I was inspired to throw this simple assignment at you after working with a young actor. Work with me on this, and if you put these concepts into your work, I’m pretty sure your self-tapes will be more effective.
I’m an actor who also coaches actors, and I recently worked with a very talented young actor who’s up for a Sci-Fi mystery drama series. In her self-tape scene (adapted lines below) she had to confess to a friend that she’s jealous of her.
And it takes place on a bus.
It’s not an accident that serious scenes often take place in cars or public transportation. Why? The screenwriter usually reserves those locations for quiet, soul-revealing scenes. This is where your character’s mask drops and only the audience gets to see the genuine you. And audiences love being in on that secret.
And the director, when she looks at your audition, wants to know that you’ve clocked that awareness and that she can use you for a special moment in the drama.
HERE’S HOW WE SCREW IT UP:
We actors can ruin this moment in the self-tape because:
- we’re ignorant of the dynamics of this scene, so we don’t prepare correctly, and
- we make the mistake of staring at the person we’re baring our soul to.
So read on… download your lines… and make a self-tape so you can learn it.
THE NEURO ACTING PROCESS:
This is how I work with actors – it may be different to your process but go with me this one time.
1. READ AND DAYDREAM ABOUT THE SCENE
Before you download the scene, here’s what you need to know:
Given Circumstances: A group of young people are at a summer camp and something strange is going on.
Relationships: Charlie (your character) and Murphy (your scene partner) go way back. You think Murphy is rejecting you and becoming friendly with Jules, whom you mistrust. Murphy generally doesn’t let people in, so you don’t know what’s going on. Skyler is another friend whom you’ve been sharing your feelings to.
Where are you? You’re about to go on a bus ride. Where? The casting director hasn’t given you that information. That’s what you’re going to daydream about.
What’s it like from my life: Pick a moment from your life – not the character, YOU – where you had to make an awkward confession. Or imagine some situation where this might happen. Let that wash over you.
What happened the moment before: this is how you will fill your mind as you sit down on the bus. Fact: you know you’re going to have to come clean with Murphy. So what did you just do to sabotage Murphy’s life? Make it big, and make it embarrassing. So embarrassing that you can’t look at them.
NOW, DOWNLOAD THE AUDITION SCENE.
2. BRAINSTORM YOUR FOCAL POINTS
When we play a scene in a car or bus, we NEVER turn our body to face the person. Think about it: in real life, how often do you actually turn your body to look at the person you’re riding with? That’s just bizarre.
In dramas, these scenes are usually about sharing, confessing, revealing – and that’s not easy. What do we do in real life? We use ‘anchoring objects’. These are objects outside of us that we naturally focus on to help us summon up the words. So choose two objects in front of you and, importantly, one off to your left – this object is out the side window of the bus. Make the objects vibrant and interesting. They might be: the driver, somebody who just got on the bus, a cool car in the parking lot, the glow of alien spaceships on the horizon – anything.
3. LEARN YOUR LINES
Learn Charlie’s part. Learn it so well that you don’t have to think of the lines. If you can get someone to be Murphy, that’s great but you can also do it on your own.
4. PRACTICE, PROBE, THEN SHOOT IT.
Before you do your self-tape, practice it. Place Murphy on the seat to your right. As you’re about to sit down, go over in your mind about what you did to harm Murphy. After you sit, DELIBERATELY push those embarrassing thoughts out of your mind (and again, you’re hiding this from Murphy) by seeing your imaginary points in front of you (save the one for the left for the moment marked ‘Beat’). But allow that embarrassing thought to keep coming back, and keep pushing it down.
This may feel strange to you. You might think: “I need to get to the lines.” NO! Give the director (and your future editor) something to work with. They need to know that your mind is working before you start ‘acting’. So don’t rush this moment.
And then look ahead and make your confession to Murphy. Try not ‘acting’ these lines – just look at your objects and open yourself to them.
The most important line in the scene is: “I thought we were friends again.” That’s why you’re going to look off to your left before this line. The left side of the brain is reserved for memories, so at this point you’re going to turn away from Murphy and access the pain of the loss of your close relationship (that’s why we brainstormed earlier about ‘What’s it like from my life?’). Looking off to the left and surrendering to those emotions summons up that feeling. Then: let the line come out. DO NOT ACT THIS LINE.
What will the audience see? In that moment they will see the real you, the person we hide from our friends. Then when you glance back toward Murphy, the mask comes back on. But by then the audience will have been treated to a close glimpse inside your soul and they will feel like they’re in on a secret. They’ve just formed a stronger relationship with you – because let’s face it, we’ve all been jealous. You’re just giving dignity to that struggle.
Now, beyond this exercise, you can use this concept of ‘anchoring objects’ in your next self-tape, monologue or scene.
And one final interesting Neuro tidbit: if you’re left-handed, reverse this: your memories are often accessed on the right!
BREAK A LEG!
PS If all this sounds like too much work, then do not take the Neuro Acting Master Course. This is ‘tip-of-iceberg’ stuff this. But if you love studying human behavior and how to actually get work as an actor, then think about it.