The Actors Superpower

It is not just Doing and taking Action.

Photo by Cottonbro Pexels

How does an actor make a performance believable? This is a question that is asked by thousands of actors every day. It is a question many professional actors get at the stage door by curious audience members after the dreaded, “How do you memorize all those lines?”. :) It seems like a simple question, but it is not a simple answer.

Anyone who has been in the business long enough knows that there are hundreds of schools of thought and exercises that will help an actor become more believable to an audience. Personally, I have never found acting exercises help me very much as an actor. As a director, I don’t think many actors are even successful at it. The problem with acting exercises is that nine times out of ten, I can hear and see the technique. I know some actors are successful with it, but I find this very rare. How do you know when you are seeing technique and acting exercises?

You don’t feel anything as an audience member.

I have seen thousands of performances in my short time on this earth and I can tell you a handful of times I have been really moved. Oh, I have seen thousands of really good performances. But they were performances.

Can you tell the difference between a good performance and great transcendental acting? Be honest with yourself.

The difference is monumental. Good performances come from good acting exercises and technique. Great acting hits you when you least expect it and gives you a knockout punch in the chest. It stays with you for days, and even years.

It has been a real pursuit of mine to ask those actors who have reached that level of performance for me to ask them “how do you do it?”. In total, I have seen seven brilliant live performances by artists I had personal access to. In 30 years. Not one of these actors named “said acting technique.” There is an answer to my original question of “How does an actor make a performance believable?” Do you know what they all said?

The imagination. Simple, I know. And I bet you all knew this, right? The difference is that we now have to be taught how to do this again. We did it once as a child, and we do it every single night in our dreams.

Our awareness of the world and its inhabitants destroys our imagination.

To impersonate a character completely and successfully, you must imagine what it would feel like to move that way, sound this way, and imagine why they say and do whatever they say and do in the play.

Imagination and action.

Make believe and to do. These two are a bond.

Your imagination gives you the whole world and your character.

The action is what you seek with that character within that world you have created. And remember that the world and everything in it affects you. Constantly. The rain and the snake peering at you in the corner.

If your imagination is vivid enough, you will live and breathe every moment within that world you have created.

The text is your weapon in this world of enemies. This is the drama.

The audience will be on the edge of their seat. And most importantly, they will be moved. They will feel something.

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Lee Samuel Wilson

Lee Samuel Wilson

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Lee holds Canadian, British & Irish citizenship. He is an actor, director, dramaturg, professor, and artistic director.