I think we’re living in an exciting time, because the rules of acting that are really becoming popular (and understandable) are those that follow the same rules of life.
It’s not really hard to stop “acting” and get real. But then again, look how often we don’t want to do that in life. So what is hard is not learning to “act” per se, but instead learning how to become more honest with our feelings in life.
I believe good acting “rules” also intersect among different acting art forms, because if they’re good rules, they’re universal. So improv basically follows the same rules of really great scene study work, which follows the same rules of stand-up comedy, which follows the same rules of physical theater, which follows the same rules of musicals…and on and on it goes.
It’s all about listening, and presence, and expressing yourself fully, playing, showing up, and going for shit-not giving up and saying yes to the moment. It’s about getting out of your head and taking the focus off yourself (and your ego). It’s about getting lost in the spontaneity of the moment, and being willing to be vulnerable.
Hard principles to grasp? I don’t think so. Often what they require is to give up not only your pre-conceived ideas about acting (and life), but also to allow yourself to see life through a different prism-a prism of play and wonder, not cynicism and fear.
There’s a beautiful saying. “I am available to anything that wants to happen in this moment, including that which is beyond imagining.” But that requires us to let go of the certainty that we have all the answers. We don’t.
Comedian Dani Klein Modisett, who teaches the rules of standup at UCLA, wrote a book based on those rules to create more laughter and fun in her marriage. The book, “Take My Spouse, Please,” shows us how to bring comedy back to relationships, and in so doing, improve them.
These are great rules for life, relationships, and acting. (I’m sharing a few of hers below with my thoughts.)
1. Show up. Don’t give up.
2. Get present. Half the time we’re not, so we miss the gift of the moment.
3. Listen to everything, not just the words. Words are sent with intent and feeling. They aren’t just typed letters on a page. When you actually listen to them in the context in which they are sent, they will naturally affect you. Acting is simply listening and reacting. But you can’t react to something if you aren’t listening in the first place!
4. Embrace the element of surprise. If you allow yourself to deeply listen, there’s no way you can’t be surprised, because life is constantly throwing us curve balls.
5. Be patient. Impatience is the belief that what you want won’t come.
6. Don’t quit after a bad night. It’s all relative anyway and everything further serves our lives and our work.
7. Get help to get better. That’s the truth for everything. Whether it’s a great acting class, going to a therapist, surrounding yourself in community, or simply telling someone the thing you’re too scared to say, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s surely a sign of the most tremendous amount of strength.
Stop making acting harder than it is. Get in the game of acting (and life) by showing up fully with the rules listed above. You’ll start to see that not only is it easier than we’ve made it, it’s also a hell of a lot more fun. And, your relationships might just get a whole lot better, too.