Acting is About Making Great Choices

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The following is an excerpt from "Acting With Impact: Power Tools to Ignite the Actor's Performance":

Tactics assist you in the execution of your choices. They are the active strategies you use to get your objective. And in order to make great choices, you have to be able to implement four steps:

1) Imagination to identify several different ways to execute the piece,

2) Clarity to pick the strongest and most dynamic choice,

3) Commitment to successfully execute and commit to that choice, and

4) Freedom to adapt or completely change to a new choice.

Every Scene Has a Range of Potential

To identify choices, you must be able to see what is there in the material, and what is possible. The ability to grasp different interpretations of a scene begins with knowing that there is no one single way to play it. Every scene has various truthful interpretations that could work. Even extremely different versions can still successfully work within the world of a script.

In order to do this, your first assessment after reading a scene is to discover what it's about. In as few words as possible, articulate what happens. For example, it could be a confrontation, or a seduction, or a fight, or a reconciliation, or a meeting of the minds, or a competition, etc. Once you understand what is happening, you can begin to examine the many ways to play it out.

To discover the strongest choice, your decisions will need to be made on your feet, working the piece. You'll want to execute different interpretations, because you need to have flexibility with how it could go. That way, when a director requests a different choice, you've already played around with different interpretations so you're ready to glide into something new. And many directors have a way of giving very original and unique direction. Your skill in delivering their version with dynamics is crucial to booking and getting hired again.

Try your ideas one at a time with commitment and discover what each new choice brings. Work each without anticipating the outcome. Challenge your understanding of the writing by exploring how far each idea could go. This will help you determine which one is the strongest, most honest, and most interesting.

Making the Best Choice

The strongest choice often is the toughest one to execute and carries the biggest risks. It's the one that demands a full range of intense emotion and many times physical behavior. Or the risky best choice could even be playing the scene doing almost nothing, with very subtle emotion and behavior.

The point is, face it, auditioning is always a risk. You want the role. But a good choice is always daring…on top of the risk of auditioning.

A mistake is to try to play to the middle, never making a strong choice or not taking a stand, because you fear being wrong. This kind of performance becomes nondescript, vague, dull…safe. The casting director will never know your instincts if you never risk using them.

Auditioning is a gamble and you can't win without making a bet.

The actor who consistently books understands that committing to strong choices is necessary to land gigs. The objective is always the best gauge to ensure that the risk is seated within the drive of the character. The most insightful and brave choice comes from the truth on the written page.

Gaining the Ability to Find the Strongest Choice

Creativity requires the ability to take a thought and manifest it into an artistic expression. It's like being in love and taking that energy and writing a poem or song. Seeing the choices of a script and committing to one of them is no different. This requires the energy to move from an insight to a shared and inspired original expression. It calls for you to clear your mind and fully commit your energy to access creativity.

All art forms require dropping the thinking that gets in the way of creating.

Part of making great choices is being able to switch interpretations on a dime, regardless of whether or not you personally like the choice. This is because you can't know if something works until you let it play out. Sometimes what you think won't work works best.

Clearing Your Channels

As we live life, we pick up baggage that blocks the flow of artistic energy, be it judgment, doubt, insecurity, or the need for approval. We may even hear an internal criticism that stifles our ability to access that creativity. The result is an actor who appears to have no energy in their performance or audition.

Have you ever attempted to tune in to a radio station to hear music, and a news report from another station interferes at the same time? This is what unnecessary baggage does to the actor's work. It blurs the attempt; it sends mixed signals. Messages like "This choice will never work" or "Do you like me?" or "I don't care for the material" overlay whatever you are attempting to do in the acting. We can't receive you when you're sending mixed messages.

Removing the Stone in Your Shoe

Your mind is like a computer. The things you put in it are the things you live with.

You must be willing to go inside your thoughts and listen. Removing counterproductive thoughts when you are acting takes focus and concentration. In acting, any distracting thoughts must be set aside so the choices you have made can be organically delivered. You must clear the channels so your talent can flow through and, more importantly, so tuning in is easy and effortless for you.

I have discovered that letting go of your baggage is a thought away, as easy as removing a stone from your shoe. It's saying to yourself, "No matter what happens, I choose to give generously in this moment."

When actors clear the thoughts that get in the way, their energy and focus improve.

Resistance Slows the Flow of Creativity

Our resistance to feel can be so ingrained that we sometimes feel a little ashamed when we express certain emotions. We get embarrassed. We fear that some of our feelings may be regarded as weak.

It's actually counterproductive to eliminate any one human emotion. If you categorize certain emotions as "good" and certain ones as "bad," an attempt will be made to eliminate the "bad" ones. This will shut your instincts down. By discriminating against one emotion, you discriminate against them all.

Consciously or unconsciously, emotions organically move through us all the time. Each of us is a part of the whole of the human consciousness. Each one of us can relate to and reach into each other's sufferings, hopes, and realities. Each one of us can feel because we share the commonality of the scale of all emotions. It just takes willingness. Your emotions are your most important asset. In the work, the last place an actor needs any of his feelings to be is in hiding.

In acting, a weak performance is being stuck in one emotion or choice.

A stuck actor is an actor who is not listening to their scene partner. They are out of touch with their environment and have detached themselves from their own emotional impulses and internal changes. But in life, it is natural to change tactics to get what we want. It's natural to let our instincts be like water and flow easily, taking the changes down the river.

Committing to a strong choice always involves taking big risks. All risks involve allowing the turns and discoveries in the material to stimulate action and behavior. It's much like taking a raft down a river or a journey in the wilderness. There are always choices and forks in the road, changes in terrain or weather, and mountains to climb. Taking direction is part of that. We must learn to quickly change and gracefully adapt in order to survive any circumstance, including any creative collaboration.

I once had a fabulous acupuncturist, Esther Ting, who told me something I've never forgotten when I was going through a challenging time in my life. When you read this, imagine a Chinese accent…. She said, "Kimberly, you must be water…. Water flow easily.… Ice—no good, break apart.… Water flow, change, adapt—water better." This is how we survive. We must be water in the work and flow, change, and adapt.

It's very helpful to use the following Power Tool: Inner Actions to bring dynamics and interesting changes to any choice that has creative possibility. It's also great to add this Power Tool to your repertoire when working with directors.

Kimberly Jentzen has been coaching actors for more than 20 years in Los Angeles. An award-winning acting coach and teacher, she won Back Stage West's Best of L.A. and Readers' Choice awards multiple times in the categories of acting coach and teacher. On stage, she has directed "Internment" at the Elephant Theatre, "Brunch With God" at the Powerhouse Theatre, and the comedy " Personal Space Invaders," to name just a few. Her website is at Jentzen will be participating in a book signing at Samuel French in L.A. on July 23 at 2 p.m.

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