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Acting Lesson 1

I’m a Hollywood acting coach who works with both celebrities and newcomers. Since agents and casting directors often send me their completely inexperienced “discoveries”, to prepare them for an important audition, I often need to give them a lifetime of advice in an hour or two before an event that could change their lives. It isn’t easy, but more than once, these fresh off a plane from a little town, non-actors, have succeeded after our sessions. It’s not ideal but so much better than nothing. And after they book the role they must continue their lessons. Studying acting is a lifetime process of always striving to be better.

But watching YouTube college performances and after joining Reddit a couple weeks ago, I am seeing self-tapped videos that seem to lack evidence of even the most minimal training. They claim to be in class, but don’t know even the most basic of acting concepts. I want to be able to help them in some way. So I want to start from the very beginning…a thorough examination of what acting is…how it is different than simply reading or reciting lines. It is something all together different…an art form. A truly magical one.

I think there are aspects of acting that can be beneficial for all people…even those who will never be performers. Acting requires deep self-knowledge and an understanding of what makes people tick (especially ourselves). Who wouldn’t benefit from that?

So I’m working on writing a book for people who act. Which means it’s a book for everyone. Maybe you’ve been doing theater, TV and film for decades. Or you could be a beginner. Maybe you’ve never even read a script and have no intention of ever being a professional thespian. No matter which you are, you act. You’ve been acting your whole life, whether you know it or not. The following is just the introduction to that concept. What will follow in future posts is everything I teach newcomers when they are thrust into a professional situation. But I think anyone will benefit.

Let’s look at the word “ACT”. What does the word mean? Let’s imagine you tell someone you were doing something and they ask you, “Did you complete the act?” What do they mean? Most likely they want to know if you finished what you were doing. You were in pursuit of a goal. You wanted something and that desire set you into ACTion. You either accomplished it or not. It is a focused and diligent attempt to DO SOMETHING.

So acting is to be in pursuit of a goal. Accomplishing a goal might take strength and physical effort. It might take getting other people involved to help you. You may need to speak to people…try to persuade them to come around to your way of thinking. People and circumstances will oppose you, so you will try different means of convincing them to be on your side. When you really want something, you will do whatever it takes to get it. That’s acting. And it’s not pretending to do something. It’s actually doing it.

Sometimes we say we want something but we don’t ACT like we do. We won’t do whatever it takes to get it. That’s because we don’t really want it. We want something else, more. For instance, we might say we want to study for an upcoming important test. The plan is to buckle down and hit the books. But what we really want is to avoid studying. We begin to try to convince ourselves and others that it is alright to procrastinate. We are going to get started soon…and we will do better after we’ve watched a little TV. We might employ more tactics to NOT study than to study. Avoidance is actually a pursuit. Either way we are trying to get something. We are ACTING.

The point I’m trying to make is that for as long as we are alive, we are always acting. We always want something. We are always trying to get it. As soon as we complete one goal, we have another. Even when we are sleeping we are in pursuit of getting the rest we need so we can wake up ready to go out and accomplish more stuff. So you see, no one lacks any experience at acting. We do it womb to tomb. It is when you must do it on stage or in front of a camera when the real artistry is required.

Some people think of acting as playing a character. If that is your definition, my argument holds. Everyone is an actor. Everyone has some kind of character. Everyone plays different roles. Sometimes you play the part of a parent. Sometimes a boss. You play the lover and the villain…the hero and the victim. The only difference between you and the greatest actors who have ever lived, is that they have the skills to do what you do naturally, ON CUE. They can take on someone else’s desires and go to work at achieving them with someone else’s words. It isn’t easy, which is why most people are pretty bad at it when they first try. They, in most cases, are only reading the words…reciting the lines. They are not going after anything. They are not using their words for a purpose, so they are ineffective.

But sometimes the character we play in real life is ineffective. At some point everyone has had the experience of being too shy, too frightened or lacked the confidence or determination to achieve their goals. They needed a different character to get the job done. In that case, wouldn’t it benefit everyone to learn to employ one during these times…to have the character that could do what needs to be done?

Many acting classes spend so much time trying to help the students to “be free”…to break through their blocks and barriers. Beginning students often become so obsessed with it that it becomes their objective in the scene rather than becoming absorbed in their character’s goal. And when your goal is “to be free” it assumes the condition of entrapment. No wonder they appear to be struggling. Get into your character’s mind…go after their desires and goals and you will have no room for your own self-limiting thoughts. This is true freedom as an actor. Just DO!!!

So I write these posts for all you actors, whether you confine your performances to the real world or delve into the fantasy world of stage and screen. There is so much more, so stay tuned. I’ll be sharing it here, so follow me if you are interested. Shakespeare tells us “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. Guess we all might as well learn to act.

Winnie Hiller