2 Simple Exercises for Authentic Performances

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We all look for guidance from teachers and mentors at various points in our lives. I have a handful of trusted peers and colleagues that I regularly consult with: my husband, some fellow actors, the teachers at the Barrow Group, etc. But we don’t always have immediate access to the folks who advise us, so we have to find reliable guides who will always be there. Fortunately, there is a teacher available to all of us that is perhaps the most valuable guide of all: life!

When I want my performances to be more honest, authentic, and simple, I refer to my life and get immediate direction. There’s a variety of techniques that can help you make your performances more lifelike. One of the best is an exercise which I know as “The Conversation Exercise.” This technique is detailed in the book “An Actor’s Companion” by Seth Barrish. It is really simple. Here are the nuts and bolts of it:

You get yourself talking in real life about anything. Converse about any random subject. This is not “improv”; it is not “in character.” In fact, it need not have anything to do with the play. Then, in the middle of talking, switch over to speaking the lines from the play. When you make the switch, check in to see if anything is changing when you act. Does the pitch of your voice change? Does the rhythm of your speech change? Does your voice sound different? If you notice any changes, let them go so that there is no difference between your “real talking” and your “line talking.”

Another great tool is something I know as a “real life model.” It’s a very simple, practical aid to arriving at a more genuine performance. Ask yourself what the character is doing (giving someone advice, telling someone a story, trying to convince someone to do something, etc.). Then, after you have determined what the character is doing, do something like that in real life for a few seconds (give a castmate some advice about something; tell a fellow actor a real story from your life; explain why you think your political views are probably correct, etc.). Then, just like the Conversation Exercise, slip into the text and take note of any behavioral changes that occur. If you notice changes, let them go and see what happens.

When we go right from real-life models and real conversations to written conversations, it can be easier to notice the unconscious behaviors that change when we “act.” Once we notice these changes, it can be easier to release them, making our acting more authentic. I use these technique in rehearsals and on set all the time. These are wonderful ways to help artifice fall away.

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Lee Brock
Lee Brock is the co-artistic director of the Barrow Group, an award-winning Off-Broadway theatre company and acting school in New York City, where she has nurtured the development of thousands of artists and students for over 29 years.
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