I describe my work with actors as bridging the gap between prior training—be it conservatory or otherwise—and what it’s actually like to work on-set or to prepare for a major audition. The goal: to create inspired work that doesn’t “reek” of acting technique. To do this, you must ultimately be the creator of your own method or technique—one that derives solely from the strength of your own character and personality. This is essentially an “anti-technique” or a “self-made” technique, rather than an attempt to force your unique skill-sets and talents into the rigid dimensions of a famous technique some other artist developed. This is a one-size-fits-you method, and it’s designed to help you respond to your individual needs so that you can make the performance your own completely.
Being the creator of your own technique begins and ends with giving yourself permission to bring your personality to every audition and every role. The success of this depends on accepting the fact that you are far more interesting than the cumbersome weight of character and technique. This isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience. Dealing with yourself—your flaws, quirks, weaknesses, oddities—can be uncomfortable, and it can seem ideal instead to avoid oneself by diving into a “character” or the false security of an intricate acting technique. However, the danger of not bringing your fully flawed self to the role is your work can be stripped of its humanity and can become a mere series of successful gestures, as F. Scott Fitzgerald would say.
Giving the performance your own flavor is essential, and it’s your responsibility to deliver it without the scent of someone else’s dated methodology. What may have (theoretically) worked for that acting “guru” in the 1970s may not be effective for you in today’s game. Due to the predominance of new media, motion capture, taped auditions, etc., there has been a landslide shift in the industry. The demands and skills required of actors are constantly changing and in need of innovation and updating.
Multi-camera sitcoms and motion capture are examples of styles that require acting to be lifted up to a higher level of fun—method based approaches train actors to see this as potentially “overacting." Spending an afternoon on the set of a single or multi-camera sitcom should be a prerequisite to a degree at any acting conservatory or school.
Think of acting technique or conservatory training as a scaffolding or blueprint that is necessary for learning how to create characters and to start the journey of living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. Rather than clinging to that scaffolding for dear life during a scene, audition, or performance, the final step is kicking it away when you’re finished with it. The process unveils the difference between acting which smells of technique and the kind that does not. Masterful acting never seems safe or planned. Instead it oozes an organic quality and a sense of danger. This is in part because the scaffolding is gone.
Another issue that tends to be problematic with traditional conservatory training is that it never addresses the need to make the work your own—to leave your “stamp” or “mark”—after you've constructed the technique scaffolding. You will often leave your stamp or mark without even trying; it will occur by just being yourself. However, the confining nature of traditional acting technique often won’t allow it to come through as fully or as powerfully as possible. That’s why you have to be grateful to the training for the foundation it provides, but also have the good sense to jump into the ether when the time is right.
Putting your stamp on your work begins by asking of every line, “What am I saying in my own words?” or “If this were me in this (imaginary) situation, what would I say to my partner?” These are the types of questions that can help you to be emotionally primed and ready for the fictional circumstances you’re about to confront. This type of emotional preparation is essential and should not be underestimated. The difference between “good” and “great” acting is the great actor is always “lit up” emotionally and specifically at the start of every scene. Ultimately, you’re the only one who knows the triggers that light you up and what’s going to work for you in your own method.
As I mentioned in a previous article, there is no one-size-fits-all path to an acting career. Your path to your dreams will be your own. Don’t let anyone sell you a system for success that doesn’t come solely from you. You need to be the one swinging the machete and carving the path through the jungle. This starts by honing your very own anti-technique that begins and ends with you.
Joseph Pearlman is a private and on-set coach for Hollywood’s top actors, musicians, and comedians. He works with clients like Zooey Deschanel, and also coaches presenters for all the major award ceremonies including the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys. Joseph Pearlman Coaching was voted Best Acting Studio in Los Angeles by Backstage’s 2011 and 2012 Readers’ Choice Awards. Joseph Pearlman Coaching is also located in New York. Joseph Pearlman Coaching offers private coaching and classes from beginner to working professional.