Acting is hard.

A few days ago, I was reminded of the upcoming season auditions at EPAC (Ephrata Performing Arts Center). Which reminded me I needed to work on memorizing a monologue for the audition. (Which reminds me, I still haven’t signed up, someone remind to do that when I’ve finished this.)

Now, when it comes to acting, whether in a play or performing a monologue, a lot of you probably thought the same as I did, “Oh, all you’re doing is pretending to be someone else while speaking some lines you memorized, right?” I used to be as naive as all of you are. But, having started an acting class, and reading a book on acting (You Can Act! by DW Brown, go read it, all you wanna-be actors), I’ve come to a stark realization: Acting is hard.

In the plays I’ve been in, I’ve managed to get away with “pretending” to be a character, AKA, memorizing the lines, and imagining how my character would say it, maybe imagining the feeling with which he would say it. You might be saying, “Wait, isn’t that what acting is?” Well… Yes, yes it is. But there should be so much more to it than that. You shouldn’t just “pretend” to be your character, you have to be your character. Which, believe it or not, makes this process called acting much harder than I imagined.

In studying my monologue, I tried to follow the advice given in that acting book I’m reading. So, what does becoming your character involve? It involves building your character from scratch in your head, understanding him completely, so that you can take on his characteristics. You start with the basics, the facts in the script: name, relationships, dialog. And then you have to delve deep, and start imagining the why behind the character. You need to create your character’s history, and personality.

You Can Act! suggests a specific path to follow when approaching acting. You start with the whole of the piece, and try to figure out its style, and its theme. Then you take a look at your character, and figure out where he, or she, fits into the theme. Does he go along with it, or does he oppose the theme? Then you use the script to help define what kind of character you have. But see, this is when acting gets hard. The script can only tell you so much about your character. After that, you have to invent, or infer, the rest of it.

What is your character’s Life Goal? What is his relationship with the other characters in the script? What is your character’s relationship with the objects he’s carrying or wearing? What are your character’s physical traits? There are so many questions you need to answer about your character to make him complete. He has to be a whole and believable personality, to give you everything you need to present that to the audience believably.

Once you have an idea of who your character is, then you have to break down the script into the specific scenes. This is also something you need to think about carefully, because no scene happens in a void, it’s affected by everything around it. What happened right before your character came onto the scene, both to you and everyone involved in the scene? What is your character’s emotional state when the scene starts? What is your character’s objective for the scene? What actions do your character take? To whom do you speak, and what’s your relationship with him/her?

And if you think that’s bad, something else that the acting book says is that you need to define your relationship to everything that your character experiences in a scene, whether it’s objects, emotions, people, even sights and smells.

This is complex stuff, and I’m sorry if the previous paragraphs are rambling, disconnected, and overwhelming. That’s just how I feel about the subject at the moment. Acting is something I will be working on for a very long time. But while others may be overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in true acting and quit, I find it exciting to know that as little as I’ve done, there is so much more to explore in this field.

I hope you won’t see this post as an introduction to acting, because it’s really not, it’s just a rant. But the book I mentioned, You Can Act!, is definitely an introduction to acting, and a good manual for even more advanced actors. I highly recommend it to anyone who calls themselves and actor. Buy it, and read it over and over. I know I will. Because acting is hard.


5 thoughts on “Acting is hard.

  1. Acting is like fishing. You put the worm on the hook, cast the line out into the water, wait for three hours to no avail, recasting the line numerous times into different places, and in the end, you have no fish.

    Actually, acting and fishing have nothing to do with each other. That was a completely meaningless metaphor. There may be a couple parallels, but I’m too lazy to find them.

    Something I’d like to add to what you said is that acting involves so much more than what you say, and what you do. I’ve seen a lot of actors that are great at creating a character with their motions and their lines, yet they do nothing with their voice… How would my character say this? What does his voice sound like? One thing I’ve faced a lot with my character in Jane Eyre, is that he’s supposed to be older. How do I get my voice to sound less like 17-year-old-Jay and more like 60-something-year-old-Robert?

    – Jay

    [Edited to change ‘to’ to ‘too’, because Jay can’t stand to look at his awful grammar.]

  2. I completely agree, Caleb. The one tricky thing I think is how to draw the line between being a character for a play, and actually BECOMING some of your character in real life. I think what’s really incredible about good actors is that ability to not become the character they work so hard on creating and portraying.

  3. Jay, that metaphor was pretty awful. Thanks for taking space. However, your comment about your voice was good. That’s just one of the physical attributes that we as actors need to pay attention to, just like how he moves.

    Derek, that’s a good point. It’s very possible to create a character that’s so real to you that you lose a grip on yourself. Or, you’re just psychotic. Like Heath Ledger.

  4. My character in Jane Eyre has by far been the most challenging role I have ever played. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my insane character, Bertha, and trying to better understand her. Haha, sometimes I walk around in circles in my room all crazy-like, thinking about things that Bertha would be thinking about. Playing this role exhausts me, because I get so into it. After screaming my head off, biting people, laughing wildly, and walking around all strange-like… I get tired. Really really tired.

    I’ve really been enjoying the challenge of becoming my character. I think one of the hardest parts about acting crazy is that I get self conscious about the weird things I have to do… But I have to remember that I am Bertha. And Bertha, because she is crazy, isn’t self conscious. She’s unaware of what other people may think of her. So I myself have to apply that, and not care about what my fellow actors think of me when I have to act like I’m off my rocker.

    Anyway. Good thoughts, Caleb. I enjoyed this post, and I can definitely learn from what you wrote. Thanks :)!

    • Blythe I really respect your acting abilities, and how you’re able to disappear into your character, especially the more I’ve learned about acting. And I love the way you’re playing Bertha. Keep up the good work!

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