“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” –Karl A. Menninger 

What better way is there to show you respect someone than to listen to them? In your personal life, when you listen to someone attentively, you can grasp not only their words, but the overall tone of their message. Well, in the acting field–a field that dares to recreate life–listening is absolutely critical.

The term listening is thrown around a lot, and is often misunderstood because there are so many ways one can listen. As an actor, listening to your scene partner during rehearsal will develop a sense of camaraderie and establish a rhythm to the work at hand. But you also need to listen to what others are telling you. Did you catch that insightful little tip the camera operator relayed to you when you walked in the audition room grappling with your nerves? Did you just dismiss the director’s advice, thinking he or she was just talking in general? Chances are, the director thought you specifically needed to hear that information to inform your performance. So take it in and really process it. Ask questions to clarify anything you don’t quite understand.

Another way it’s important to listen as an actor is during an audition or while on set. Actors may look perfect for their roles and proudly have their lines memorized. But they can fall prey to simply waiting for their cue. Lines delivered this way come across as bland and unconvincing. You can be sure the audience is listening, and will sense the stunted emotion immediately. Actors need to show they believe they are actually living the present circumstances, and be absorbed in their company as well as their surroundings. Truly listening in the moment at hand to your fellow actors is the mark of a great actor. Let your character process the words he or she hears, and respond as they would.

Besides listening to other acting partners in a scene, and listening to the direction of the various professionals on set or in an audition, you need to listen to your own thoughts, your own heart, and you need to be in tune with your own unique instincts. When looking at it this way, listening is a lot like surfing. You need to come relaxed yet alert, and be responsive to every little nuance that comes your way. This means taking your preparation to the next level.

When you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than by verbalizing. And the bonus is you’ll discover a lot of things you otherwise wouldn’t have known!