Do NOT Show your work

I don’t often discuss acting theory here, because honestly there are people you should be listening to before you come to me for any ideas on theory.

But Trilby Jeeves asked a question on Twitter the other day that got a lot of response, and is worth writing about in a little bit more depth. She asked what we did to “get out of our heads”.

As someone who spends an awful lot of time on stage and off lock in his head… that rings for me. So what is my solution? First, a rant.

Talk all you want about the lies of the MFA degree, or the problems with BFAs, or BA’s in theatre or reading that one book by that one guy about theatre that one time as an experiment in college…

There is one lie that hurts live stage performance more than anything else. And I will dispell it now.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ACTING TECHNIQUE.

You heard me.

There are acting styles naturally. Those styles are not attributable to any one teacher or book.

What you are talking about Oh Killer of Shows when you are talking about ‘acting techniques’ are of course rehearsal techniques. There are a wide variety of ways to put a show together, and having a common vocabulary about how you’re going to do that is absolutely vital. I have myself been trained by some wonderful professor in Stanislavsky, Hagen and Meisner, and find a blending of techniques to be most useful in a process.

And if you can see me doing any of them on stage I have failed.

If I see YOU doing them on stage I will mock you mercilessly behind your back. I don’t charge you $15-25 to see my homework and I expect the same courtesy.

In answer to Trilby’s question: I re-add some sort of physical or improv work into either my preshow or rehearsal to focus on something other than the analysis or line work that my brain fixates on.

But the meta fix is of course to hit rehearsal so hard that all of the work falls away by the time you get to running the show. And of course to not still be dependant on any of my rehearsal techniques by the time we let people in the door. If you’re imagining your dead dog on the night of performance? You’re doing it wrong.

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  • Abso-freaking-lutely. If you can see the bones in whatever – acting, playwriting, movies it's an epic fail. It's the reason I hated 'Unbreakable' – I could see M. Night Shyamalan sitting off camera.

  • Yep!

  • sadogre

    True. Nice post.

  • You got excellent writing skills. Awesome article. I enjoyed every word of it. Thanks:)

  • Thank you so much for stopping by.

  • When we build an official “notes” vocabulary for post show “I can see the bones” is going in there.

  • I agree totally — of course, I suppose hiding the rehearsal technique COULD be a technique in itself. But I totally agree with the “hit rehearsals hard” — in fact, I'd go even further: hit OUTSIDE rehearsals hard, i.e., hit the homework hard. Because there is rarely enough time available in rehearsal, but there is way more time available outside of rehearsal. Preparation outside rehearsal, it seems to me, allows you to get outside your head IN rehearsal, so you can interact in-the-moment with the other actors, which allows actual acting to occur. Just a side question: isn;'t blending “Stanislavsky, Hagen and Meisner” sort of like blending different kinds of chocolate — you might get subtle differences, but it's still chocolate?

  • Absolutely re: homework.

    And absolutely re: Chocolate. Which is why I'm merely a good actor and not a great one. All of my training happened to compliment what I had already rather than pushing me into the other side of my brain. I have another 50 years to fix it.

  • Absolutely re: homework.

    and absolutely re: chocolate. That's why I'm a good actor rather than great. My training happened to compliment what I already had rather than stretch it. I have 50 years to fix it 🙂

  • Trav S.D.

    Thanks for linking to my blog. Yours is amazing! so I will immediately reciprocate

  • Trav S.D.

    Thanks for linking to my blog. Yours is amazing! so I will immediately reciprocate

  • I had read Respect for Acting while doing a play because I had hoped that it would have helped with developing the character. I tried out somethings in rehearsal and found that it did nothing. Also, trying to conjure up a memory to get me to have an emotional reaction caused me to lose focus on the scene. When I approached a situation as the character, rather than as Monica Playing This Character, I had the right emotional reaction.

  • Trisha Mead

    A rant I can thoroughly agree with. Don't show your work indeed.