The Total Actor

Q. Are there skills that actors should develop aside from obviously taking acting classes?

Thanks so much for your question. Acting is a comprehensive art form and it requires the serious artist to be prepared for a wide range of challenges. Let’s first look at the actor’s instrument, starting with your body. Ask yourself if you feel at home in your body? Are you able to make yourself still? If you can never get to a place of stillness, it means that your physical habits are controlling you.

Do you walk with a distinctive swagger? Are you able to get rid of it when you wish? There are so many actors competing for so few roles, you don’t want limit yourself by failing to eliminate personal peculiarities that prevent you from playing many different types of characters. There are several things that you can do. Dance classes are excellent for actors who wish to develop “physical concentration.” Ballet is especially wonderful in this regard. All forms of martial arts training are beneficial. Yoga is great for developing flexibility and centering. I would strongly urge all actors to study the Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique is about the mind-body connection and is taught at all major conservatories of acting.

Let us next tackle the voice. Ask yourself if your voice is able to communicate the variety of expression that exists in your imagination? Do you speak with a regional dialect or accent? Once again, you don’t want to miss an opportunity because of a regional dialect that you haven’t gotten rid of. All American actors should strive for Standard American speech. Think ‘news anchors’ on the major networks.

If you are adept at accents, it would behoove you to build a repertoire. You never know when your ability to do an accent will get you a job. The best way to get a speaking voice into shape is through singing. Singing will teach you how to breathe correctly and get you opening your mouth. Do not think that microphones in TV and Film will do the work for you. If you mumble, the microphone will record your mumbling. Singing will also help you open up emotionally. You can’t sing a song all on one note. Often, repressed emotions manifest in monotone speech. Once you start to travel up and down the scale, feelings start to bubble up.

While I am on the subject of speech, can we all agree to get rid of the word “LIKE”?? Let’s replace it with “as though” or “as if.” I can’t imagine a producer hiring an actor who puts “like” in every sentence for a period piece such as last season’s The King’s Speech.

Lastly, I want to talk about your mind. An actor needs to know something about history, music, art and literature. You have to develop yourself intellectually. This can be done through formal training such as college or it can be done on your own. I remember years ago, I was working with an actress who was attempting a speech from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I asked her what other Shakespeare she had read. She replied that she hadn’t read any. I asked her if she had ever seen Shakespeare performed either live or on film. She stated that she had never seen any of Shakespeare’s works performed.

I then proceeded to explain to her that she had robbed me of the teaching tools that I needed to help her. I couldn’t point out the difference between good and bad performances of Shakespeare because she had no context with which to judge. The more you read the better. Interested people make for interesting actors. Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s scripts. Follow the news; have a sense of what is going on in the world. I know of actors who lost out on great roles because they weren’t prepared to engage in meaningful conversations with master directors.

The more you do outside of acting class to develop yourself, the better. What stops us in our lives, stops us in our work.