When you go to theater school, you learn how to do a lot of things. You learn to handle text and to read plays critically, to speak fluently and then to speak in accents. You learn to simulate the physical—exclamations of pain are higher in the register the farther the source is from your core—and to simulate the emotional, like the five stages of grief. If you’re lucky you might even learn to hold a sword like a Danish Prince. By then end, you have all the tools you could ever need to make something look real.
The only thing they can’t teach you is how to let them go.
The most important skill in acting is being… in the moment. Big shocker, but harder than it sounds. You have to trust that all the figuring out how your character walks, talks, and thinks will still be there without your conscious attention.
Once you’re in the scene, you’re in the scene, and you can’t be worrying about how you (Hamlet) are standing. All your focus has to be on Laertes swinging a sword at your face, or you’re lost. And not just because your fellow actor maybe just maimed you and they’re dropping the curtain and calling 911…
…but because suddenly Hamlet is gone, and there you stand trying to show us how Hamlet stands. Hamlet doesn’t think about how he stands anymore than you or I do. He just stands. Acting is never a finished product, but a constant process of existing truthfully.
The whole equation can be distilled down to a distinction of simple rhetoric. After an audition, you might reasonably ask an actor “how did you do?”. A new actor will tell you “I started strong, then I forgot to do this gesture that I always do in the third line but it didn’t matter because I covered it with a head shake and then…” xyz you get the idea.
A more experienced actor won’t understand the question. It would be like asking “how did you do?” to someone getting back from the doctor’s office. “I went to the audition, for fifteen minutes I was in Denmark, and the director will let me know in a week.”
Stop trying to do, and just let yourself be. That’s the key to acting.
So should it be in life.
Your day at the beach can’t be more or less effective than mine. They can be VASTLY different (you don’t like to put on sunscreen, I don’t like to swim, you collect rocks, I throw a football around), but we both experience the beach.
It’s only when we each post photos of our beach day, and one gets 200 likes to the other’s 15, that we create a false equivalency. That’s when the 15 looks at the 200 and thinks “what did Idowrong” and the 200 thinks “wow, I did something right!”. Now it’s not about experiencing the beach, but about a jury of public opinion that evaluates our experience.
The most important thing about going to the beach is going to the beach. Its not something to be graded on by anyone but yourself.
Every time we open our phones, we see photos and videos of everyone else doing things, thousands of accomplishments, degrees, promotions, celebrations, every time we scroll. We don’t see process anymore, only more and more result. By evaluating the result, we give up the experience and depend upon the evaluation.
The average income of Americans 18-35 is $35,000. There are more single people in America than ever in history. And yet people are more stressed about being behind financially and romantically than ever before. Why is that? Because we’ve lost track of being and are focused only on doing. Result has replaced process.
We’re trying so hard to show how we stand, when all we ever had to do was stand there, in the middle of a Danish winter, and ask the world why it took our father away from us.