Answers 4 Actors

Sunday, January 24, 2010

ACTING and COMMUNICATION are universal.


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The wonderful thing about traveling to Hong Kong to teach professional acting workshops, which I just did again in early December, is that it reminds me of how ACTING and COMMUNICATION are universal.

Feelings are universal.
Emotions are universal.
Want/need is universal.

Whether you grew up in Hong Kong, North Hollywood, Australia, or Singapore, everyone understands loss and pain. We, Actors, strive to portray real, believable people and the nonverbal part of acting translates into every language.

The words, you may not understand, but the emotions in the face, in the body and in the tone of voice can be understood even when the language is unfamiliar.

So, actors, remember that 90% of your performance is not the script. It is the relationship, the background, the history, everything you know about your character’s life that you never say but is important to you.

Teaching and coaching students in Hong Kong just reminded me how important what you don’t say is and how universal those nonverbal emotions and communications are. In Hong Kong I had a student who although he spoke English already, he did feel more comfortable with his first language. So I suggested that he translate the scene into Chinese and I first had him and his scene partner do the scene in Chinese and then when they did the scene again laying the English on top of what they learned by doing the scene in Chinese. It was amazing how much better the performance was. I’ve used this technique many times with actors where English is their second or third language. It works very well.

So what does this tell you about your work? You must, must make sure you know everything your character knows even though it may not be said in the scene. You need to analyze the scene and recognize what you need to know playing this character. Most of that information will not be in the script. Let me repeat that, most of that information will not be in the script. Why did I repeat this? Because I find actors forget to gather that information when it is not on the pages of the script. It is so important. It is absolutely necessary.

So how do you get better at gathering such information?

Let me give you one idea which you may have noticed during this holiday season. When you are out in public places, take a little time to be “a fly on the wall”. Just sit back and listen to other people’s conversation. A conversation where you are not involved. Notice what is not said by each person, but you know is important to the conversation. Try to write it down. (Maybe not there in front of them but as soon as you can) You will find there is so much communication going on that is never spoken. That is what you must investigate for each of your characters.

As actors and also writers you can research everywhere you go. Your families are a great source of character development. Waiting in public places are fantastic research labs for you. Don’t always immune yourself from your surroundings. Stop texting and talking on your phones once an a while and notice the people and conversations around you. The research will come in handy. Always have a small notebook with you or some index cards so you can write down your discoveries. You must do this because you will forget the details or the exact way that person said those words. Add descriptions of the people as well. There is a gold mine of ideas and inspirations around you. Be open to them. Whether you are in NoHo or Hong Kong, people are your research lab, make use of them.

I love working with actors whether in Hong Kong or here in No Ho. Actors are curious and generous of spirit. It is my honor to work with such amazing people. I wish you all the very best in your work and your life for this New Year of 2010.

Bless you all. Jeanne Hartman


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