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The Craft

Stillness is Golden

Stillness is Golden
Stillness is a powerful ingredient in great acting. A lack of action is visual silence. Stillness and silence work together. They often create more of an effect on an audience than actions and words. Stillness is a palpable moment, a compelling absence of talk or action that reveals intense, unexpressed feelings. This palpable moment is a pause to process what just occurred and decide on the next action.

It is during stillness that important elements braid together. These important things in acting are the character's real thoughts, ideas, and feelings. In other words, the subtext. Too many actors clog up moments in a scene with vocal or physical actions blocking intention and subtext. By being still, you draw in the audience.

Actors may not realize the impact that being still and silent has on their performance because they are often still only after lines are lost, or after a mistake. "Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words?" Marcel Marceau once said. Stillness without processing -- i.e., stillness without strong intention, emotion, or force behind it -- is empty and ineffective. Emotion stirs people when the intention is clear. A masked emotion becomes clear and affecting during stillness as you stir up your thoughts. Then that moment warns that something is about to happen or points out that something has just happened.

Nevertheless, actors fill these moments by moving their hands, fingers, or their head; they shake their foot, or sway from side to side, pace, wiggle a pencil with their fingers, or look around. In short, they are trying to be interesting, not interested. And these actors often feel that they are revealing their character's intention with their actions. Actually, they are blocking this palpable moment.

If you are not aware of what you physically do during a scene, especially during moments of stillness, you should be. Each physical or vocal habit that you are unaware of prevents your character's story from touching the audience -- and perhaps prevents you from landing the job.

Some actions are appropriate and necessary to a character. My question is, Do you know the difference between actions that enhance a character and those that detract from a character? Mark Twain said, "That impressive silence, that eloquent silence, that geometrically progressive silence which often achieves a desired effect where no combination of words howsoever felicitous could accomplish it."

Strong character stories are completed during stillness, which creates moments that connect the audience to the character on a personal level.

Bill Howey teaches "Scene Study With Emphasis on Auditioning." He began a professional acting career at the Cleveland Playhouse before moving on to television and film production, where he produced and directed independent films and worked as a dialogue coach for TV shows.

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