The biggest (or one of the biggest) mistakes of young actors is not spending nearly enough time inside the script.
I’ve directed a lot of young actors over the past eight years, and it never ceases to happen that as a show nears performance, I hear one actor say, “Oh, so that’s what that means!” They finally realize that they’ve been saying memorized lines which actually mean nothing to them. This is a grave mistake.
Acting coach Howard Fine says that an actor shouldn’t ever say a line without first having a reason from inside of them to say the line. If they are saying lines without purpose, it’s either because they haven’t explored the depth of meaning in the script or they haven’t personalized the script with their own experiences and skills that the actor brings with them.
So here are a few steps young actors can take to overcome these mistakes and create a well-rounded, meaningful character:
1) Read the script. Again. And Again. Before you do anything else, read it repeatedly. I love how Howard Fine says “Before you work on the script, let the script work on you.” That’s an excellent way to put it. Let the words sink in. Try to understand the setting and context. Let the character define him or herself to you before starting to memorize lines.
2) Stop thinking acting is all about memorizing lines. Anyone can memorize lines, but not many can act well. Ask yourself why this character has these lines before you start to say them.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask for help and clarification. Many people think they sound stupid when asking for clarification of a word or historical reference. No actor can understand everything immediately, but you should immediately know if you understand something or not. And if you don’t, ask? Ask a fellow actor? Ask your director?
4) Remember that the writer’s words were chosen for a purpose. Don’t change them! I had a situation where someone was performing one of the skits that I had written. After they finished, I said that I didn’t remember the ending being that way. He replied, “Well, the ending just wasn’t working for me, so I changed that part.” Shoot me with an arrow, quick! You, as an actor, HAVE to make the ending work. This shows me that the actor did not do his proper homework and didn’t understand the implications in the script. This is a wonderfully easy way to complete deflate a production.
If you put the proper time into the script, your acting will be rewarded. Your character will be more believable because you, yourself, believe in the actions you are doing on stage. And when you understand your actions and believe in them, the audience will believe in you too.
That’s our goal.