In the first post of this series, I shared 6 things to ask yourself to see how well you might be listening in your acting. Now I am excited to share 7 different things you can do to really improve. In this post you can venture into the first 4 of the 7 and find out how to listen in acting.
1. You have to actually listen, you can’t act it.
Sometimes actors will attempt to correct this issue by faking it. They furrow their brow, nod when it seems appropriate, etc, but the audience will know. Especially on camera. Real listening will shake up how you actually react to what the other person is giving you. Check in and make sure you aren’t pretending to listen.
2. Repeat Exercise
Try this exercise with your scene partner (or a friend if you are working alone):
Repeat the other character’s line (as your character) before you say yours, then say your line.
For example, if you are A and the other person is B in the following scene–
A: Where are you going?
B: Back home. I’m sick of this.
A: Why, what did I do?
B: The fact that you don’t know is really disappointing…
For the exercise, the scene would be read like this:
A: Where are you going?
B: Where am I going? Back home. I’m sick of this.
A: Back home. You’re sick of this. Why, what did I do?
B: Why, what did you do? The fact that you don’t know is really disappointing…
Try it out and you will be amazed at how it can change the way you react because you are really hearing the words said to you.
I always get excited when an actor forgets their lines in a well-rehearsed scene because it usually means they were really listening and beginning to break out of how they had rehearsed or planned it.
3. Reaction Exercise
Here’s a fun way to listen for a reaction and not just your cue.
Before you start your scene, decide to try to get something out of the other person. Don’t worry too much if it’s right for the scene, just try it for the sake of the exercise.
For example, before the scene decide that your sole focus is to get the other person to laugh. Then pay attention to whether it’s working and keep at it throughout the whole scene. Now, you will be really listening for a reaction.
You can do this with your intentions, too.
4. We don’t only listen with our ears.
Listening requires all five senses and to do it well we need to stay sharp! We have to take in everything around us.
Uta Hagen says this in her book Respect for Acting:
“We also “listen” with our eyes. Our eyes, as well as our ears, evaluate and interpret. We interpret content and intention from an expression or movement which the action has given to the words.”
Get a friend to say “I hate you” with a scowl on their face. Then have them do it with a big smile. If you listen with your eyes, I bet you will hear the words very differently.
Next week I’ll put up of the final post of listening series so stay tuned for the last three and rock those listening skills.