Predictable performances can be damaging to the career of aspiring actors, that’s not to say there aren’t actors who are regularly working who never give predictable performances, but assuming you’re wanting a career that is varied, offers challenges, inspires others and has longevity – knowing how to avoid predictable performances is going to help you hugely.
The dictionary definition of predictable is “always behaving or occurring in the way expected”.
PROBLEMS WITH PREDICTABLE PERFORMANCES
I will regularly refer to the “audience”, my meaning of audience for the purpose of this blog is anyone who is not involved in the scene as an actor e.g director, producer, casting panel, the public or crew. All types of audience are equally important to actors because everyone has an opinion and that opinion can determine whether an actor works or not.
The problem with predictable performances is quite obvious; they don’t engage the audience. They result in lack of excitement or lack of focus on the performance, completely switching off (including literally – the tv, film, leaving the theatre, cutting the actor off during an audition) or being one step ahead of the actor by guessing what they’re going to do next. Predictable performances aren’t inspiring.
HOW DO PREDICTABLE PERFORMANCES AFFECT ASPIRING ACTORS
A casting director, director or producer isn’t going to want an unknown actor on board who can’t engage the audience. Taking on an unknown actor is risky. We all know that acting is a business and any business thrives on profits. If we take any of the actors who’ve had remarkable careers – Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Daniel Day-Lewis, Viola Davis etc they didn’t grow a huge fan base or land role after role by being predictable, there’s something about their performances that keeps the audience on their toes and wanting more, which in turn means the production is much more likely to pull in a decent amount of money at the box office – or ratings if it’s TV, which keeps them in work.
You may not be at that point in your career yet, but it’s important to have something to aspire to. Predictable performances may get you so far, student film after student film, a decent amount of unpaid projects, the odd independent project maybe even some minor TV or stage work , but if you’re ambitious you’ll soon want more and may also become frustrated with your acting.
Actors, in my opinion, can’t rely on looks, there has to be obvious talent, which is the only thing you’re in control of in any production or casting. As I always say, the talent must do the talking.
HOW TO AVOID PREDICTABLE PERFORMANCES
- Ditch the pre-conceived ideas – the most exciting performances are when the audience has no idea what’s going to happen next and neither does the actor. A pre-conceived idea puts a rigid frame around the scene, which the actor uses as a safety blanket and finds difficult to shake off. It also leaves the actor unsatisfied with their work as they will find it difficult to reach exactly what they’re after. Being open to possibilities allows you to be inspired in each moment.
- Stop analysing mid performance – this takes the actor out of the moment placing them inside their own head resulting in gifts that are offered by the other actors being ignored. When an actor analyses their work during the performance they close down and creative impulses are blocked, which also stops them listening; the scene quickly becomes stale. Leave the analysing to your director and trust they will give you notes if something isn’t working.
- Do the prep work then forget the prep work – the purpose of the prep work is to fill up your imagination and unconscious mind so that when you’re in the scene (and relaxed), your sub-conscious takes over allowing you to work with inspiration, moment to moment. Clinging onto the prep work leaves you with nothing but pre-conceived ideas as mentioned in step 1, risking performances becoming mechanical and robotic.
- Don’t go for the obvious – there is a story of an acting class that Marlon Brando took with Stella Adler where she asked the actors to play chickens. Everyone in the class walked around the room flapping their arms and clucking, except Brando. Brando sat down and barely moved. When Stella asked him why he’d chosen to do that, he said words to the effect of ‘chickens don’t walk around clucking and flapping their wings all day, I was on my perch roosting’. Brando thinking outside the box meant he didn’t make obvious, predictable choices, which gets noticed by your audience. This is very important to note in audition situations where 99% of actors will make the same choices and only play the obvious, which can be very monotonous for the casting panel (but also applies to productions).
- Relax and build trust – this is far easier in a production environment but can still be done in an audition environment too. Introduce yourself to everyone in the production, including the runners, extras, lighting people etc. Find common ground with them if you can – doing this will put you at ease, and help you create a safe environment where you’re more likely to allow yourself to be vulnerable to make new discoveries. In an audition situation be comfortable with who you are, and resist the temptation to impress. If you can quickly find common ground that’s great, if not, allow the casting panel to feel at ease with you, which will have a knock on effect with your audition.
These tips can be used straight away to ditch the predictable performances, no matter how much, or how little experience you have. You may not see a turnaround in your career straight away, but I promise you, you will make a lasting (good) impression with your audience and will leave them wanting more.
Has this been useful?
Let me know in the comments box below.
Want to share these tips with your acting friends to help them out? I’d love you to, as my mission is to help as many actors as I can. I only ask that you not be a sneaky Steve (sorry Steve’s) and claim my work as your own, credit StandBy Method Acting Studio.
Here’s to your success!
Don’t give up, just keep learning.
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Louise O’Leary is a professional actress, method acting coach and Artistic Director of StandBy Method Acting Studio. Her mission is to help as many actors as she can launch their careers and become the best actor they can be.
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