I am just thrilled to have Efsun Alper merrymaking with us today! You may remember my movie star friend from the last time she stopped by to share 10 Creative Qualities of an actor. Her very thorough approach to the subject that is near and dear to her heart is both fascinating and instructive for anyone interested in boosting their own creative prowess.
In honor of the Blogversary-apolooza Efsun is also generously adding a pair of movie tickets to one lucky reader! More on that in a minute though, lets get to the good stuff from Efsun!
I am an actor. As I mentioned in my earlier post on the 10 Creative Qualities of an actor, I’ve recently found myself struggling with my creativity since becoming a mom and taking a mini break on the acting front. Kathy’s blog inspired me to write about the creative qualities and the practices of actors, so I could figure out ways to create as freely as I was able to do in the past. As you can imagine, attempting to describe the creative process of anyone, let alone an actor is pretty challenging. It is a very personal undertaking, as I’m sure another actor will have a completely different view on the matter. So here is my version and little homage to how an actor prepares!
12 Creative Practices of an Actor:
1. Divergent thinking: One of my absolute favorites! It is mostly associated with finding more than one solution to any given problem. And that is exactly what actors do. We constantly engage in divergent thinking as we create different characters and experiment with the form itself. The theatrical environment is such that it breeds this type of thinking; and the more you practice it, the better you get at it. Just like kids, we use imaginary people or objects, make uncommon connections, turn expectations up on their heads, spontaneously react in the moment (and save mistakes!), and change rules/traditions in a pre-determined amount of time. Contrary to the general opinion, divergent thinking is not necessarily a product of high IQ, but it’s mostly found in people with personality traits like non-conformity, curiosity, willingness to take risks, and persistence. You may not get there overnight in your everyday creativity, but you can certainly experiment with brainstorming, improvisation, meditation, journaling to tap into your divergent thinking powers.
2. Art of Listening: Many people think acting skills lie in the art of public speaking. True, that is an important aspect of acting; but more importantly, it is found in the art of listening. Acting is very much a reactive art; and the juicy acting bits are mostly found in those reactions. To be able to react genuinely, you have to be fully present and listening. To listen, you have to engage with your whole body and your senses; otherwise it would be called hearing. (And yes, there is still quite a bit of listening in monologues!) Just like the learning curve increases when you engage in with more than one sensory input, your listening skills will boost your spontaneous reaction in a similar way. Listening with your whole body will sharpen your overall awareness and raise your empathy, which in turn will enhance your creativity.
3. Transformation: The core of acting lies in the art of transforming yourself into your character. That is the part of Shakespeare’s “holding a mirror up to [human] nature” that many of us will always strive for artistically. It is not only a physical transformation, as in the way a character walks and talks, but a genuine transformation of behavior; where you and your ego seemingly dissipates and the character takes over for the duration of the play/movie. Regardless of the technique used, quite a few actors -including myself- employ what master acting theoretician Stanislavsky called the “magic if”: “If I were that character or if I were in the same circumstances of that character, what would I do?” I understand it is not feasible or necessary for many of you to literally transform into someone else, but it is possible to let the creative person inside you to take the reins when you want. And if you get stuck, just ask yourself: if I had creative superpowers, what would I do?
4. Technique: As with any artistic tradition, acting has many techniques to choose from. These techniques guide the actor as to how to approach any character in a given text (or lack thereof). Here is a few concepts used by some of the major techniques that I think might be useful with everyday creativity.
- Objectives: Actors, no matter what technique they use, need to figure out the objectives (goals or intentions) of their characters. These are the wants or needs of the character that have to be satisfied by a certain time. Actors use objectives in several ways: moment-to-moment, for a scene, for an act, and for the entire arc of the play (super-objective). Translation: Immediate goals, short term goals, medium-term goals and long-term goals. Figuring out the through line of your objectives will definitely help you get closer to your future creative goals. What is your super-objective?
- Obstacles: are things or people that keep the characters from achieving their goals. It’s just as important to figure out what stands in the way of what you want, so you can figure out ways to defeat them. What blocks your creativity?
- Tactics: refers to the strategies to achieve the character’s objective, while making sure that they’re clear and attainable. We like to use actionable words for tactics: there is a huge difference between apologizing to someone and begging for someone’s forgiveness. The second one opens up more possibilities for trying different tactics. And when the current tactic doesn’t work, you switch to another one. Translation: If all else fails, try and try again! What tactics can you use to accomplish your objective?
