A UK Coach on Using Real Life in Your Acting During Coronavirus

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Photo Source: Unsplash/Jonathan Borba

It’s a tough time for actors right now. The coronavirus pandemic has shut down the screen and stage industries and most of us are having to stay inside under lock-down. For performers who rely on other people to work, isolation is a particularly challenging time. The Slate, Backstage’s series of classes, seminars, and digital exercises, aims to turn time on your hands to your advantage, enabling you to stay creative while stuck inside. It’s certainly in keeping with what acting coach Natalie Anson-Wright says in her live-streamed class about “finding the silver lining.” A performer and teacher with 15 years’ experience behind her, Anson-Wright focuses on putting the work of US coach Ivana Chubbuck into practice and explores the objectives and emotions which build natural and powerful performances. Here are some of the takeaways from that class.

What makes an interesting character, and why we want to watch them.
“In simple terms, all of us want to watch people overcome something. And that something needs to be big. Think of a person climbing a molehill versus someone conquering Mount Everest. A molehill is easy. But Everest takes ages and there are loads of things pushing us back from getting to the top. If you read any screenwriting book, the kind that informs how Hollywood scripts are written, then you’ll see that every character must have had something that has stopped them getting what they desire most and that they will fight to overcome that. Just as with real life, we want to watch and to cheerlead for people who have gone through something but keep on battling, no matter what.” 

The low-down on objectives.
“Having an objective is having something we’re trying to build towards, a goal. If we don’t have an aim or somewhere we want to go, then what’s the point? There’s always an overall objective. A character’s overall objective is from the very start of the script to the end and it informs everything they do. For example, my overall objective might be ‘to be successful.’ With that objective, waking up in the morning and making my bed is driven by appearing successful. And eating granola instead of chocolate cake for breakfast is about doing something that’s more likely to make me a successful person. These are silly examples but it’s key to remember that everything we do in life builds towards something we want – a goal. But you also need to be specific on a scene-by-scene basis. That’s your scene objective, which has to fit into the overall objective and help your character win it.”

How objectives and obstacles allow emotions to arrive naturally.
“Objectives give us the power to push and win them in a scene. As with real life, obstacles get in the way of our goals. My real-life goal of ‘success’ is thwarted by auditions, having to impress people, and so on. And these are things that create emotions and feelings. So, using an objective in a scene means you don’t have to work by saying: ‘In this scene, I’m going to be sad,’ but rather: ‘In this scene, I want to reach success’ and, for instance: ‘This guy has told me I’m not any good and that hurts me because it stops me from winning my objective.’ He’s stopping you from achieving what you want and so it’s not about eliciting false emotions but them coming to us naturally because we cannot achieve what we want.” 

On wording an objective to get the best performance.
“The way you word an objective is important. For a scene objective, we’re generally working with another person so we always word it as ‘to get you.’ Rather than ‘I want to be loved’ we say ‘I want to get you to love me’. That way, we’re acting with the other person rather than acting at them. We’re trying to elicit communication, reactions, and emotions from that person. We’re trying to make it more dynamic.”

On not judging your character.
“Everybody’s trauma, pain, or desires are different and equally important. It’s not for us to judge someone else’s pain or a character’s pain. We could play a serial killer but we can’t judge them because that person in real life wouldn’t judge themselves. They believe they have every right to do what they want.” 

Finding the silver lining and gold dust.
“Talking about fears, traumas, and past pains is difficult but as an actor, I think it’s important to be open and honest about these things and to be able to access them. These things are acting gold dust, and I always tell people to ‘never deny yourself that gold.’ If you can access them and use them to drive your performance, you’re going to give something incredible. This sounds odd but any time I go through something traumatic I think: ‘This is gold – I can use this in my art.’ 

“And at the moment, with everything that’s going on, try and find the silver lining. With the young people I work with, I call it the ‘unfortunately fortunate’ game. We start by saying: ‘This has happened’ and then we ask: ‘How can I use this to make things better?’ There’s no denying that we’re all going through a difficult time but use this for your gold dust; and for anything in your life to come, use that ‘unfortunately-fortunate’ game.”

Check out more work-from-home auditions on Backstage