performing arts. Little did I know, this coupon would drastically change me as a person, and ultimately the course of my life.
It seems like people move to LA to pursue their dreams of making it big in Hollywood. In my case, I left LA and discovered acting. After taking my first class, I was hooked. I never felt so free, inspired, authentic, and real in my life. The moments of internal presence and genuine connections I had through acting games and practicing scenes were unlike anything I’ve ever felt. After I was done with the introductory class, I signed up for the summer class. After I was done with the summer class, I signed up for the professional class. I even signed up for classes at different schools to learn different techniques. I spent hours outside of class learning lines and practicing with others.
Although I am not currently pursuing the career of a professional actor, I had some amazing experiences and learned some very important lessons. These are lessons that have helped me tremendously in all areas of life including work and relationships.
Developing Emotional Awareness
Acting develops and cultivates awareness of your own emotions and of other people’s emotions. You need to be extremely emotionally aware of yourself in order to create a believable character. When you see characters on screen, they are able to play out scenes authentically and realistically. The emotions that these characters experience are real even if the circumstances are imaginary. In order to be able to feel those emotions, one needs to be extremely emotionally aware. At the same time, it is necessary to be able to reign in those emotions so one doesn’t lose control.
Getting Use to Rejection and Failure
Actors go through many auditions to get roles. Most of the time, you’ll be rejected for the roles you go out for. The rejection may have nothing to do with your talent or acting ability. You may just not have the look or feel the casting director is looking for. In real life, you’ll be rejected many times. We need to learn to accept that rejection is part of life, and that often times, there is nothing you can do about it.
Learning to Listen
Most of the time, people have trouble listening to others. They’re usually distracted and thinking about something else that has been bothering them when they are supposed to be listening to the person in front of them. I am guilty of this myself. When actors are performing a scene, they need to be fully present. Practicing scenes are an intense exercise in listening. The character who is listening in the scene must listen with his full attention in order to allow genuine expressions and reactions to occur. The moment the actor gets “in his head”, the audience will see. The craft of acting intensely trains your ability to listen to other people with your full attention and presence.
Learning to Connect with Others
Similar to when an actor is listening, an actor who is speaking must also be fully present. The speaking actor cannot “look inside his head” for lines. The lines must come naturally and reflexively. Any bit of hesitation or thought will come across as bad acting. As a result, the actor must learn to fully connect with his scene partner by staying present and reacting authentically. By cultivating this ability during scene practice, you cultivate your ability to connect with other people in normal conversations. You connect with your eyes and persuade with your words. You let conversation flow naturally and adjust to its ebb and flow. You become more conscious of other people’s body language, thoughts, and emotions.
Learning to Understand People and Why They Do What They Do
Scene study is one of the most intellectually challenging aspects of acting. Good actors are extremely intelligent and intuitive people. Before an actor learns a scene’s lines, she must understand everything that is going on in the scene. She must understand the characters, their objectives, and their roles. Every character has an underlying purpose and is trying to achieve an objective. The actor must understand these underlying purposes since it drives the character to act in a certain way.
By understanding why fictional characters do things in complicated scenes, you develop your ability to understand why real people do things. You learn to read between the lines and sense more about other people and their motives. This ability will help you no matter where you are.
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