Why Do You Act?
In our method acting courses we often teach the importance of remembering what you want. For most actors the answer is simple: we want to tell stories.
We’ve all had the experience of losing ourselves in a good book, a good movie, or a good show. We identify with a character. We’re pulled along with that character through triumphs, disappointments and ultimately, growth. When the book, movie, or show is over, we feel satisfied.
In acting, you get to be that character in the book, movie, or show. It’s the closest thing to virtual reality entertainment that we have today.
In method acting, you not only get to be the character, but you also get to delve beneath the surface of the character until you finally reach yourself. You get to examine yourself in ways that only acting classes or decades of expensive therapy can allow.
What’s Your Purpose?
At your finest moments, there is a transcendence that we reach as actors, particularly those of us who use method acting. There is a marrying of your inner self with the self of the character. There’s a merging of you with the character that becomes, in essence, a version of you in the story.
Most people never get to experience this. The best they can do is read a good book, go to a good movie, or watch a good show. Some of them dream of going to drama school or taking acting classes somewhere, but most have other passions in life that take them in other directions. As actors, we are lucky enough to have this experience everyday if we want it.
At the end of the day, the doctor who has cured a patient, the researcher who has got one day closer to a cure for cancer and the lawyer who has got an acquittal for an innocent client – all of them want to relax after work. Most of them will pick up a book, grab the remote or go out to the cinema with their friends. They will immerse themselves in the stories of characters. This could be YOUR character.
Granted, you’re more likely to be pulling them along with you in the story if you’re a lead or a major supporting character. However, even as a nameless co-star you’re egging the story on – and who’s to say your nameless character with two lines doesn’t have a story of his or her own? That’s all up to you.
Go ahead and make up a backstory for your food server. I’m not suggesting you force it into the scene to the point that it pulls focus from the leads, but have it in your own head as a private character fantasy. I promise you it’ll be more fun. Pretend there’s a show somewhere about you, and this is just what your character does when you’re not delivering lines in that show.
If you’re old enough to remember the Friends episode with the crossover with the women from Mad About You, you have a perfect example. The two women walk into Central Perk for a simple coffee. All they have to do is order their coffee and cookies. A gripping storyline that will transform your life? No. But in a Mad About You episode, this scene might have taken place off camera. It might have been something the two women did while we were watching another more pivotal scene.
In acting, you get to be in a story. Even better, you get to help create that story using your most powerful tool – yourself. As a bonus, you get to pull that doctor, that lawyer, that factory worker, and that full-time mum in the audience with you into stories they don’t get to enter into without your help. You fill a need that we all have – the need for myth, for entertainment and for story.
That’s what you do. That is the purpose you fulfill.
Now go ahead and replace those ink cartridges.