Acting The famous Bob Dylan once said, “You strip things away until you get at the core of something important.” All great art must go through a winnowing process.  But the true distillation of any art is no easy task.  It requires diligence and practice, especially in a culture of instant gratification, where we are accustomed to seeing results fast.

Don’t get me wrong.  By stripping away, I’m not talking about doubting yourself.  I am referring to searching within, finding your deepest truth, and connecting to your audience from that truth.

We are creatures of habit and have a tendency to fall into routines.  Routines make us lazy.  I call this coasting.  That’s when our art starts to suffer.  Some of the best writers constantly edit their final product; even eliminate full chapters from their books.  Take your first drafts as just thoughts on the subject, then revise over and over, because in the words of Atoine du-Saint Exupery: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

The same process can be attained in acting when actors are prepared to see beyond the written word and merge deeply with their character paying attention to the intricacies and persona.  Therein lies the difference between an ordinary and an extraordinary play.  When each person commits to bringing a fresh perspective or new ways of interpretation to every script, character, and rehearsal, magic happens.

Question Everything

In order to strip down the material and get to the root of it, it’s important to question everything. Question as many times as it takes. Even if you know something to be true, ask yourself if you could be wrong, no matter how strong your belief is. As good practice, pretend that what you know to be true isn’t. Look at things from a new perspective with open heart and mind.

To help you get comfortable with the idea of questioning, let me recommend an exercise.  Take a person you’ve known for a long time and ask to talk with him.  Then invite him to tell you his life story starting with his childhood. Ask him about where he  grew up, his dreams, and whether he followed those dreams.  If not, ask why? Don’t leave any ground uncovered. While some people may feel uncomfortable with this initially, most people really enjoy talking about themselves.  Listen carefully.  You’d be surprised how much you actually don’t know about the people who are close to you.

Now, use this same technique to question a character you’re playing.  Discard your assumptions about the character and see if you can’t discover him/her in an entirely new light. You will not only portray the character differently, but also transform how the audience views the entire play

Learn To Observe

It is important for actors to become observers of people, study their mannerisms, their way of speech, and their unique intricacies. . Pay attention to those small details that others miss. When you talk to a peer, watch how she looks at you.  Now compare this to an interaction with a policeman, a doctor, or a child?  What are the differences? Notice the individual’s posture.  Is it tall and upright with an air of confidence or hunched over hoping not to be seen?

When you talk to people note their cadence, their choice of words, even what they choose to say.  Can you detect a positive or negative personality?  Question what is impacting their views. Give someone a compliment and see how she reacts. Did she feel embarrassed and reserved or was she relishing the attention? Start a conversation and see where it leads. Maybe you start talking about the weather but end up discussing politics. How did you get there? What sequence of topics led you to the end point?

Learn to be You

No one in the world knows how to be you better than you. Use that knowledge to impact your acting.  Let it influence the roles you play. When you think about your character, wonder what caused his/her actions and words. Was it something that happened to him in the past? Think about how your own past impacts your decisions, your choice of words, who you spend time with, where you live, even your relationship to money, and so on.  Your character is an individual much like you.. He too has a past that has impacted who he is, what he says, and how he lives his life.  Shape the character based on the imagined story of his past.

Confidence or Ego?

It may seem egotistical to bring yourself into a character you play.  However, this is not for the faint of heart, exhilarating certainly, but also terrifying if taken seriously. The reason is we each have parts, hidden inside, that we dislike and the deeper we go, the more likely we are to stumble upon those parts.  Even those parts must be brought to the character.  That’s how we can achieve truthfulness. In essence we can enliven our character by getting in touch with our own life experiences.  Our life, our strengths, as well as our weaknesses are the tools we’ve been given.   And with those tools we can portray any character successfully.