#3 How to Really Listen in Acting

Do you want to know how to listen in acting?  Really and truly?

In the first post of this series, I shared some questions to ask to investigate your active listening skills and in the second post I gave you four of seven actions you can take to improve.  Here are the final three actions you can take right away to really get your listen on.

5.  Meisner’s Repetition Exercise

You can’t really talk about listening in acting and not reference the great acting teacher Sanford Meisner.


Here is a Meisner exercise you can practice with a friend.

Face each other and take a few breaths.  Take each other in.
One actor starts by noticing and then saying something about the other.  For example, “You have freckles”.
The other actor responds by repeating the words “You have freckles”.
The two actors repeat the line back and forth like a game of tennis.
Be careful not to alter the inflection, attempt to make the line sound more interesting or really do anything to change it at all.

Now try repeating from your point of view.

You have freckles
I have freckles?
You have freckles
I have freckles?

If you pick up on something from your partner during the exercise and feel an authentic impulse to make a new observation you might say:

You think it’s funny.
I think it’s funny?
You think it’s funny.
I think it’s funny?

By really listening to each other in this exercise you will take the focus off yourself.  (If you can, it is best to practice this exercise with a well-trained teacher who can help catch you in any habits you may have since you won’t be able to feel them on your own right away.)

6.  3 Minutes

World renown voice teacher Patsy Rodenburg shares this great exercise in her book: The Right to Speak: Working with the Voice.

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“Take time to sit still and listen. You might want to close your eyes to help shut out distractions. Sit very still and just listen for a full three minutes. Count the number of sounds you can hear. Then try peeling away the layers of specific: sounds. Actually listen through sounds to try and hear sounds behind them. Listen to your own breathing
and to other sounds you make.”

7.  Listen for Intent

You can’t just listen to the words themselves.  Uta Hagen talks about this in her book Respect for Acting.


An actor may think they are listening but in reality are focusing only on the words.

Check in and make sure you are really listening for the intent of the idea being sent.  In life we hear things through the filter of our own point of view and our expectations.  Sometimes we even hear only what we want to hear, don’t we?

I hope you learned a lot from the listening series, guys.  As always, I am happy to answer any questions you may have right here on the blog, on the Facebook page or via email.


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