The One Thing You Need To Know About Acting: There Is No Formula

One of the biggest temptations for actors, when they begin their creative journey, is the desire to have everything figured out as quickly as possible. Which is completely natural. I did this when I first started learning how to act, and I still find myself doing this.

Thing is, I like to make formulas for problems I find in my life and in my acting. The classic A+B=C right? Well, mathematically yes, but not in other areas of life. Especially for any problems you face as an actor.

With acting you have so many things to think about and work through. You gotta break down a script, learn about the story, your character, your relationship with the other characters and emotions and everything else under the sun. And while there are things you can do which will help, there is no formula.

One reason for this is because of how different techniques work for different people. I mentioned this a bit in another article I wrote, which you should check out. The basic idea is an acting technique which works for someone else may not work for you. You may find certain acting tips don’t work, while other ones will. The point is don’t rush to find a system. Know it will take you awhile to figure out this whole acting thing. When starting out, patience is key.

The second case for no formula is this: art is fickle as well as acting. And an approach or technique which may work for you once may not work again. And if you stick to only one approach, especially early on, you’ll get stuck in a single way of doing things, instead of exploring all the techniques which exist.

There’s a “Creative Spark” starring production designer Rick Carter where he mentions how he never knows how he’s going to do a movie. He doesn’t go in with preconceptions. Carter is a major production designer in the film industry and his words surprised me at first. Surely by now he would have a system for making a movie after years of doing so many films. But in fact his openness and acceptance of his own limited knowledge is exactly why he’s so good. He understands it’s not about figuring it out.

You gotta let go of what you think you know. As counterintuitive as it may seem, it helps to be completely clueless and open when approaching your craft.

Curiosity should beat out needing to have all the answers in a nice formula. If that makes sense. Just like Rick, you should always be searching for answers. There is no one method which covers all. If you think you’ll be able to find some formula or something that works each time, maybe you should try openness of mind and asking more questions.

You can’t have all the answers, and you’re not suppose to. My third point is exactly this. Have questions instead of answers. You’ll find answers when you ask questions. So ask away! There are answers to be found in the script, and you’ll be able to answer them. It’s the same as not going into the script with preconceptions. You come at it with a clean slate.

There are definitely things you can do which will help you in acting. Little tricks and tips here and there which will help.

But needing to have a consistent overarching formula and approach won’t really help you here. Which is totally fine. Grow your curiosity, ask questions, and be free to be completely clueless especially at the beginning. That’s acting and that’s art folks.

As actors, we need to learn to let go of formula and embrace the journey.

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  • Keaton is an actor and writer who works with the Initiative Production Company in Brisbane, Australia. Native to Alaska, he enjoys staring at the stars while contemplating the meaning of life.

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