By Darren Darnborough, for Edwardsturm.com.
While it’s true of most professions that practice makes perfect, it’s especially true in acting, in which practice is both imperative not only for the long term, but for each role. A good actor will continually work on her skills, hone her craft, and become an expert at both the audition and the job, be it on stage, television, film, or web.
Practice is great, but guided thought-out practice is even better. Constant improvement is crucial, but being able to speed up improvement cycles is where the greats become separated from the all stars.
Below are some quick and easy tips to improve your game on a regular basis. You may know some of them already, but how many are you actually doing?
Read out Loud, Every Day
Commit to reading a chapter or two of a book every day aloud, to your significant other, roommate or even just to yourself. As an actor, your voice is your instrument and you should exercise it. If you are reading an acting book, consider this a double-whammy: you and your listener will both be learning, at the same time as working your vocal tones, diction, delivery and education.
The renown acting coach, Ron Marasco, suggests reading all sentences as if you are in a convincing conversation.
Experiment with monologues, as you can practice these alone and as they’re a great way to understand what kind of characters you best adhere to. Celebrity actor, Jimmy Akingbola, advises “Pick a monologue that is close to you and that you connect with,” whilst Camille Hollett-French, a winner of the MonologueSlam, adds, “Monologues have built-in confessions in them. Revel in that. And always choose the most interesting emotional state of being for that character.”
Go On Podcasts
You don’t need to be famous to appear on a podcast. There are podcast networks that match hosts with guests and vice versa.
Speaking on a podcast helps train your storytelling abilities, public speaking comfort, and generally is better if you want to train your voice to be more pleasant-sounding. It’s also a boost for your portfolio and career circle.
PodMatch is among the most popular of these networks. It algorithmically connects you with hosts several times a day who may be a good fit.
Go on these podcasts, share stories, experiences, insights, and more – then share your appearances on social media, your website, and your portfolio.
Offer to Help Your Friends with Their Auditions
If you have a good circle of friends in the acting business, the chances are they will be getting regular auditions between them. Actors are aware that asking for help is often a burden, so save your friends the trouble and offer regularly.
Reading opposite someone for their audition will give you great insights into what roles are out there and being cast. Also, unless a monologue, auditions are at least a two-person script. Just because you aren’t going for the job, doesn’t mean you can’t learn or benefit from the practice.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes 10,000 hours to master any craft. You want to be a great actor? Awesome; do everything you can to inch towards those 10,000 hours. Practicing with your friends is good start.
Also expect to discover that you’re more perceptive to different ideas and breaking the script down when it’s not your audition. The cherry on top? If you help your friends become successful, you may find that your successful friends help you in the future.
Even if you don’t know any other actors, don’t let that stop you. Find random groups online, go to meetups, or check out my service, WeAudition, which lets you practice and rehearse with random actors over video chat.
Work on a Different Accent Daily
Why wait until there’s a job on the line before you frantically begin learning the accent required? Have some in your toolbox.
Look up accent videos on YouTube. Amy Walker has a great series on this, which is worth checking out. It’s also very easy to look up a native of each dialect and practice that.
Better still, get a dedicated accent coach that you can speak to in-person or on video chat (Gaby Santinelli is great), or request the accent you need on my service in order to be connected to a native actor that fits.
Small efforts practiced daily will compound over time into extraordinary results. Make this a habit.
Read the Script, the Whole Script and Nothing but the Script
Sounds obvious, but you can put yourself ahead of the competition just by knowing the material.If you have a copy of the whole script, read it, every word, front to back without distraction, before learning the role. You’ll get valuable insight into the characters, tone and relationships that will help inform your role, and understand how the character talks, walks and interacts.
If you don’t have the whole script, read what you have in its entirety. Look up any words you don’t understand and really get to know what they mean. You won’t say it convincingly unless you know its meaning.
Sometimes you don’t get access to the whole script, or you do, but only at certain times.
Read your sides a few times to understand the scene, then you can begin to learn the lines. Just as important as knowing what unfamiliar words mean, you should also either know, or make a choice about the subtext of dialogue, or what the character means or intends with what s/he is saying.
You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to commit lines to memory once you fully understand what a scene is about and the objectives your character has. Philip Hernández, a New York City audition coach, recently said in this Backstage article, “Instead of memorizing the words, spend time considering how you get from one thought to the next. Allow yourself to make connections and associations, no matter how random, and build bridges that make sense to you.”
