Be in the moment…moment to moment. Phrases familiar to almost every actor. I find that many actors give lip service to these phrases. Yeah, sure, be in the moment, got it, but they actually aren’t. Most acting classes teach traditional methods handed down by Stanislavski, Strasberg, Adler, Meisner and Hagen. They want the actor to be in the moment after script analysis, notice the first half of the word “anal”, working on beats, figuring out the emotional moments ahead of time, trying to determine the arc of the character which the author has already established. Hamlet dies!
Actors like to be in control of their performances. However, I find that for the most part they are watching and judging themselves while acting to see how well they are following their pre-determined emotional roadmap. If you intellectually determine beat by beat what you think your emotional roadmap should be, by definition you are not in the moment because you have figured out the moment ahead of time. It can be tempting to do this but I believe it will leave you “acting” and not in the moment. Letting go of pre-determination and trusting how you actually feel takes courage. It means giving up the security blanket of knowing exactly what you “think” each moment should be in exchange for being in the unknown. If you make one singular decision of what you “think” a given moment should be, you have taken away the infinite responses we as human beings may have at any moment. Think of it as one possible response against the infinite.
In life we are never totally certain of how something will affect us until we experience it. If we are truthful with ourselves our emotions are not in our control. If we cannot control them in life, how can we control them in performance, unless we ignore them? Emotions need to flow naturally, spontaneously. This makes for an exciting, unpredictable performance. There is a quote I like by Clint Eastwood that states “this is the method of acting where you empty your brain and everything else is spontaneous.”
I think the fun of acting is in not knowing exactly what you are going to feel until the moment happens. In sports, would playing the game be as much fun if you knew the outcome ahead of time? Of course not. I believe that acting should be the same way. Then the moments aren’t right or wrong, they are just truthful or not. I believe that acting should be as life like as possible. If you know who you are in the scene and what you want and commit fully to the “circumstances,” your emotions will follow. Just like life, they may surprise you, making your performance deeper, richer and more exciting than anything that you may have mapped out in advance.
At my studio I truly emphasize being present. Being in the moment. Remember “it’s never what you think it is, anything can happen.”
Alan Feinstein teaches on-camera, scene study and true cold reading classes at his studio in Los Angeles and online.
About Alan: Alan has most recently starred in Traces an A.F.I. short entered into the Berlin Film Festival and appeared in Nip Tuck, Crossing Jordan and N.Y.P.D. Blue. He has appeared in over 100 television productions, including series leads in The Runaways, Jigsaw John, Berrengers, Second Family Tree and more than 800 episodes of daytime drama. He has co-starred opposite Peter Strauss and Peter O’Toole in Masada, Lindsay Wagner in The Two Worlds of Jenny Logan, and Vanessa Redgrave in Second Serve. He also co-starred opposite Diane Keaton in the feature film Looking For Mr. Goodbar.
His roles on Broadway include his debut in Edward Albee’s Malcolm, and was picked by Tennessee Williams to play Stanley in the 25th anniversary production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He won the New York Drama Desk Award as Marco in Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge.
He has starred on stage at the Guthrie Theatre in The Price after having auditioned for playwright Arthur Miller. He also starred in productions of Herb Gardener’s Conversations With My Father at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre and the Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. Alan has also performed at The Old Globe , The Long Wharf Theatre, The Williamstown Summer Festival, The Alley Theatre, The Philadelphia Theatre Company, and was a member of the New York’s famed Circle Repertory Company. Los Angeles appearances include Talley’s Folly at the Grove Theatre Center, David Mamet’s Lakeboat, directed by Joe Montegna at the Tiffany Theatre, Tina Howe’s One Shoe Off, the world premiere of The Sisters at the historic Pasadena Playhouse and Ghetto at the Mark Taper Forum. He has also received 3 Los Angeles Drama-logue awards for Cold Storage, Dancing in the End Zone, and for his performance as Jamie in Long Days Journey Into Night.