Want a short vacation that doesn’t cost a thing and will make you a better actor? I have just the ticket. Take a one day vacation from speaking. For that day, speak only when you feel you absolutely need to. The rest of the time, listen. Just listen.
Feel what it’s like in your body to truly absorb what is being said to you through the three sense doors: mental, physical, and emotional. Feel the peaceful strength that comes from being completely present without the pressure to think of something brilliant to say. Tell your friends what you’re doing so they don’t have you committed, but let go of the struggle of getting everybody to understand what you are doing. Enjoy being different and just listen to them.
I have had some of my students do this “day without speaking” as part of the Life of the Actor course I teach, and it has greatly improved and energized their work. Here are five of the benefits.
1. Stronger choices. When you get used to the feeling of being silent, one of the things you notice is that when you do speak, you tend to be very strong and specific. After spending a day with next-to-no speech, you become familiar with how to express a range of feeling with just a few words, which is the very definition of a good audition. When you’re working on a piece, you can tap back into that feeling of clarity when making your choices and more easily find the sharpest most effective way to convey your feelings. If all you do is talk all the time, your mind and body have no way to reference this job-winning specificity.
2. Deeper knowledge of your emotions. Many times, the reason we talk is to escape our feelings, but as actors, you need to lean into and learn from them. Meryl Streep has said that when she is working on a character, she spends a great deal of time exploring how the character lives in their silences. By doing a day without speech, you will have the opportunity to see how you live in your silences—making it easier to bring those feelings to a character. When you are quiet and you really stay with your emotions and let them breathe, you experience all of them. Having a conversation about how you feel isn’t the same as truly feeling. Putting words to feelings before they’re fully felt makes you vague and unclear. Being silent and abiding with what you’re feeling will inform your speech and your work in powerful ways.
3. Stillness. We all know that being still is essential in an audition, especially if you’re being taped. If you haven’t explored your choices to the point that they are rooted in your body, your stillness will look frozen. However, if you have experimented with truly feeling your emotions through the three sense doors before speaking, your stillness will have emotional power and energy attached to it. Also, because silence is normally a fairly still experience, the stillness required in an audition will feel more natural and less manufactured.
4. Brighter reactions. Film and television are not mediums of speech. They are mediums of reaction. For the first 30 years of its existence, film had no sound. The stories were told on the faces of the actors, and even though we now have sound, this is still—to a great degree—true. One of the main things you hear about actors that don’t book is that “there isn’t enough going on behind their eyes.” A day of silence is a great reactive work out. With no pressure to speak, you can really focus your emotional, physical, and mental energy on what is being said and feel the reaction on those same three levels. During your next audition, you just may find that you take that extra split second to absorb the words being spoken and let that potentially job-getting reaction play out on your face and behind your eyes.
5. Presence. Silence is a great way to deal with the temptation to anticipate. If you know you’re not going to be speaking, you’re more apt to really hear what’s being said as opposed to jumping ahead to your response. This rooted quality is presence—staying in each moment as it occurs, with no thought as to what is coming next. If you spend some time practicing with staying silent, the next time you’re in a fast-paced and frenetic audition room, it will be easier for you to remain calm and be rooted in your body. Whether speaking or silent you’ll be centered and be less likely to get whipped around by the manic energy in the room, and more apt to bring a confident, strong presence to that room. This sense of presence will also strengthen your work, as well as strengthen the confidence of everyone watching you.
Silence is a wonderful teacher. I encourage all of you to try “a day without speaking” and see what the benefits are for you. The result could make a job getting difference.
Craig Wallace is the creator and award-winning teacher of The Wallace Audition Technique, an audition preparation system that he developed based on his years of experience as a studio executive, talent agent and casting consultant. In his 14 years of teaching, he has seen the careers of hundreds of his students take off. He is also the author of the best-selling book, “The Best of You – Winning Auditions Your Way.”
Craig is currently teaching his audition technique classes and his Meditation for Actors classes in Santa Monica, CA. For more information visit www.wallaceauditiontechnique.com.