- Choices & Specificity: Choices, choices; it’s all about choices! I think it would be fair to say that if all else is equal, an actor is generally chosen for a part for the choices she makes. Equally important is how committed and specific she is about her character choices. As Stanislavsky said, “Generality is the enemy of all Art”. Without getting into a debate about if art is for art sake or art is for the people, let’s just say that art always has a perspective. It shows the point of view of its creator. Don’t be afraid to show your colors through your creative outlet; that is what makes it unique. Always make bold and concrete choices!
- Subtext: A modern concept for plays, subtext is known as the content that is underneath the dialogue. So we actors dig deep, to get to the inner truth of our character. It helps to not take things at face value; there is always another layer, another dimension to figure out. Try to peel off the surface at least once in awhile and see what lies underneath. It may not be pretty, but it may lead you to truth in your work.
5. Improvisation: This is a tool that actors rely on often when they are stuck or just for plain fun. There is also a big group of actors who practice improvisational theater as an art form. Completely spontaneous, right here, right now! How fun is that? It frees up possibilities without analyzing too much. So whenever you feel you’re too much up in your head, just improvise! Here are my favorite components of improvisation:
- Yes and: In improv, an actor makes an offer. It could be physical, for example a location or a premise, and the other actor takes on the challenge by saying “yes and”, and makes another offering. This relationship keeps the game going in both a shared and spontaneous manner (talk about listening skills!). Of course, we love a good conflict; it is bread and butter for yummy drama! In a similar sense, don’t be afraid of a creative challenge. Say yes! instead, dive in and make it your own.
- Structure: is not a restriction, but more of a creative framework. You can’t just improvise about anything! If you’ve ever been to an improv show or seen it on TV, you’ll notice that the actors will ask the audience a bunch of questions, like “where?”, “when?”, “who?” to set up the structural framework. You’ll be surprised how much more freedom you’ll have by setting up a structure for your creative endeavor. Just even changing little things like, space, material, time etc, you can find fresh ways to play with your work.
6. Relaxation: Let’s not underestimate the power of relaxation. It is not chilling out to the point of unresponsiveness, but rather getting rid of all the unnecessary tensions that might block your voice or body, and ultimately your creativity. It’s the equilibrium state found when we are fully present physically and emotionally, with only the necessary tautness in our musculature. It is probably well-known that unnecessary tension or stress will affect the body’s physical and/or vocal responsiveness, but more importantly it restricts a person’s emotional and creative output. As actors, we know all too well how to hold on tightly; just as important is how to let go lightly. Just breathe and relax; let that extra oxygen work its way into your brain!
7. Observation: Actors are an obsessive bunch when it comes to observing little details. I freely admit we can be a bit annoying about this! We observe everything, record it in our brains, and when we need it we pull it out of the bag. We observe human nature and nature in general, we observe politics and trends, and what’s happening around us and in the world in general. This kind of observation is not only recording a specific moment in time, but it also builds the point of view of the actor, since no two people can process information exactly the same way. On a social scale, it helps us be an empathetic, diverse and a well-rounded bunch. On the stage, it keeps us truthful and authentic, making us both believable and understandable. So open up your senses, try to observe little details, and see how much of it you can retain. Especially nowadays, it really helps to move away from technological distractions, and to take in all your surroundings instead. The keener your observations get, the more attuned your instincts will become, which will immensely benefit your creativity.
8. Research: Actors spend a lot of time on script and character analysis, and a great deal of every rehearsal process is dedicated to table work, where we examine the dramaturgical context and brainstorm ideas. But our research doesn’t end there. It’s been said that in many forms of artistic research, the research and the art are one of the same; so the more you practice your art, the more knowledgable you become. I am a big research fan, especially coming from a Political Science background; and as with any discipline, I know knowledge is power. It will keep you interested and grounded in your work. The more you know about your subject, the more it will expand your creativity.
9. Training: A lot of times technique and training go together. Like many other actor friends of mine, I trained my instrument to the best of my abilities. I tried to keep in shape (for the most part), learned to free my natural voice and how to speak like an American, studied different methods of acting -inside out & outside in, read up on all the major theories of theater in general, not to mention obsessively gobbled up plays! All this training was just so I was ready to find the work to act in. Training in whatever your passion might be, is one of the best investments strategies. Remember luck only happens when preparation meets opportunity!
