Q: I get overwhelmed by all the rejection and all the crazy and messiness of this industry, but I always make myself revert back to when I was doing theatre. I would perform in front of basically nobody, but I loved acting. The stage was the most peaceful part of my day. So, if I start getting distracted by the optics of my career, I remember when I did it for no money and no reason- really the only reason I did it was because I loved it.
This is such a great solution you’ve found for yourself regarding concentration. One of the great “actor problems’ is, what should I concentrate on? And you bring up an important point to consider: your original impulse for creating in the first place. I often ask actors: when you were a child playing all alone, what would you do? The answer can be telling. For example, I would create stories with my dolls. I would enact scene after scene with them, blocking the scenes, creating the dialogue, improvise for hours in a world I designed, several stories a day. So, it’s no wonder I’m a director. With actors the answer is: I did impersonations, I performed solo shows for my friends and family, I put on plays, I imagined I was a super hero, I played video games where I was the lead guy, and so on. What was your original creative impulse, before there was anything at stake? And now, when there is so much at stake that can potentially distract, like the money and the “optics” as you say (great word), how can you stay focused on what will actually serve you?
An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive and poetic book on the actor’s process. He takes into consideration that an actor must create a full human being in order to truly live the part from beginning to end. The human being consists of not just a physicality, but also a consciousness, an unconscious, an inner life. So how do we stay connected to this inner life, when there are so many distractions pulling us toward our exterior or our image? Somehow, it is required that you have the concentration to be private in public. How do we do this?
One point of interest and essential tool is Love. What do you love? Not only about the actor loving acting, because of course, you do. But what does the character love? Every character loves. Even Hannibal Lector loved something. It’s a very interesting question to engage the character with their own human condition. And if it comes from your imagination, answering that question will inspire your inner life. What does my character love?
It’s underestimated how much discipline the actors craft requires. It’s no accident that the first thing Stanislavski talks about in An Actor Prepares is discipline. You have to have a personal relationship to all of the given circumstances of your scene: who are you, where are you, what are you doing, why are you doing it, when are you doing it, and make sure each answer moves you personally. What drives the character that truly motivates you the actor?
In the character’s world, there is no audience or camera and crew. There is a specific world that the author created, and it’s within those parameters that you live. It’s very important to know at all times what is in your world specifically. For example, how does it smell? What are the sounds? What objects are here that connect you? What activities do you feel like doing in the world? What colors do you see and how do they make you feel? What’s on the fourth wall, the invisible wall between you and the camera or you and the audience? Your relationship with these elements must be more engaging to you than your relationship with the camera or with the audience. The more specific your relationship is with the details of your environment, the better your concentration will be. And when distracted, you will know specifically what to bring your focus back to whether on set, on stage, at an audition, or at an awards ceremony.
It is not your job to watch yourself, that is the job of the director, the public. It is your job to stay connected to your inner life and to act from there. Your connection will create a sensation. If you’re making contact with that sensation, you are in the right territory within. Then you will be in your craft and prepared to play freely and discover.
“Very often we cannot come through definite data to know the inner life of the person we are studying and can only reach towards it by means of intuitive feeling. Here we are dealing with the most delicate type of concentration of attention, and with the powers of observation that are subconscious in their origin. Our ordinary type of attention is not sufficiently far-reaching to carry out the process of penetrating another person’s soul. “-Stanislavski
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Kymberly Harris is an actor’s director. She specializes in character-driven stories, whether the genre is drama, comedy, thriller, or action. Her extensive experience as a method acting coach to professional actors of all ages has led actors to seek her out to direct them towards their best performances in film, television, and theatre projects. Kymberly is a private coach to select clients and an instructor at The Lee Strasberg Film and Theatre Institute. She is also the founder of @firsthand.films.