OPINION: 7 Tips to become a better actor

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by Travis Green
March 23, 2018

The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sugar Factory Playhouse, West Jordan Theater Arts, or the City of West Jordan.

What is the secret to becoming a world-class actor? That’s really complicated, and no one can give a definitive answer to that question. But here are seven things you can do right now to up your game!

1. Mind your own business.
We’ve all had the experience of watching another actor perform and thinking, “Oh, it would be so much better if she said that line this way!” or “If he just did this with his head after saying that, it would be so much funnier!” After all, they can’t see how they look or hear how they sound, right? But you can! You’re just trying to help them give a better performance! Don’t. Just…don’t. Unless you’re the director, your job is to give the best performance you can give. Focus on yourself, not others.

Now, with that being said, if you have a suggestion that you really, really feel you have to make, make the suggestion to the director in private. There may occasionally be circumstances where a tweak to a castmate’s line delivery or timing would allow you to give a better performance, but in general, let the director figure that out. Giving advice to your fellow actors rarely ends in anything but tears and eternal hatred. And you don’t need that negativity in your life.

2. Bond with your castmates.
Remember that guy that would just sit in the corner playing Candy Crush between scenes instead of fraternizing with the rest of the cast? You probably can’t even remember his name, can you? He was just that guy that played the sheriff in that ill-advised off-off-Broadway production of Richard Nixon: The Musical (Hey, don’t beat yourself up for doing that show; you needed the money, and you were awesome as Pat Nixon! Don’t let anyone tell you differently!).

Anyone that’s been acting for any amount of time knows that relationships are extremely important in the theater world. Building a positive reputation as a dedicated, talented, and amiable actor can mean the difference between getting great parts in great shows and just endlessly auditioning for great parts in great shows. You don’t have to become BFFs with everyone you work with, and you won’t even like everyone you work with, but don’t put a sign on your forehead that says, “Leave me alone.” Be friendly, cheerful, and eager to help out however you can, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll start building connections that will pay off in the future.

3. Take a chill pill.
One of the mistakes that everyone makes when they start out acting is trying to make every line and every bit of blocking significant, which is understandable considering most actors start out with very small parts but very big dreams. When you’re playing Tree #3 in The Wizard of Oz and have only two lines, it’s tempting to try to make those two lines stand out as much as possible. So you practice the lines a thousand ways and spend hours thinking about the motivation of a tree and end up overacting and pulling focus from the important lines of the scene. Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer gets a bit part in a Woody Allen movie and everyone over-analyzes his line “These pretzels are making me thirsty”? Don’t be like that.

It’s important to understand that not all lines are created equal, and not all parts are created equal. Some lines and characters are truly just background lines and background characters. Does that mean they’re not needed? No, but it means they’re not meant to be front-and-center, at least not all the time. Imagine Wicked without the Ozians, Oklahoma without the townsfolk, and The Lion King without the wildebeests. Wouldn’t be the same, would they?

Even for leads, it’s important to figure out which lines are important and which aren’t. Not every line needs to draw a laugh or a gasp from the audience. Find the peaks and valleys of your lines and put the emphasis where it should be.

4. Pay attention during rehearsal.
It’s no secret that a big part of being an actor is sitting around waiting for your turn to take the stage during rehearsal (C’mon, Becky! The line is “I would never have poisoned you if I had known you were my brother!” Get it right so we can go home before midnight!). But that doesn’t mean you can check out and get lost in cat pictures on Facebook. Eventually Becky’s going to get that line right, and you’re going to need to be ready! There’s nothing more frustrating than having to stop rehearsing a scene because an actor was neck-deep in Snapchat and missed their cue. What’s worse is when they don’t even know where you were in the scene once they noticed everyone staring at them.

If you can Tweet and still keep track of what’s going on in rehearsal, that’s great, but if you can’t, put away your phone and stay focused on rehearsal! Your director will love you, and so will your fellow actors.

5. Help solve problems.
Directors have a lot they have to worry about, especially in community theater. Where are we going to find a steampunk tea set? How are we going to make two Abominable Snowman costumes out of one yard of fabric? And where are we going to find a proficient zither player on one-week’s notice?

With so much to worry about, having to figure out how to make things work on stage can be overwhelming. If you have an idea of how to solve that tricky bit of blocking or get that trapdoor to work the way it’s supposed to, pipe up! Actors have good ideas, and directors are grateful for help solving the thousand-and-one problems that face them. Just make sure you don’t start telling other people what to do or contradicting the director/set designer/choreographer/whoever else. Offer up your idea at the right time and be willing to let it go if they don’t use your suggestion.

6. Be kind and assume positive intent.
Actors spend a lot of time around each other under sometimes stressful circumstances, so it’s no surprise that things can get a little…tense sometimes. Everyone gets tired, bored, or overwhelmed from time to time, and tempers can flare up if everyone isn’t consciously working to be kind to each other and assume positive intent from others. Is everyone always going to be kind to you? No. Will everyone always have your best interests in mind? No. But everyone would get along better if they did the best they could to treat others with respect and kindness and assumed the same from others.

Talking smack about the director, your fellow actors, or the sound guy is a quick way to burn bridges and build walls. If you have beef with someone, get it off your chest alone in front of the mirror; don’t talk about people behind their backs. If you have a genuine problem that needs to be addressed, talk to the person face-to-face respectfully and in private with the intent to find a resolution to the problem, not to put them in their place. Everyone will be happier.

7. Learn your lines so well you can deliver them without thinking about them.
You’ve heard the phrase “Acting begins when memorization ends,” right? You haven’t? Hmm. That’s odd. It’s a pretty common theater phrase. Nevertheless, it’s true. You can’t really act if you’re focused on remembering your next line. Once your lines are completely memorized, you can start paying attention to your face, your body movements, and how you deliver your lines.

In addition, do the best you can to memorize your lines as written. Authors spend a lot of time and effort choosing their words, and if you just approximate your lines, you’re likely losing some of the humor or pathos that the author built into the words. It’s also important to realize that your fellow actors are relying on your line delivery to tell them when it’s time to deliver their lines. If you’re delivering the line differently every performance, it makes it much harder on the other actors.

Wanna step up to the next level as an actor? Work on your memorization! A whole new world of acting finesse awaits you!

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Travis Green is an actor and director and has served as the Marketing Specialist for Sugar Factory Playhouse since 2015. He works as a Business Systems Analyst during the day and enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters, watching movies, reading, and performing.