Answers 4 Actors

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Actors are Great Researchers or They Should Be!


by Jeanne Hartman,

I love going to plays and films where I learn something I didn’t know. I went to see a play and it reminded me that actors and actresses must be great researchers.

This play dealt with women living in the 19th century. Those actresses had to learn what it was like for women at that time. They had to do their research and I was so glad they did. It is so wonderful to take a seat in a darkened theater and step into another time in history. I love learning while I am enjoying a creative, enjoyable performance.

Yes, I do love film but I marvel when a theater company on a small budget can create a world for you, the audience, with one set. Also the weight of the responsibility lies with the actors ultimately. Of course the play, the director, the set designer and the crew all contribute so much to the work but for the actors once the lights go down and the audience is quiet it is the actors who are in charge at least for that evening. In a film, the actor is never really in charge about what is in the final product. That is the director and editor’s choice. And of course the producers.

Maybe that is why my heart and the heart of many actors lie in the theater. But back to what I saw and why I bring this to you today.

Watching the three actresses in this production, each creating their role, I marveled at their ability to share with us how these women lived in this time period. And of course as it should be, it was entertaining too. They took us on a journey.

I think watching this wonderful performance, it reminded me that actors and actresses are constantly learning about the world. Every time they prepare for a role it’s like the actors are taking a college course in a new subject.

I suppose this is why that I feel actors are some of the smartest people I know. They love to learn and they must keep learning every time they create a new role.

Yes I know I have a special place for actors in my heart but I do see how much they must learn and I enjoy their curiosity and their ability to do their research. Also I don’t think most people are aware of how much an actor has to be a detective.

Now that I have praised you actors, I will admonish you as well. I was thrilled to see the women in the play this weekend really know their characters and the time period of the play. It is your job, not anyone else’s job to do this research. The script of the play or film never has enough information for you to truly play your role. Yes, I mean the word NEVER here. It is not possible for the writer to put all that information in the format of a play or film script. It is your job to find all the details your character must know that is not in the script.

So don’t be casual about this part of your preparation. And I hope you can enjoy this process, this searching for all the information your character must have at his fingertips. I know I do. If I could I would give Doctorate’s degrees to actors who do this well. They keep learning as they prepare for each role and I thank them for doing that. You smart actors and actresses allow me as the audience to truly be taken into the world of your character and the play or film. Thank you for doing your work! I can’t wait to see your next performance!

You can find Jeanne Hartman, Professional Acting Coach and Author at


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