Who hasn’t stood in front of the mirror in their bathroom, looked at their reflection, and then broken into some manner of acting? Whether reciting a Shakespearean verse, a line from their favorite movie, or simply performing an improvisation routine for their own enjoyment, people have long pretended to be actors within the confines and comfort of their own home. Most typically, this occurs either in the bathroom or the bedroom, where they have some privacy, where other members of the household can’t see them, hear them, or make fun of them.
Acting has been the focus of many philosophical discussions about its origins as well as its purpose. For some, acting is nothing more than entertainment, allowing an audience to escape their daily lives for a little while, to shake of the stress of work, family, neighbors, and everything else that seems to encompass most of our lives on a regular basis. Acting, whether it is through plays, movies, comedy skits, or straight improvisation, may help the audience to simply connect with each other, as a meeting place or social function. Acting is then merely the glue that brings and binds all of these people together, and offers them some common ground to talk about once the performance has ended.
For others, acting is a way to bring about social or moral injustice to light, to spread gospel of religion, politics, or personal beliefs. While many actors do not actually write the content that they perform, acting in itself could every well be a pulpit from which writers spread their beliefs to others.
In our modern society, acting has taken on much more significance than it has at any other time throughout our history. Actors of television programs, movies, or Broadway shows, for example, are revered, held high on a pedestal of respect. These celebrities inspire millions more people around the world to want to live that lifestyle, to seek the fame and fortune that comes from being a part of a major production. But at the same time, these actors, whether they are performing on the big screen, the small screen, or on stage, often do a disservice to the entire notion of acting.
There are those actors who excel and become starlets of popular fame due to their inherent or trained talents, yet there are too many that only gain popularity for their off-screen, or off-stage behaviors. Acting offers people much more than a few hours of entertainment and can offer the actor himself or herself the opportunity to explore his or her inner self, to share something innate with others.
Most actors perform in local presentations, and their names are known to only a few people within their community. They don’t act for money, fame, or fortune. They don’t act for accolades. They act for the enjoyment it brings them, for the ability to reach deep within their own life and experiences to share them with others. Acting can help one overcome shyness, past trauma, or release energy that builds up inside.
Acting has come a long way throughout the centuries, but at its core, it is the same today as it was thousands of years ago in Greek tragedies.
Getting Started in Acting
Anyone can become an actor. There are few things in this world that can be open to anyone and everyone. People of any age can begin to act. Acting isn’t like taking to sports where a person needs to train from an early age, generally in childhood, to become a professional or take part in competitive games and competitions. Acting is open to all individuals, regardless of any handicaps or shortcomings.
Elderly men and women often take to acting later in life in an effort to fill a void within their own life that retirement has left them with, or to attempt to connect with others within their community. People who can’t walk, those born with mental deficiencies, the sick and infirm, and the healthy and virulent are more than capable of acting, given the right support and training.
In fact, anyone can act, with or without any proper training. The level of performance will generally be affected by the training or lack thereof that one receives. It can be compared to those individuals who enjoy singing. Anyone who can speak can open their mouths and sing, though many would argue that there are certain people who have no inherent musical ability and are generally tone-deaf (meaning that they can’t hit the right notes, no matter what they try to do). Acting is similar to singing in this aspect.
If you can stand up and recite lines from a play or movie, then you can act. Actually, there are some actors who never utter a word of dialogue, so if a person can inflect with movement, even the most subtle hand gestures, can be an actor.
Christopher Reeve gained fame and popularity for his role as Superman in the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties movie franchise. He was professionally trained and received critical acclaim for his acting throughout the years. Yet when he was thrown from a horse and suffered a broken neck and was paralyzed from the neck down, many considered his acting career to be over. In fact, Christopher Reeve proved these people wrong and showed the world that one doesn’t need to be able to move in order to act.
When you want to begin your own acting career, or you know somebody who wants to start acting, then the first best step would be to find an acting coach. There shouldn’t be any reason to spend a considerable amount of money paying for the earliest acting lessons. Many community theaters will have the resources to help you find the right person to help you with your journey into acting. There are those actors who will charge several hundred dollars per session, but this should only be reserved for professionals seeking a serious career in acting.
Contact your local community theater and find out if there are volunteers, other actors who perform regularly for the company, who might be willing to offer some guidance and instruction. In most communities, there are several people who will offer their services for free because of their love and passion for this art form.
Set up a video camera
The next thing that you can do is to set up a video camera on a tripod, pick up a few familiar scripts –plays or movie scripts that you are familiar with- and act out certain scenes in front of the camera. Then go back and watch your performance. Judge it fairly and try to determine whether your performance came across as you had hoped or if it fell somewhat short of your expectations. This is a great way to see your mannerisms, eye contact, and inflection of your voice.