Break up the Sentences So They Flow Naturally
A writer has written the script a certain way, with rhythm and flow, so it is very important to respect that and the punctuation. However, if you’re having trouble memorizing and learning the lines; it can be useful to mark the script so that sentences are broken into chunks of how you actually talk. These smaller chunks will be easier to remember, as they will be more familiar to you.Once you can recite the words with ease, you can begin reworking punctuation and flow into your dialogue. Which brings us to….
Research Everything About the Role and Production
If you are auditioning for a film, television series, or a play, there will be a wealth of information available to you.
Look up the key creative people involved – directors, casting directors, writers, show-runners, lead actors. Understand the previous work of these people and their typical style and tone. There may be videos or written interviews with the creators or team that give you valuable pointers to work with.
Is the script or story based on a book, a real person, or historical event? Can you research the location it is set in? Get a firm grasp on the production, and that will increase your confidence in playing the character, and just as importantly, make you a professional team player. It’s the 110% that most others don’t give. Extract wisdom about the production in any way you can, and come prepared.
Experiment with Rhythm
People have their own idiosyncrasies of speech and manner, as should the characters you create.
Your first read of the words may be the most natural, and there is much valid argument for just being yourself (listen to Tehmina Sunny’s episode of Action for more on this), but it can also be useful to experiment with rhythm to explore different ways of saying the lines to achieve alternative meanings and effects. Try putting the emphasis on each different word in a sentence, until you discover what fits best.
Adjust Yourself for the Screen
When rehearsing or auditioning for film and TV, understand that everything is magnified. Your movements, your expressions, and even annoying strands of hair can be intriguing or distracting.
You may need to control yourself a lot more than feels natural or characterful, but it will translate well. Watch TV and film performances and notice actors’ control. Golden Years actor, Richard Cambridge, suggests, “When rehearsing for film, stillness is important. You simply need to think the intention of the character and that is enough to translate when it’s blown up 100x on the big screen.”
Vietnamese-American actress, Mary Tran, also offers a great tip, “Use your selfie camera to rehearse your lines, so you can pick up on any body, eye-line, and framing nuances and movements that could be improved for when you self-tape or audition for real.”
Get a Coach or Mentor to Help with Auditions and the Business
Most successful people in any walk of life are continually learning, growing, and using advisors. Acting is no different.
Having a good mentor (which may just be a successful friend who you meet with regularly) or a specific coach will improve everything about your career – the quality of your acting, your network, your goals and objectives, and your understanding of the industry. For instance, you may be a good actor, but suck at auditioning – the job interview. It can be a very different beast to the performance and you have to understand the quirks and processes. As Gunnar Todd Rohrbacher, the founder of Actors Comedy Studio, says in this podcast: “Auditioning is its own genre – you must learn how to do that and practice it.”
Shani Pride, a “business of acting” specialist, recommends that, “Coaching is to an actor what a trainer is to an athlete. In order to reach your fullest potential you must gain an objective outside perspective and must be pushed beyond your comfort zone. That’s exactly why having a coach as an actor is a best kept secret.”
Remember to choose a coach carefully – it has to be someone that meets your objectives and is skilled in the area you need. Avoid coaches that seem to focus more on their own ego than on helping you with your work. Personal recommendations are great. Also, a coach or mentor doesn’t have to be expensive. You can always find people that have superior knowledge in an area you don’t. My service offers this, but you can also just go out and network, find coaches at universities and random acting classes, and e-mail people you see making it in the field. If a potential coach sees that you are motivated and dedicated, he will want to help you. Passion attracts passion.
With a good mentor, you’ll eventually be put into a position to mentor others so remember to…
Bonus: Send the Elevator Back Down
When you have achieved any level of success or expertise, it’s important to be generous with your information and contacts in order to help those in the position you were once in. Never fall into the trap of thinking that you are above others, or forget the hard work it took to get here.
It’s not uncommon to hear working actors complain that another cast member, “Has done hardly anything” or is inexperienced. Remember that at some point, it was your first day on the job. Someone gave you a shot. You weren’t born a working actor, so help and assist those on their journey. You can do that by being kind and courteous, not condescending, and by sharing your knowledge and resources.
Whilst there is truth to a fear-driven cliché stating, ‘be nice to those on the way up, as you never know if you’ll meet them again on the way down,’ I prefer the more altruistic approach that one of the most successful actors in the world, Kevin Spacey, recommends: “If you have done well in whatever business you are in, it is your duty to send the elevator back down and try to help bring up the next generation of undiscovered talent.”