“You have to listen better,” your acting teacher says. So you really look at the other person, laser focus on them and say to yourself, “Listen… listen… listen… “
Then you see the playback and you look like a psychotic deer caught in alien headlights. You’re straining and bug-eyed and robotic. Why does the work look so inauthentic? The only thing you were focused on was listening better!
But not really. The only thing you were listening to was your own voice repeating that word over and over in your head until it lost all meaning. When you’re doing that you can’t possibly be listening to the other person.
This word “listening” is thrown around a lot. It’s often accompanied by “being present” and “living in the moment.” But do you really know how to listen and be present?
Sure you do; you do it every day when you’re not acting. In fact, you do it unconsciously in just about every moment in your life. But when you’re acting, you’re so self-conscious and focused on impressing your audience that this innate ability suddenly feels as foreign as eating with your toes.
Ah, the stage! The glorious live performance. When you’ve had years of experience on the stage, every cell in your body knows what performing feels like. Your body knows to be bigger, louder. It feels full, grand, real and you can hear the audience react. How rewarding. How deliciously rewarding!
Then you do film or TV for the first time and your eyebrows act like caterpillars on crack. You look like a bobblehead or cartoon character. You’re surprised your eyes don’t pop out of your head to the sound of an old fashioned horn. There’s no way around it; you’re simply horrible.
You’re told, “Be small! Be still! Tone it down! Don’t do anything!” So you stop: you stop moving or doing anything. You try to keep those caterpillars – and the rest of your body – contained.
And you certainly see a difference. It’s not nearly as big as it was before. But now instead of Roger Rabbit, you look like Robbie the Robot. You’re empty. Uncaring. Boring. Weird. Like you’re stuck in a cage, frozen.
You’re afraid to move, feel, express or be yourself.
So where is the happy medium between