When an actor isn’t following their impulses in a scene, it’s because they lack confidence – they’re unsure whether their choices are the right ones. As a general overview lack of confidence leads to over-thinking, trying too hard, not taking risks, ignoring creative impulses and not building authentic connections with scene partners and/or character’s. This lack of confidence keeps actors in a safe-zone where their acting lacks life, and at its worse becomes mechanical and robotic. When an actor lacks confidence to the point that it is regularly interrupting their work, the risk of this becoming an ingrained habitual performance habit is extremely high. This is what I as a Method Acting coach am interested in resolving and why I will share with you how to let go in performances and follow your impulses.
Before I dig in, there’s something you should know about acting (my students have heard me say this a thousand times), there are two parts: logic and heart.
The sublime actor has 50% logic and 50% heart, but when there is a lack of confidence in a performance there is no balance – logic (over-thinking) significantly tips the scales,
Where does this lack of confidence come from?
Beliefs. Beliefs come from thoughts based upon experiences.
Lee Strasberg discovered, whilst training the likes of DeNiro, Pacino and many other fearless actors who came through his studio doors, that it’s not lack of talent that stands in the way of actors giving gripping, dangerous performances, it’s personal issues. Having coached actors for almost a decade I can say that I too have witnessed this on many, many occasions; personal issues are reflected in an actor’s work when the (negative) beliefs are strong and an actor is attached to them.
I don’t want to get too psychological about this, but here’s a couple of examples: an actor who has constantly heard they’re not good enough in life, or that they don’t do things properly, may not take risks in a scene and may rely on a director or their coach to tell them what to do or to give them permission to try something new – this is because the head is too involved, which is masking, and in some cases suffocating, the heart (the creative impulses – intuition).
How to let go in performances and follow your impulses
Firstly, confidence comes from experience, so the more you do something the more confident you will become at it. It’s like growing a muscle, the more often you do bicep curls the stronger that muscle will become. With your scene work the more you acknowledge your impulses, the stronger your acting instincts will become.
5 acting tips to help you let go in scenes and follow your impulses
- RELAX. Make this a priority before any scene work whether it be at an audition, in class or a performance. We use relaxation to focus the mind. In relaxation we are training our actors to become aware of the sensations within their body, which in turn trains the actor to concentrate. When the actor has full concentration and awareness of their body they are more present and able to respond to ideas and inspiration (your creative impulses/instincts)
- KILL PERFECTIONISM. You must move away from right or wrong thinking – there is no right way to do a scene as each actor’s imagination and life experience (which they bring to the table) is subjective. Perfectionism has no value in art.
- OBJECT OF ATTENTION – if your thoughts of holding back are dominating, you may need to work from the outside in and get away from your mind completely. Give yourself an outer object of attention e.g your scene partners voice, their tone of speech, their behaviour or something physical to achieve in the scene. This will help you to focus on the present and respond truthfully to what is actually happening right in front of you rather than in your head.
- KILL REPETITION. Make it a habit to break away from doing the exact same thing each time you do the scene (this will help you move away from mechanical, predictable acting) – practicing this will build up your confidence in trying something new and taking risks and eventually following your creative impulses will become second nature. Creative impulses are simply inspired action or an idea at a particular moment that you follow.
- SUBSTITUTION – this is a technique that works from the inside out. It works on the basis of making moments in the scene personal to you to arouse your imagination and belief in the circumstances, so that your impulses naturally take over. Substitute what is happening in a moment from the scene for something from your life that emotionally matches the scene.
5 self development tips to help you let go away from performing
- Keep a “little book of positivity” – each time you receive a positive review or feedback about your acting write it down in your book, along with when it was said and who said it. Fill this book up.
- Each time you’re feeling nervous or not good enough, get your book out and read through it. This way you condition your mind to filter out the negativity.
- Re-frame mistakes from being perceived as bad to a vital part of growing as an actor. Each time you make a mistake, rather than beat yourself up, give yourself a high five for doing a good job with your learning and allow yourself to make as many as you possible can. You see, making mistakes isn’t failure, not trying is failure.
- Speak nicely to yourself – make a conscious habit to cut out negative words from your vocabulary when speaking about yourself
- Put £1 or £2 in a jar each time you slate yourself, (you’ll soon rewire your brain to not do this) at the end of the month give the money away to a charity.
In acting we (the audience) don’t want your composure, your self-awareness and we don’t want your perfection because the human condition isn’t perfect. We want the colour, the mess and the struggle that comes with being human to be shared.
Trust that you are enough.
I’d love to hear from you, have you found this useful? Let me know in the comments and let’s have a conversation.
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