"A Lesson in Life and Acting Process"


Men ARE BASTARDS!!!!!!! I know this for sure.


I’m talking about the way men behave in their relationships with women, of course!!!!!! 


How do I know???


It is really simple to work out … if you watch actors at work.

Whenever I have been casting a role OR whenever an actor in a class is playing a scene where her character has been short changed by the man in her world, then the same thing always unfolds. EVERY TIME the actor involved immediately draws on their own personal experience of been deeply wounded by a man in their past. These have been powerful and very distressing experiences. AND they all have had at least one of these experiences. We blokes plainly don’t have a very good track record in this area.


But is this a problem? 


Some schools of acting would say that’s just what you need.  A deeply passionate experience that you can recall vividly so that the actor can hook into that EMOTIONAL MEMORY and thereby experience exactly how the character feels is often seen as an essential performance ingredient. If this is the case, you would think that ALL those women I have watched over the years would have been brilliant. BUT THE TRUTH IS THAT IN THE VAST MAJORITY OF CASES THEY WERE A LONG WAY FROM BRILLIANT. In fact, the general outcome is often so bad you wouldn’t consider hiring them. 


How can this be? 


If the theory is saying that these circumstances are perfect for the actor how can it be that results are anything but perfect?


Could it be that there is something wrong with the theory? 

Is emotional memory really an essential ingredient to play a scene like this? 

I subscribe to a different theory. As a fundamentally useful tool I believe that the most practical thing an actor can do is to ‘place themselves at the beginning of the scene in the same position that the character is in so that they can go on and make the character’s decisions for them’. At The Rehearsal Room that view of process is seen to be highly productive.



So, what happens if you are hooked into an emotional experience that is connected to the past while you are performing a scene that is rooted in the present?


The FIRST thing that happens is that the actor has created a HUGE difficulty in placing themselves in ‘the same position that character is in’. For now the actor knows the emotional outcome of the scene before they start whereas the character DOESN’T KNOW THIS. The character has to travel through the scene to work that out. 


The SECOND reason that hooking into the “Men are Bastards” memory frequently doesn’t work is because the vast majority of actors make their priority to hook into that feeling. They concentrate so hard on generating the feeling that they frequently STOP LISTENING. It is very hard to maintain the externally focused task of listening while you are internally focused on your feelings. Most actors understandably can’t do that. 


The THIRD problem is that when the actor, at the start of the scene, is already hooked into feeling that the character is going to experience at the end of the scene they leave no room for the journey to unfold during the scene. They start in the place they are going to end. The only likely difference is that at the end of the scene they are maybe a little more upset than at the start - BUT IN FACT NOTHING HAS REALLY CHANGED.


The FOURTH reason is that actors who are hooked into the character’s feelings often anticipate and pre-empt the decision making process because they already know where they are going. But the character doesn’t. The character has to work it out. (Casting directors often comment on this miscalculation.) 


The FIFTH reason is … because the actor is focused on the feeling and they aren’t truly listening they often head for a feeling that is not entirely appropriate for what has been said to them. This means the actor is not connecting to the true reality of what is happening NOW. 


The SIXTH reason is … that instead of responding to the logical impulse generated by the conflict the actor detours via their feelings to find and connect to the emotional pain. This hugely delays the response to the line. It slows down the scene to a snails pace and is perceived by casting directors and directors as a highly indulgent and unproductive performance process.


The seventh reason is … it is hard to reconnect perfectly to those feelings of the past in a way that is actively engaged with the things that are happening now in the scene. When the result isn’t perfectly as they imagined it actors find themselves judging the outcome. They tell me that in the middle of the scene they are thinking, “I’m not doing this as well as I could be.” This is because they are measuring their success with a ruler that relates to what has passed rather than assessing it with a process that is connected to the present.



My observations are the result of watching hundreds of actors using the ‘emotional memory’ approach unsuccessfully. If this approach has so many clear risks attached I find myself wondering why there is so much enthusiasm about using it. 



There is a very functional formula that works extremely well in life. It goes like this. Good process = good results. It is plain to me that, except perhaps under very special circumstances, this emotion focused acting technique is NOT a good process. If it were it would be producing regularly good results. In my experience this is not the case. 



So, if you are playing a scene that has plugged you in to the “Men are Bastards” frame of mind maybe you should be looking for some other ingredient to drive your character’s choices. Maybe you should be looking for an approach that has a higher percentage return than focusing on ‘emotional memory’ seems to achieve. Rather than using the feeling connected to a previous experience why not try looking at the logical things that are at stake for your character under THESE circumstances. If you do that the appropriate feelings will follow.



An actor who has been coming to The Rehearsal Room for ten years but for whom this process hasn’t really been making sense decided recently to give it a real go.  The reason they decided to give it a try was they looked at their CV and realized that despite a strong belief in their ability they were only getting occasional small roles.  This week they put Rehearsal Room process to work for the first time and the casting director they auditioned for said they were OUTSTANDING.  It is those kind of outcomes that have me saying with confidence that Rehearsal Room process brings high percentage performance returns.



P.S.  Hey, guys!!!!  Maybe we should be looking at ways we can lift our game.  We seem to have left a fair bit of wreckage in our wake. 

Hmmm!!!  Food for thought.



ANOTHER THOUGHT:  Here is an audition piece that’s been placed on the internet.  For the first three seconds he looks terrific. So, there are a number of things he is doing right. But then a pattern starts to emerge that is about connecting to the past and how that makes him feel.  He does this between lines and sometimes during lines.  The result is that the conversation moves forward very slowly or not at all.  In Rehearsal Room terms the ‘believability’ is fine but the ‘story’ or ‘reason for the conversation’ is unclear.  What’s more the patterns are repetitive throughout the scene.  (CLICK HERE TO VIEW)

February 2011


Copyright & COPY; The Rehearsal Room 2011. All rights Reserved.



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