“If we could only listen to each other on the stage like the animals in the forest do–as though our lives depended on it.”
Larry Moss has that fabulous quote from actress Geraldine Page (who many consider to be one of the greatest of all time) in his book The Intent to Live and it is one of my favorite quotes about acting.
So, listen up, actors!
No, literally. Listen.
Have you been told by a director or casting person that you need to listen more? Casting directors say that not listening is one of the most common problems for an actor to have in an audition. One of my students continued to get that feedback from casting so we decided to tackle it, which, of course made me feel a blog post coming on…
How do you really listen in acting?
It may seem like a simple idea, but there are many factors that come into play here so it isn’t necessarily a quick fix. Why is that?
Well, because listening is tied to many things. One of the biggest challenges for the actor here is to let go of the preplanned response and allow an authentic reaction to come through.
In this “art” series all about listening, I am going to share 6 questions to ask yourself that will help you make sure you are really and truly listening. Then I will give you 7 things you can do to improve your listening skills.
1. Am I staying present?
I talk to my students a lot about staying present or being “in the moment”. This means you are living your scene in the now of now. When you are completely present in the scene, you aren’t thinking about whether the director thinks you’re good or if the audience is laughing or if your hair looks good that day. Then you can be completely focused on what the other person is giving you and be available to your impulses.
2. Have I done my homework?
I talk about this in my game changer series. Your homework (script analysis, backstory, intentions, etc) is a giant net there to support you and when you prepare really well you can let go, live moment to moment and really listen. This will also keep you improvisational, available to impulses and to what the other person is giving you.
3. Do I really believe it?
You must truly hold the idea that it is all brand new. You have to literally believe you have never heard anything the other person is saying.
4. Do you tend to care a lot what other people think of you in life?
You might have to take a big breath and get honest here. Nobody likes to think of themselves as a person dominated by the opinions of others, but most of us have this to a certain degree and there is nothing wrong with that. However, when needing to get it right, be the perfect good student or really impress someone start to run the show, you are so focused on yourself it becomes impossible to focus on someone else. Which means you won’t be able to listen in your life or in your acting.
5. And on that note–Do you listen in your everyday life?
Oftentimes actors who don’t listen in their day to day lives don’t listen in their acting either. This can be a huge “a ha!” moment for many people so pay attention as you go about your day. This is also tied to being focused on yourself. When we operate like this, we are usually planning the next thing we are going to say instead of really being with the person in front of us.
6. Are you mad/sad/frustrated/disappointed when you get notes or feedback?
This is one of the most important things to learn when studying any craft and it’s tied into being strongly influenced by what other people think: Embrace the process and let it be okay to mess up, do it “badly” or “wrong” and make mistakes. A lot of actors want to nail it or get it right every time and then get defensive or bummed out when they get a note. If this sounds familiar, take it as a clue that you might be more concerned with being right or doing a “good job” than actually living the scene and telling the story. And that doesn’t make you bad, just human! If you can pay attention and catch it, you can start to let go of it.
So that’s a few places to start when working on listening. But now what can you do to improve? Stay tuned for the next two posts! I will share 7 things you can do to improve your listening skills right away.