‘Actor’s Prep’: What It Is + Why It'll Help You Give Your Best Performance

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I love that great picture of the unicorn driving an old hippie bus saying, “No time to explain. Get in the van.”

To me, that’s what you do when you act. Someone throws you the keys to the unicorn van and you all take off together into your fantasy worlds. But where do you get the keys to start that fantasy van? (As a coach, if I don’t see you get lost in your fantasy world, I presume you don’t really know how to act.)

The key to unlocking your fantasy world is the “actor’s prep,” a simple but crucial part of your acting ritual. Everyone approaches this differently but, at it’s most basic, it’s a form of deep relaxation. If you already meditate or practice another form of relaxation, you’re a step ahead of the game.

So, how do you do an actor’s prep?

Think about when you read a book. Your eyes look at words on a piece of paper but that’s not what your mind sees. Your mind dives into the world of the story. You go inside that world and look from the inside out. Your mind stops paying attention to the real world and brings the fantasy world to the forefront as if you’re really there.

You can apply this same concept to the world of acting. Take that deep dive; leave the real world behind as you move into the world of the script. Choose to go inside the character’s world as if you’re really there. Relax, make that leap, and get into “the zone.” Here’s how.

Stop and relax.
There are many different relaxation exercises I’ve used throughout the years the one I use most often is a simple breathing technique:

  1. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four.

  2. Hold for a count of seven.

  3. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight.

Relax until your brain stops spinning. It might take a second or a few minutes to really stop, but it’s important that it really does come to a halt as that full stop is the key to unlocking the door to the creative state.

READ: 1 Simple Trick For Turning Fear Into Triumph

Step inside your creative zone.
Once you’re relaxed, all the walls inside start to fall away. You’re in a heightened state of awareness. Your senses are in tune. Your imagination and creativity are set free. Fears disappear as instinct replaces overthinking. You begin to step inside of your character instead of trying to be his puppet master from the outside. It’s much easier to let go and allow your character to live and breathe, looking through the eyes of your character.

Create your reality.
Begin to see and feel the world around you as if you’re really there. Now, physically and emotionally start to push buttons. If you’re supposed to be in an angry state at the beginning of the scene, stomp around or do pushups to get your adrenaline coursing through your veins. Once I begin to move as my character physically, I begin to see and think as my character quite easily. Get lost in the actual activity that your character is doing at the beginning of the scene.

I see such a difference when I really kick actor’s butts to take the time to prep that I incorporate it into most of my classes. Trust me, do your actor’s prep. If you take the time to stop and go into your creative zone, you will set yourself free. You now have the keys to the unicorn van—enjoy the ride!

Ready to actor prep? Check out our TV audition listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Cathryn Hartt
Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt & Soul Acting Studio, is known to many as “the UN-Acting Coach.” She coaches all ages (children through adult) and all levels (from beginning through masters).