Would you rather control someone or be controlled?
(uh – be in control I guess…)
Would you rather manipulate someone or be manipulated?
(ew – that one’s a bit more shameful and hard to answer… neither??)
Do you like watching movies?
Yes? – Than you must admit that we as humans actually NEED both. To control AND at times be controlled.
An audience pays money to go for a ride. It’s entertainment. The entertainer is PAID to help manipulate the audience so they can escape for a while. But you gotta let them in on the deal. You can’t just show them video of a roller coaster. They wanna get inside. Same with your character. You can’t just do it all for them. THEY wanna play the character right along with you. So you have to share.
A million times I watched my 2 year old play with another 2 year old. Actually any parent will tell you that 2 year olds don’t play WITH other 2 year olds, they play NEXT TO other 2 year olds. They don’t know how to play together and they DON’T know how to share. But the parents stand around and tell them to share anyway. Billy is playing with a toy. Tommy wants it- he reaches over to rip it out of Billy’s hand, but Billy successfully yanks it back and keeps it for himself. Billy’s parent scolds and tells him to “share” with Tommy. Billy is sad and fully hands over the toy to Tommy. Tommy is now the only child playing with the toy. OR Billy just SHOWS Tommy the toy. Still not sharing.
It’s the same with story telling. Or should we call it “Story Sharing” since that would be more ideal. We want to let the audience experience the character and we want the audience to actively participate in TELLING THEMSELVES the story. At the end of the day no matter how you slice it the story is NOT real. It’s “reality” exists in the mind and imagination of the audience. Our imagination is Billy and their imagination is Tommy. Their imagination wants to play too. NEEDS to play too. So we can’t do EVERYTHING for them. Basically sharing means “I do a little bit- and you do a little bit”.
So how do we achieve this? Well acting is certainly a complex, dualistic art form that has many grey areas and few definitive answers, but we can explore the concept on the highly condensed short form stage of commercial acting. Say you are sharing a simple story where you are looking in your closet for something to wear on date, you scan the rack not finding anything, finally you take out a shirt thinking it will be good, look at it, frown a touch cause it doesn’t quite sing to you, put it back, find another one, take it out and look at it, smile and nod cause you’ve found what you want. Then we cut to you meeting your date, they look at you for a moment, and we see that they think you look great. OK- so not a great commercial, and I have no idea what it would be for- but it’s a basic, simple construct of the sort of story that is seen quite often.
Here’s the issue. With all the frowning, smiling, nodding about how you feel about all the stuff in the closet, we can potentially be TELLING the audience all about how we feel- and they may or may not be compelled to join in that “feeling” with us. We might be “truthful” and “honest” and “connected” and “organic” and “not indicating” but we could still be “showing” because we are potentially not “sharing”. If you pull out an outfit, frown, then put it back we know you must not have liked it. What if you just pull out the outfit, just look at it for as long as it would take you to frown but DONT frown, then put it back. All we’ve seen you do it take it out then put it back. We still know you didn’t like it because WE have to fill in the WHY. We have to actively be a part of telling that story to ourselves. In the first version you do three things and thus deliver three pieces of information. Take out shirt (“I’m checking out this shirt”,). Frown (“I don’t like this shirt”). Put back shirt (again “I don’t like this shirt”). In the second version without the frown we say only two things. “I’m checking out this shirt”, and “What was going on during that pause was that I didn’t like that shirt and you can tell because I put it back on the rack”. By not over explaining and providing too much info (the frown) you allow the audience to define that emotional response in their own – more personal – way, and let them in on the story telling process. It’s not ground breaking. It’s not a huge difference. But it might tip the scales to engaging the audience a bit more. You’ve heard a million times in on camera acting “less is more” – but may not have ever understood why. This is why. Sometimes simply take out a few beats to let the audience engage.
Too often actors go into an audition and want to show what they can do. How intriguing they can be. How REAL their emotions can come across as. . . and that is their main purpose. To SHOW us their acting skills. That all to often leads to too much acting. How about being a bit more humble and making your purpose to SHARE with the audience. It often means less work for you (at the same pay rate!) and more engagement for us. Find the places you want us to engage and invite us into the playing by artfully sharing the load.
The On Camera Training Program does a fair amount of exploration on an “Outside-In” or “technical” approach to performances. We do embrace and treasure the “Inside-Out” approaches, and recognize that acting is certainly a dualistic art form in which control and release, spontaneity and purpose must exist at one an the same time. There’s a ton of great training out there to develop that side of “release”, so we like to tackle the equally important aspect of “purpose”. Or maybe cause of our casting experience we like to cut through the clutter and just get down to the simple basics of what works and what doesn’t in an on camera audition and strategize ways to alter our performances to be effective on a more consistent basis.