Acting Tips for the Novice
I know there are a lot of people—especially young people—who dream of acting. I congratulate those people and wish them well in their pursuit. But if you are a novice or have yet to gain any real experience, it is good to have a few tips to help you be all that you can be once you do begin building your resume, whether you are involved in community theater, plan on a Broadway Career or have decided that you want to be a movie star. For whatever destination you plan, if your goal is to be an actor—yes, talent is important, but it isn’t everything.
Show up to Rehearsal
If you have been fortunate enough to survive an audition and land a part then you are doing well, but there is still a lot of hill left to climb. The biggest part of the process is learning the play. This involves not only learning your lines, but everything else that goes with it. The director is there to make sure the script is executed in a cohesive manner. This includes, but is not limited to, blocking, lighting, props, sets and costumes. If you do not attend rehearsal, you will not know what part you are to play.
Also, as a performer, one of your biggest jobs is to be prepared. Knowing that you are ready to go into battle is what makes you confident once you get there. If you go out unprepared, it will show. It may also cause your fellow performers to make mistakes because you are missing cues or because they are trying to rescue you from some hole you would not have stepped into if you had been better prepared. Preparation helps to ease stage fright.
Attending rehearsal gives you an opportunity to learn your lines. Most of your line memorization will probably be done on your own time, but learning the blocking can help trigger your memory as well as picking up cues from other actors as they move or say their own lines. Hearing a fellow actor say a line enough times will help to trigger your own memory for your next line.
Rehearsal is not only a time for practice, it is also a time for discovery. Actors discover things in rehearsal that will help to shape their performance. These discoveries come as the result of doing and observing and playing off of other actors. However, rehearsal is not only a time of discovery for actors, but also for directors. A director goes in with a vision, but during the course of the rehearsal process may discover that some things work and others do not. If you attend a couple of rehearsals, then thinking that you have it, decide it would be okay to skip a couple more, you may be surprised to find that instead of entering from stage left, you are now entering from stage right. Or you may find that instead of sitting on a chair, you are now supposed to stand on the stool. You could find that in addition to the neck ruff you will also be wearing a top hat. You may also miss out on the discoveries your fellow actors make. These discoveries may change their performances which in turn ought to change your reactions to them. If you miss rehearsal then, catching you up will waste valuable time later. It may also cause you to be embarrassingly ill prepared come opening night.
Learn Your Lines. . .
. . . and everyone else’s. You don’t have to learn everything everyone else is saying but you should know what is going on so that you know how to react and where your character is in the middle of the whole story. You should, however, know the line that comes before each of your lines, so that when you hear it, you know your cue and are triggered to respond.
Learning your lines also means LEARNING YOUR LINES. Sometimes stuff happens. That is the magic of live theater. When stuff happens it is good to be able to ad-lib to get yourself or your fellow actor out of a hole. I have, though, encountered the attitude that learning lines is not a top priority because, “I can ad-lib pretty well.”
Not too long ago, I heard an actor say, “If I ever recite a whole monologue exactly as it is written, then just shoot me.”
Ad-libbing should not be a way of life and should not replace the script.
As a writer I can testify that we put things in to a script for a reason and we put them in there the way we put them in there for a reason. There are ideas that are central to the theme of the play, there are events and lines that support things that may happen later on in the play. Sometimes I want to convey an idea eloquently. Sometimes I may write something the way that I do to allow the character to express who he or she is. If you have a problem with something, talk to me. I’m open to suggestion. I’m open to anything that I think will make the play better. I’m excited when an actor has some thoughts on the character. What I’m not excited about is people rewriting my work without my permission. If you ad-lib, you run the risk of missing something important. You also run the risk of sounding like you don’t know your lines and are scrambling. You also run the risk of the author withdrawing the work if he or she does not wish to put his or her name on a work with someone else’s rewrites.
Make Your Appointments
Costume fitting, for example, may not be scheduled at the same time as rehearsal, but it is still important for you to make it to that appointment. Learning a dance or a fight seen may meet similar requirements. It all contributes to the over-all execution of the play and it is all important. Treat it as such.
Yes, talent is important, but so is attitude. Some of the most dedicated professionals I’ve had the pleasure of working with have been actors. They behaved professionally, showing up to rehearsals, on time and ready to work. They met deadlines like line memorization. They didn’t complain. They worked hard and they were thoughtful about the work they were doing and the process.
This attitude extends to working with your fellow actors. Don’t malign anyone or be negative. Everyone is working to be the best that they can be. This also extends to designers, technicians and the like. Be generous and kind to everyone. You may be very talented, but if you get a reputation for being difficult, no one will want to work with you. You also never know when not being nice to someone can come back to bite you.
More than anything a professional attitude will help you on your quest to become an actor. It is important to show up to rehearsal so that you know what is going on and what you are supposed to do. It is important to be prepared and to meet deadlines and appointments. It is important to know your lines and it is very important to be nice.
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