Many people act and think that their performance was stellar, but what they don’t see is the subtle nuances that can affect any performance. What one might deem as being ideal, upon review of the video recording, could come across as something much less than that. Please note, at this point, that any judgment about one’s performance, regardless of whether it’s the first time or the one-hundredth time acting, is that the video is there to offer you clear insight into the performance and shouldn’t be used as a judge to make you give up.
Find other actors in the region
Just as with music, we enjoy performing with other people who share our similar passions. Community theater offers many individuals the opportunity to perform full-length plays and productions for the community, whether charging for tickets or offering free performances, but many new actors don’t find themselves comfortable with this venture. Getting together with other actors, regardless of level, who want to perform, rehearse, and improve, is important in the process.
Again, you can call local community theaters for lists of people that may be interested in forming an acting group, or a repertoire, or you can log on to the Internet to find these groups that may already exist. There are more websites every week that connect people within their region to others who share their interest. Keep looking and contact these groups when you find them. Some may advertise professionalism, but this doesn’t necessarily mean high-quality actors, but more of a mindset. They will want people who are serious about acting and are willing to work on their craft to improve continuously.
Watch the best performances
If you’re into movies, then rent or purchase movies that won awards for performances, such as best actor, best actress, and best supporting roles. Watch the movies and study the performances of these actors who won the awards. Go out to see plays that have won awards as well. These may cost some money, but they are learning experiences.
Ask you fellow local actors who the top actors within your region are and what performances they are taking part in, and then go and watch them act.
Want To Take It Further?
So, feeling inspired after watching some of those Academy Award winners? Feel pretty good about practicing the craft? Deciding to take a hobby into a profession, particularly acting, is serious business because the rate of success is very low. Every year, hundreds of hopeful people travel to Hollywood and New York, hoping to make it big, but almost all of them end up going back into obscurity. Ever watched “American Idol”? They search through thousands of people, to find one person to be the winner, and even then, only a couple of the winners have achieved stardom. Sometimes, dreams stay exactly that- dreams.
Show business is exactly that- a business. While the ability to act may or may not be important, the thing that creates success is marketing. A hopeful actor needs to remember that even though they have succeeded in perfecting their range from the Lady Macbeth monologue to being able to rival the best improv troupe, talent isn’t everything. Flipping through a few television shows proves that. A great head shot, an impressive resume, a good agent, and having marketable skills are just as important. Don’t worry about that casting couch- a reputable agent does not use one.
Speaking of agents- a reputable agent will never ask for money up front. If the agent who has approached you is asking for money- run in the other direction!
Tips And Tricks
Butterflies are normal! All actors experience them. Nervousness will get the adrenaline flowing and will help the actor be more alert and able to give a better performance. Use the nervousness; don’t try to block it out.
Don’t break character while onstage! Everyone forgets their lines. However, if the actor does not break character, they will be able to recover and the audience will never notice. Try to keep the scene going and the other actors onstage will help get the scene back to where it is supposed to be.
Tips For That Important Audition
An actor would do well to always be prepared at audition. They should make sure they have the required material by studying the audition notice. Bring the required amount of audition material- don’t show up with one monologue if the notice asks for two. Match the material to the type play. For example, if auditioning for Equus, don’t prepare to audition with the “Springtime for Hitler” scene from The Producers.
This may seem obvious, but actors should make sure they are right for the part being called for. Tyler Perry is not looking for a 5’2” blonde 30 year old woman to play Madea. Follow the guidelines and be as organized as possible.
Be reliable. Show up at least ten or fifteen minutes early for audition. Don’t talk to everyone- spend the time waiting preparing for the audition. This will show the casting director that the actor is serious about getting the part. Also, bring a head shot and a resume, if one is available.
Remember, an audition is a lot like a job interview, so behave accordingly. Don’t use profane language, don’t chew gum, and don’t talk too much. Dress nicely- business casual usually works well. By business casual, we mean slacks or a skirt and a nice shirt or blouse. If the part is for an easily recognizable character, such as Dracula- don’t come in dressed in a costume. It’s not a Halloween party- the actor is trying to put their best foot forward and the best way is not copying someone else’s look. The casting director will be more prone to be amused than to think the actor is trying to be serious.
The actor should make certain that they are very familiar with their audition piece so that they are able to perform their lines instead of just speak them. This way, they can show the casting director the person in the play, not the person on stage.
