Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Does It Take To Be A Good Actor?

 When the stage lights come on and it’s time to say that first line, what do you do when you forget what that line is?  You may be a sight to look at, but the audience wants more than that.  You may have gone to all of the acting classes or seminars, but did they prepare you for this moment? 

The average person would think that all it would take to be a good actor is good looks and talent.  Although, the two can play a big part in acting, there are much more attributes that are needed to be on top of your game.  Make-up can only take you so far.  Auditions can earn you a ticket on the stage, but
what do you do when you get there?

Physical Ability

You don’t have to be a supermodel to be a super actor; however, it is good practice to be in the best physical shape possible.  When you’re an actor, exercise is a must.  Probably, the most important physical attribute an actor must possess is “control” of his/her body.  There’s nothing worse, on the stage, than a clumsy actor.  Control has a lot to do with being in shape.  Basically, it is being able to balance your body in any position you may find yourself in.  If you were playing the part of a butler who had to balance a tray for an entire fifteen minutes during a scene, at least your arm(s) have to be in good shape.  That would also take a great amount of focus.  Of course, that actor would know to abstain from excessive movement before that scene was to start.  He/she would have also rehearsed this numerous times with beverage in the pitcher or glasses.  (You would be surprised how many people practice holding a glass of water and don't actually put water in the glass until the first show.  It can be a serious mess; literally.)  A smart actor would rehearse holding something equal to or even heavier than what he has to use.  An actor is an athlete.  In order to sustain a performance, he/she has to practice and warm-up before performances.  (See the upcoming blog on Physical Warm-ups)

Vocal Ability

Having a good voice is just as important as having a good physique.  A good actor should keep his/her voice flexible and strong to endure abuse and exhaustion.  The ultimate goal of the actor’s voice is to be heard and understood.  If no one can understand what you’re saying, your story or objective will not come across to the audience.  In order to do this, he/she must be skillful in articulating and projecting the voice.  Articulation is, basically, shaping your mouth, teeth, and tongue in a way that you clearly pronounce every consonant and vowel.    Projection means to make what you say and do clear to the audience by properly accentuating and intensifying your voice.  Projecting is not just being loud.  It’s having breath control, while making sure that the person in the last row of the theater can hear and understand you.  Control is very important in dealing with your voice.  Words and phrases take on many meanings when you’re able to manipulate the tone, pitch, rate, and volume of your voice.  Your voice has to fit the role.  It would lose its effectiveness if the role of a mobster was played by someone with a high pitched voice.  That is unless you were shooting for a comedy.  At the same time, the voice should not draw too much attention to itself.  The audience should pay more attention to your intentions not your voice.  As you exercise the body, you have to exercise your voice.  Vocal warm-ups are essential to exercise your voice and the muscles in your mouth.  (See the upcoming blog on Vocal Warm-ups)

Exercise:  Using just one sentence, I will give an example of how using emphasis on a different words can convey different meanings.

1.  Misty walked to work today.  (This makes clear that it was Misty, and one else, that
                                                        walked to work.)

2.  Misty walked to work today.  (This lets us know that Misty walked, as opposed to drove, to
                                                       work.  This could also convey to us that Misty usually doesn't
                                                       walk to work.)

3.  Misty walked to work today.  (This can tell us that, although Misty drove to school, she
                                                       specifically walked to work.)

4.  Misty walked to work today.  (Misty could have drove to work yesterday, but she definitely
                                                        walked today.)

“One of the famous legends of the theatre tells of the wonderful vocal expressiveness of the great Polish actress Helena Modjeska.  Once at a dinner party, when asked to perform one of her famous scenes for the guests, the actress complied by giving a very brief monologue.  Many onlookers were filled with tears by the gripping effect of Modjeska’s eloquence, despite the fact that she performed the “scene” in Polish!  After she had finished, she was asked which great and touching selection she had chosen.  She told them, with a sly wink, that she had recited the Polish alphabet.”  (Introduction to Acting by Stanley Kahan)

Intellectual Ability

Lastly, a good actor is definitely an intelligent person.  It takes a lot of smarts to not only memorize, but also internalize a role.  As I will detail in a later blog, you have to really break down a role scene by scene, monologue by monologue, line by line, and even word by word.  A good actor keeps abreast on current events and is well read.  This is to ensure that you can relate to all character types and sharpen your imagination.  It may sound weird, but you do have to learn to imagine.  A lot of the time, we’re taught that once we reach a certain age, it’s childish to use our imagination.  Where would an Angela Bassett or a Denzel Washington be without imagination?  With any role that you do, you have to do a lot of research.  (I will go into greater detail about the actor’s research in a later post.)  There are some roles that you may be able to draw from your own personal emotional experience, but there may be many that you may not have experienced.

“The drama encompasses the entire range of human history.  Princes, thieves, vagabonds, philosophers, and adventurers are found among the characters of thousands of plays.  The actor undertaking such roles as these will find it literally impossible to draw on first-hand information.”  (Introduction to Acting by Stanley Kahan)

So, as I mentioned, it takes more than just being talented and beautiful to be a good actor.  Even though looking good is easy on an audience’s eyes, they would get pretty board after a while if that’s all you had to offer.  The actor who is physically fit, vocally strong, and intellectually stimulating is a good actor.

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