When you hike up a mountain you have two choices. You can enjoy the changing sky, the view below, the flowers along the path, the struggle up to the top, the breeze, the sun through the trees, the smell of pine. Or you can focus on lunch at the end of the trail and miss the beauty, the adventure and, most sadly, the actual trip.
The adventure is the journey, and the process as it happens is the actual experience of acting. The product of the performance is being engaged in the moment without focusing on how it comes out. Your goal as an actor is to live honestly in the experience of the moment. If your attention is on the end result, you will sabotage the journey.
When you attempt a scene, many times you have a predetermined picture in your mind of how it will go. You practice in your bedroom, you give an award-winning performance and you know that in your heart, when you get to that audition, it’s going to blow everybody away! Then, in the actual audition, you watch yourself in the reading and wonder, “What is happening?! This is nothing like I rehearsed at home!”
There are two main reasons for this phenomenon: expectation and concentration.
When you were at home in your bedroom, you were caught up in discovery. You were in the richness of your imagination and could visualize it all. You were seeing and experiencing what the character, in that moment, was seeing and experiencing. Then, when you actually auditioned, you attempted to recreate the result of that bedroom performance instead of the imagined elements that got you there in the first place. Attempting to recreate a performance always puts you in your head because you judge everything against an ideal, and you can never measure up to that kind of expectation.
Another aspect of this expectation is your unique instrument. There is no one in the world like you. And because your approach to the material hasn’t ever been done before, there is a potential shock when you observe your own performance. Doesn’t your acting always sound and look better in your head? All of those judgments in acting can take energy away from your effort.
When you have an audience, the pressure to entertain becomes very real. It takes more concentration to create and hold onto your given reality in a scene. If your preparation is not strong enough, the pressure from the audience can overtake your attention, and you will then watch yourself. Great acting is participating in a given reality and not focusing on what your audience is witnessing.
Know that an audience will always have an energetic influence on the actor. This is natural. We pick up vibes from anyone in our immediate space. Have you ever felt a stranger looking at you prior to you noticing? Often we can feel the energetic pull of any attention we are getting.
Part of the actor’s job is to accept the audience without sabotaging the performance. The audience’s gaze is part of the magic of performance, and every audience will experience your work uniquely. When an actor allows the audience to be a witness, the performance improves. The vibes you pick up in the room have the potential to inspire the best in you.
Know that your performance is created and lives in the moment and can’t be fixed in place or held in time. The skill of acting is the ability to live truthfully in an ever-changing experience. The key is to not judge yourself, but to accept yourself in the process.
Kimberly Jentzen is a multiple winner of Back Stage Reader’s Choice Awards: “Favorite Acting Coach,” “Favorite Acting Teacher” and “Best of: Acting Coach”. She has directed and/or developed over a dozen plays, including Yolanda King’s critically acclaimed homage to her father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Achieving The Dream. Kimberly won a Best Direction award from the Actors Film Festival for Reign. Reign went on to win nine awards including Best Short and Audience Favorite from the Louisville International Film Festival and New York Independent Film Festival. She also garnered awards for her film, Of Earth & Sky. She is the author of Acting with Impact and Life Emotion Cards, available at Samuel French Bookstore and at Amazon.com.