10. Rehearsal (Practice): “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, Practice, Practice!” That’s right! Practice makes perfect. That’s why we actors rehearse for a good long time before ever making it on the stage; and even then we have brush up rehearsals to go over things after we have a break for a day or two! The human body & mind can be a little unforgiving in retaining information, if you don’t constantly practice. Ask any dancer or musician, they’ll tell you it really doesn’t take long before they start to lose muscle tone and nimbleness. Keep practicing your passion. You’ll always be better today then you were yesterday, and there is always room for improvement tomorrow!
11. Collaboration: Theater is the quintessential collaborative art. At a minimum you need an actor, an audience and space for it to even exist. It’s also a multi-disciplinary art and nowadays there is even more collaboration with the introduction of high tech components. All of us work together to achieve the same goal. The creative expression shoots up exponentially with each new collaborator bringing their vision to the project. Have you considered collaborating with someone on a creative project? I assure you it’s the most thrilling feeling to be creating with others who are just as passionate as you are.
12. The “Triangle”: Theater is made up of these three crucial components; without one, the theater art form as we know it would not be. Although this refers specifically to theater, I think there are still principles here that can be applied to everyday creativity.
- Actor: An actor’s job is to tell a story by using her instrument. Her physical instrument would be her body and her voice. She would need to be healthy, physically supple, in touch with her natural voice, and without unnecessary tensions. Her inner instrument would be her core: knowing who she is, her strengths and weaknesses, and where her center lies. An actor training program will usually start with this kind of self-examination and knowledge. Finding out who you are, your milestones, your joys, your fears, your preferences will help you develop your unique perspective, your creative outlook. Keeping a healthy and strong body wouldn’t hurt either!
- Space: Actors have a special kind of bond with their performing space. This is where all our creative powers and demons are released, and fantasies and friendships are realized. It requires the utmost attention and respect. I understand many of you may not have an assigned place, but wherever you might end up, make sure to respect your creative space. Treat it kindly. Check your emotional baggage at the door and show up prepared. The more you connect with your space, the more creatively responsive you will be.
- Audience: Actors don’t have a job if they don’t have an audience; otherwise they’d just have a hobby! We work long and hard to prepare for our audience, and we extend a creative offering to them. They in return open up their minds and hearts and engage in the communal feedback. Aside from its cathartic nature, this actor-audience feedback loop opens up more creative opportunities. Creative ideas don’t exist in a vacuum; if anything, they have a tendency to multiply when they’re influenced by others’ creativity. Don’t be shy to share your creative work with others, even if it’s not meant for an audience. And always be a good audience to others:)
Wishing you the best in all your creative journeys!
Which one of these practices speak to you the most or the least? Are there any you already use in your creative work? Which one(s) would you like to try in your next creative endeavor? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Many thanks to my good friend Kathy for her encouragement, patience, and giving me the platform to write about something so dear and near to my heart. You totally rock! And a very happy anniversary to Bliss Habits 🙂
Efsun is a classically trained actor, a volunteer teacher to little kids, a passionate advocate of art education in the classrooms, wife to the sweetest man alive and the mother of two amazing girls, Alara and Aleyna -her most creative endeavour yet. You can visit http://www.efsun.orgfor her past acting work.
Thank you so much for sharing your heart and expertise with us Efsun!
And now on to the giveaway!
Fandango Movie Tickets
The gift of a movie with Fandango Bucks!
Good for any movie available for ticketing on Fandango.com, no expiration.
(This contest is open to residents of the United States and can be redeemed at participating theaters.) $25 value (blog post entry)
How to win Movie Tickets
1. In the comments below tell us which one of these 12 practices speaks to you the most.
2. In a separate comment tell Efsun why you’d like to win.
3. Stop by Efsun’s previous Bliss Habits post, 10 Creative Qualities of an actor, and leave a comment there.
4. Tweet the following:
I entered to win @Fandango Movie Bucks in @BlissHabits Blogversary #apolooza http://bit.ly/L504ZC
Do all four and you have four chances to win!
Winner will be selected at random from all entries received by
Saturday, June 2, 2012 (Contest Extended through) Sunday June 3, 2012!!! We have a winner! Congratulations Lynn!
Check out the complete Blogversary-apolooza giveaway list and learn how you can double your chances!!