Don’t apologize or ask to try again. It is natural for an actor to immediately become his or her own worst critic. Keep these thoughts to yourself. Thank the casting director for their time and walk off stage. If they are right for the part, then the casting director will call. If not, then there are lots of other parts out there!
Film Versus Stage Acting
While most people in modern society are familiar with film actors, there is a major difference between acting for a camera and acting for the stage. On film, there is lighting, angles, and microphones that all come into play. Every nuance, facial gesture, or vocal inflection becomes magnified on film and is therefore important to focus on the minor details.
On stage, projection, facing the audience, and body mannerisms are the focal energy of a performance. It is common in the performing arts that award-winning stage actors have trouble adjusting to film productions and that highly acclaimed film actors fall far short of their prowess when put on the stage. It is considered a more appropriate path for actors to study for the stage and then move to film than the other way around, but if your interest is in performing and not on fame or fortune, then it shouldn’t matter where you start.
Being that film productions tend to be more expensive than stage productions, it is much easier to find small roles in local community theater than finding acting spots on television programs or commercials.
The actor needs to be aware that camera acting and stage acting are two different things. Basically, stage acting is exaggerated and camera acting is just acting normal- normal tone of voice, normal movements and so on. Some obvious differences between film and stage acting need very little elaboration.
1. Volume: When acting on stage, the volume is all about projection. The actor must use correct diction and voice projection so that even people sitting in the last row in the balcony can hear them. Not so with camera acting. There is a microphone close by at all times, so the actor can just speak, so acting in front of a camera is basically normal. (Unless it’s a soap opera we’re talking about).
2. Movement: When acting on stage, moving around is expected, but on camera moving around can mean walking off camera. The director will have the actor “hit their mark” and stay there so that the scene stays in frame. Notice how people in real life act when they are talking. Do they move their arms around or pace? No. Watch a few television shows and notice how sometimes the camera will cut to a “shoulder shot” when the actor is gesturing too much. On camera, an actor should restrict his or her movements to one per act. This way, the actor has to think about their movements and make them count so that they add to the story being told, not take away from it.
3. Size: On stage, the actor’s face will rarely be seen close up. The on-stage actor will be required to use their bodies to communicate emotion. On camera, it can fill the whole frame, so that every movement, every twitch is seen. Camera acting calls for more subtlety than stage acting. For example, a surprising revelation on stage may include a loud gasp, the raising of the hands, a step back, the arching of the back to communicate to the audience- wow! That really took me off my feet! On camera, the same emotion can be communicated by raising the eyebrows and dropping the jaw.
Don’t underestimate the power of the audience. If the actor has done their job properly, the audience is emotionally involved with the character. Listening to the main character’s beloved say- “I don’t want you anymore” will bring about an automatic reaction in the audience. The actor doesn’t have to overreact- the audience knows they are hurt- work with that empathy to create a great on-stage or on-camera performance.
Acting is a fantastic way for anyone to perform and entertain, whether it’s for their local community through community theater or even in the confines and comfort of their own home for family and friends, or stepping out onto the major stage or a television show or even a major motion picture. People from all walks of life, with any handicaps or limitations can act.
Acting helps us to connect with one another in a way that is far different than conversation. Acting portrays ideas and good acting helps an audience to connect with a character and believe in his or her plight, to empathize and feel something for somebody else.
While too many people in our modern society focus on acting as a million dollar, celebrity lifestyle and opportunity, most actors live and breathe within the comfort of local theaters. If you’re interested in acting, then you’re about to take your first steps into a greater world of wonder and entertainment.
Frequently Asked Questions
I have never taken any acting classes, but people tell me all the time I should act. Are they right?
While no one can speak about your talents or abilities, acting is that one art form that is not relegated to the privileged few. If your friends or family members encourage you to pursue a life in acting, or even a hobby with acting, then you must ask yourself if it’s something that you enjoy. If not, then there’s no point in pursuing it. Regardless of innate talent or natural ability, if you don’t enjoy something, you won’t stick with it.
Are there acting classes or courses that I can attend?
Absolutely. Whether you’re interest in the cream of the crop, such as Julliard’s Performing Arts school in New York City, or local classes from your community college, there are plenty of opportunities to stretch your abilities and talents and learn from qualified teachers.
What kind of money can I expect to make from acting?
Anywhere from none to millions. It all depends on your talent, skills, personal ambition, and sometimes a bit of luck. Most actors perform on community stages and have no desire to make any serious money. These actors are considered part-time or volunteer actors and only perform for the enjoyment it brings them. If you have higher ambitions, then it’s important to find a manager or representation firm to help you navigate the world of entertainment.