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Thinking 'bout: acting


"An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words."

--Sanford Meisner

In direct conflict with the quote above, I'm about to slam you with a pound of words. This pound of words is just one slice of a whole larger heap, starting with my discussion on Improv Knowledge, and continued with my thoughts on Directing. Click those links if you haven't read the stuff before. Or don't, you little devil.

Acting scares a lot of people, but it shouldn't. Sanford Meisner, the guy the quote, said that an actor's job is just to do. The dictionary also agrees with this- acting literally just means doing. Where it gets complicated is when we freak ourselves out.

In improv, acting is the "yes" of "yes, and." It's the unabashed, unquestioned jumping on board enthusiastically, emotionally, or enticingly with whatever's happening. Acting happens in the fight parts of our brain, not the flight. It's the kid brain that runs ahead, trusting that the adult (our director or writer brains) will be there to help if we really need it.

Fear is the only thing stopping you from acting, so let's talk about breaking it down:

Acting = simple.

Fear = complicated.

Let's look at an example. Let's say an improviser says this to you:

Hey, Doctor. Thanks for taking me on such short notice.

Actor You: Cool. You're a doctor. Go do that. Using the quote above, you don't even need to say anything. Just do something you've seen a doctor do. Look at a chart. Pull up a chair. Adjust a stethoscope. Whatever. If you want to say something, say the actor's best line: yes.


Fear You: What kind of doctor am I? They didn't give me all of the who, what, where. Why am I here? Should I be a butt doctor? What's a butt doctor called? It'll be too obvious if I'm a doctor. I'll be a little kid. What if I ruin their initiation? What if I'm not funny? How do I be a doctor? I've never been a doctor. Etc.

See? Fear is complicated. Don't be complicated. Just go do stuff.

We fear most what we don't know. Smart people have said that. This is why we're afraid of the dark- we don't know what's out there. This is why we're afraid of the audience- we don't know what they want. Instinctively, we're designed to keep ourselves away from the unknown with fear. Don't let that rule you on stage, or in life. Fight the fear by doing anything.

Like, riding a roller coaster.


This is the best Wix had for roller coaster and you're going to deal with it.

Admittedly, this blog post turned into more of a pep talk than an actual discussion on acting theory. I'm ok with that. There's a lot you can study in acting and I encourage you to do so if you're interested. But, if you're just trying to make things up on stage, let's just focus on the simple for now. Like the roller coaster.

When I taught acting to high schoolers, I would often say that the job of an actor is to build a roller coaster and then ride it. Learning lines, developing characters, rehearsing: that's all building your roller coaster. Riding it is just living in the moment and letting the interactions with your scene partner(s) take control.

But, if you don't build your roller coaster well and then you've got to ride it, you're going to be terrified it's going to fall apart the whole time. So build it well to ride it well.

What does this mean in improv? Take care of the scene first so you can ride the roller coaster. When it's time to ride, don't be scared. Don't try to tighten a loose screw while you're strapped in going 0-60. Trust. Ride. If it falls apart, you've got troupe mates to lift you up.

So, I've been thinking 'bout acting...

Screw thinking. Go do.

If you're into the blog, check out my podcast with Kerri Shannon, Gettin' Biggie with It. We interview a new member of the Baltimore Improv Group every Thursday! Get it where you get your podcasts!