Using Your Natural Instinct to Book More (aka Think Like a Dog When You Act)

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Raw talent. Your natural ability and unique way of responding that makes you special. It’s inborn. It’s innate. It’s simply who you are, personality and all. The way you see and react to the world. As an acting coach, it’s fun for me to take that great natural stuff and incorporate it with copy. Agents will say, “this young actor has raw talent.”  

I say, “they have great natural instinct.” It’s pure. It’s honest. It’s an instinct analogous to the pattern of behavior you see in animals. I see it in my dog, Max. I observe his natural responses to everything. It’s what I teach my young actors.

Here are some observations I’ve made with Max that all good actors should know and incorporate:

Single Moments
Stop rushing. Life comes one minute at a time and your acting should too. Focus on singular moments, giving each one its right attention. It’s hard, I know. Our minds wander. For Max, this is the way he lives each day, not dwelling on the past or having concern for the future. He’s laser-focused on the right now.

We, on the other hand, are not. We dwell on everything which takes our minds off the here and now. We have a hard time concentrating on what’s right in front of us but it’s imperative as an actor.

READ: Walk Before You Run: Your First 5 Steps as an Actor

Your level of commitment to the action in a scene is vital. It’s the difference between engaging or boring. Pursue it relentlessly. When I’m at the dinner table, Max is begging like there’s no tomorrow. Despite the fact that he can’t have any, I respect his commitment to getting what’s on my plate.

Everybody likes treats; they’re special. Max seldom turns them down. Think of your auditions as special treats. They’re opportunities and nobody is entitled to them. Whether you get an audition can depend on many things: script, character description, if your agent thinks you’re ready for the role, whether the casting director picks you to audition. So, when one comes your way, it’s a treat. Grab it. Prepare and do the best you can.

Sometimes it’s tough to know what Max wants. When he stares at me relentlessly, it’s a sign that he wants something but it’s often a guessing game. If I don’t understand the stare, he’ll get more specific: pawing to get continued attention or grabbing a toy to tell me he wants to go outside.

An audience watches a production with a blank slate. You are there to communicate a message and make them feel something. You need to tell the story through your actions, words, subtext, movement, etc. Be specific. This will help you be clear and make them feel what you intend for them to feel.

Buzz Words
These are different for each pet but with Max, they’re easy. His are “breakfast” (all meals), “treat,” “outside,” “park,” “Rosie” (his girlfriend four floors below), and “ball.” Actors should listen for buzzwords as well. They’re great to react off and will trigger something emotional in you. Be on the lookout for them.

Max is a rescue. The day I got him, he immediately received a safe home, tons of attention, and unconditional love. Fast forward five years and he knows he’s loved. He knows who heats his dinner and keeps his water fresh. He knows instinctually who protects and keeps him healthy. Agents, managers, and acting coaches do the same for you, though in a business sense. They want what’s best for you so appreciate the opportunities you get and those who help you. Nobody can do it alone.

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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.

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Todd Etelson
Todd Etelson is a top NYC kids and teen acting coach, specializing in on-camera television, film, and audition technique. In 2004, he founded Actors Technique NY (ATNY), a TV and film school for serious young actors.
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