Lesson takeaway tip: “Act Like You Don’t Know How to Act.”
Next week at YADA we’re going to produce a stunning revue of video monologues that spotlight the talents of YADA artists. I’m proud of the courageous work they've done so far.
But a true artist knows she can take it further. And this weekend is an opportunity for YADAs to do that. Here’s some advice for them and other actors to grab onto. Lazy actors look away now.
The key to believable Acting is remembering that YOUR CHARACTER DOESN’T KNOW THE LINES YET. You have to “make them up” as you go along. Uta Hagen, goddess of American Acting, used to say in class: “The words haven’t been written yet.” And it’s true: watch any film and what pulls you in is what feels like is happening right now.
So how do you make up lines that you already know?
Miles Davis used the same advice to a student trumpeter when he said: “Play like you don’t know how to play.” There's a unified theory of Art in there and we can transfer that idea to Acting: “Act like you don’t know how to act.” So what’s the solution if you’re saying lines that you already know?
Here’s the Solution: Know your lines so well that you don’t have to remember them. In real life, do you have to think of your lines when you’re having a chat with a friend? No! And you’re probably pretty spontaneous aren’t you?
Here’s what to do: 1. Speed through the lines as quickly as possible. Don’t try to make sense; don’t act them - just run them. 2. Find some activity that requires your complete concentration. This can be building a house of cards, cleaning your room (okay I am a dad), anything where you have to think. Then run your lines while doing that activity.
What will happen? Strange magic. You’ll be tapping into the area of the brain that we don’t usually wander into: the one that’s creative, instinctive. And when you’re so thoroughly involved in the reality of that physical task, thoughts and feelings will come to you, and you’ll be innocent of the words and you will find them on the spot. Like an artist.
It's why the critics called performances of mine "gripping" and "monumental". Trust me: I ain't gripping or monumental. But I would make a conscious decision before I walked onstage to forget my lines. And they'd always be there. Like they hadn't been written yet.
Do it. I dare you. Invest the time. And break a leg.
Bryan Bounds is a US-born and UK-based professional actor, voice-over artist, director, teacher and founder of the American School of Acting.