A habit of actors should be to continually fill up the personal ‘storehouses’ of sensations.
So often, we are numbed to our senses and take them for granted. But those tiny little details we get from simple observations can make the significant difference between good and great acting.
I can’t deny that this uncomplicated discipline easily gets drowned out by my desires to perform monologues, dramatic and highly emotional scenes or to bring accents to perfection – basically all the ‘exciting stuff’.
But even the most impressive or demanding performances will not be believable if we mechanically repeat the lines, without sharpening and involving our senses.
I love how the legendary Uta Hagen encourages that “we have to open all our senses and innermost feelings to the extraordinary realities of existence. We have to receive these realities with innocence and freshness, as though we had just been born.”*
Imagine grasping our surroundings with the eyes of a new-born – taking in the sounds, sights, textures, tastes and smells for the first time. Picture the unhindered fascination and contentment a toddler exudes when handling new objects.
Time doesn’t seem to matter.
Yet we allow our mind to drown out these sensations all too quickly and go with the flow of our fast-paced society.
I know that I’m definitely guilty of relying on what I think a character is supposed to be like when performing scenes rather than making use of the countless observation around me. This will only happen if we dare to smell, observe, feel, taste and listen intentionally.
Over the past six months, I’ve started to keep a list of observations in an attempt to capture sensations that would otherwise go unnoticed and unappreciated.
- Waking up to the sound of cars driving on a wet road.
- My mouth starting to water at the smell of slightly burnt toast.
- Wiping hands on my jeans after a clammy handshake.
- The rustling of a forgotten candy wrapper in my pocket.
- Someone suddenly avoiding eye contact after our eyes met for a split second too long.
And the list goes on.
Not only have I found that this awareness helped me personalise and act out characters more truthfully and authentically, but it has also allowed me to get a new excitement and appreciation for life.
Now, it is much easier for me to find joy in whichever situation I find myself in. There are so many gifts amid in moments of celebration as in the grittiness of life and it thrills me to look out for them – and to want more!
I cannot help but be thankful for life when I read over my list.
- The sound of my Mom reaffirming her love for my Dad.
- Pearls of sweat running down my forehead after a good run.
- Catching myself smiling at the computer screen because of an unexpected email from a friend.
I want to challenge you to embark on a search of your own. To discover the long forgotten wonder of reality.
When you get dressed in the mornings, alert yourself to the texture of the material of your clothes. Be attentive to the sound of your steps and the buzzing of the refrigerator.
Pinpoint what you enjoy about your cup of coffee in the mornings. How do your hands shape the cup? Be aware of the numbness of your tongue after being too impatient to wait for the coffee to cool down.
Notice the texture of every bite of food. Do you mechanically gulp it down after bringing the food down to a digestible size? Try to chew intentionally, what tickles your taste buds?
When you walk on the sidewalk, how do your fellow pedestrians react. Do they walk fast-paced as if on a mission, avoiding all kinds of eye contact even though you know they see you? Do you do the same?
The sources are endless!
While I cannot claim that I’ve found the secret to either phenomenal acting or eternal happiness, I want to encourage not only my fellow actors, but also my fellow humans to be on the lookout for the beauty of reality.
I urge you.
Take the dare to live fully where you are!
* (Hagen, Uta and Haskel Frankel. Respect For Acting. New York: Macmillan, 1973. Print.)