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Backstage Experts

3 Reasons Why Listening Is the Most Important Part of Acting

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3 Reasons Why Listening Is the Most Important Part of Acting

I’ve been in casting rooms over the years where the decision as to who will get the job is in a seemingly unbreakable stalemate based on the reading. Half the room is convinced Actor A is the best choice and the other half feels as strongly about Actor B. 

One way I’ve seen the tie broken, is to watch the tape of the two people again and turn the sound down to see who had the more connected listening and brighter reactions. It never failed to be a unanimous decision after that.

More than half your job, if you get it, will be listening and reacting. In the audition, you have to show them that you are up capable of making that half of your job more alive and vital than anyone else. 

Here are three ways listening will help you get the job:

1. Listening shows who you really are. If you’ve worked correctly on preparing your piece for the audition, you’ll have an intent that drives you through the piece, personal and evocative relationships and choices that make it clear the unique qualities that you have to offer the role. Great! That will go a long way to making a good impression in the room. But will that alone get you the job? No. Those decisions are all about the words, and let’s face it: Most audition material doesn’t offer you dialogue that by itself will enable you to break away from the pack, no matter how great your choices. 

What will ultimately decide the job is how alive you are in your reactions to the other person’s lines. People can make similar choices and sometimes even sound alike, but no one listens like you do. No one’s face lights up in reaction like yours does. It’s these moments of pure unaffected listening that have the potential to break you apart from all the others. 

Listening deeply and reacting freshly gives a window into your internal life and while everyone has the same words, no one has the singular light that’s behind your eyes.

2. Listening calms and connects you. When you truly live in a piece, you’re not just jumping from line to line but fully experiencing the feelings of your choices. Listening allows you to live in the piece. 

This focus on living in the scene instead of playing the scene calms the mind and creates the space necessary to stay relaxed and on target throughout the piece. Great auditioners have prepared in a way that allows them to let the work go when they’re in the room and gives them the freedom to simply listen and connect to the relationships. Speaking can dilute focus as your brain is managing the thoughts, emotions, and sound of the words. Listening increases focus; it allows your brain to relax and live in the open emotional space of silence. Listening is also what connects you to the reader and all of the other people in the room. A common sight in an audition is the actor who is not able to let his work go and is trying hard to produce moments instead of letting them just be. While there may be a lot happening in the actors mind and while they may really be feeling it, none of it is getting out into the room. In an audition, what you’re feeling pales in comparison to what you make the people in the room feel. 

Relaxed, rich listening and honest reacting is the connecter.

3. Listening helps you rule the camera. With so many auditions being put on tape these days, it’s essential that you not just stare into the camera, but use it to your benefit. The moments that are the most compelling and that live the longest in the memory of the audience are the wordless ones. Casting directors, producers, and directors all know this, and if you want the job, you need a technique that gives you the listening/camera skills that allow you to create these job-getting moments in the audition. You draw the viewers’ attention to you when you listen deeply and react genuinely, and that is especially important if the person who has the authority to hire you is not in the room, but watching your audition on an iPad 1000 miles away.

It’s commonly known that listening is a very important component of acting and auditioning. But, I often get the sense that it is still looked at as being less important that what you do when you’re speaking. 

For the camera, it’s the opposite. Listening is actually more important, and in an audition, it’s essential to booking the job. So the next time you have an audition remember: The most important lines in the piece aren’t the ones you’re saying, but the ones you’re hearing and reacting to.

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

Craig Wallace is an acting teacher and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Wallace’s full bio!


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