7 Ways to Regain/Boost Your Acting Power

7 Ways to Regain/Boost Your Acting Power

By Brett Hershey  Brettheadshot

We’ve all experienced it. An actor appears on screen, takes the stage or struts into the audition room and instantly commands attention.

How did he do that?

As an Alexander Technique instructor, I’m keenly interested in what fuels an actor’s power and what drains it. Why are some actors cast in alpha roles and others as beta characters (or not at all)? Is power something we are born with or can it be cultivated?

We sense people’s power immediately. Like animals, we are highly perceptive motion detectors. Our brains are programmed to evaluate another’s power and they do it in a blink of an eye. This happens in all our daily interactions, but it’s especially poignant in auditioning and performing. In fact, casting directors have told me that eighty percent of casting is done from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you start your audition.

I’ve had directors/producers send me actors whom they want to cast for a powerful role – such as president, queen or mob boss – but the actor seems too weak or diminished. He or she couldn’t project power.

Some might prescribe a trip to the gym, but true power is not derived from sprouting gargantuan muscles. How is power cultivated? How is your acting power? Are you maximizing your genetic range or is there some room for improvement?

Here are 7 ways to boost your power:

1) Balance Your Head on Top of Your Spine.

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Your head weighs 12-14 lbs. There is nothing that ‘holds’ the head up. It is designed to be poised on top of the spine. If you’re head is out of balance, then you are off your center, and that is perceived as WEAK.

And FYI the top of your spine is not in your neck. In fact, there is no neck joint. Your spine meets your skull inside your head. Put your finger in your ears. That is where your atlantic-occipital joint is located. Live from way up there.

True power is generated by exquisite coordination of oneself – mainly, having an excellent relationship between head and spine, and moving from this central organizing principle. Think of the way Brad Pitt moved in Fight Club.

And power is demonstrated by not compromising this ‘good use,’ no matter what activity we are performing (watch Tich Nat Hahn ties his shoes) or who comes our way (a queen’s poise is unaffected by their subjects or surroundings).

EXERCISE: Look in the mirror or at your photos and notice the poise of your head. Are you jutting it out? Tucking your chin forward? See if you can release it slightly forward and up. To feel this ‘release’ sensation, roll down with knees bent in a standing position and let your head dangle toward the floor.

2) Stop Nodding, Fidgeting and Wiggling.

To quote Cool Hand Luke, “Sometimes nothing is a real cool hand.” This is often so true with acting. Ever notice how still powerful characters can be?

Think of Vital in the Godfather. People came to see him. They moved around him. The squirmed and fidgets in their seat as they waited for him to make his decisions. Yet, he did very little. He often just listened.

And incessant nodding is a clear sign of weakness. It’s not just agreeing with someone. It’s sending off the signal: Do you like me? Are we okay? Is everything okay? Ironically, if we don’t nod when we listen, we actually can hear more because we are doing less and therefore more receptive to input.

EXERCISE: Notice how much nodding, fidgeting, and wiggling you are doing in your life and in your scene work. Try reducing it or eliminating it and see how it affects the power dynamic of your interactions.

3) Use The Biggest Levers in Your Body.

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Put your hands above your hips and feel around the back to your spine. Notice that there is no joint there! I call this the fictitious, pernicious waist joint. Did a fashion designer come up with this? Bending from your waist is like using the emergency brake on your car every time you want to slow down or stop – awkward, clunky and eventually you’ll blow it out.

Instead, use the biggest levers of your body, the HIP JOINTS. To find those, put your hands on your glutes (i.e. your butt). Now feel under to where the legs attach to the pelvis. These are the most powerful – yet often underutilized – joints in the body.

When changing altitude, use these joints along with the knees and ankles. To increase your power, think squat and lunge, even when picking up your phone, purse or keys.

EXERCISE: Try picking up your keys off a low coffee table with your legs straight. Then try leaving your head, neck and back alone and just fold through the ankles, knees and hip joints. You can put a hand on the back of your neck to minimize the tension there and transfer it to your legs.

4) Walk into Auditions Contralaterally.

The weakest form of human locomotion is walking homo-laterally, that is same arm, same leg. This immediately signals that something’s wrong, which could be a good choice for a creepy predator on CSI, but it doesn’t projects power.

Humans are designed to walk contra-laterally, or opposite arm, opposite leg. However, it’s not just opposite arm, but opposite torso. In fact, the arms are just along for the ride.  This easy spiral movement through the torso is hallmark of good coordination, health and confidence.

Due to fear, most actors walk into auditions with their torsos frozen. It immediately (and subconsciously) turns off casting directors. Instead, let your torso move with each step and notice how it changes your confidence as well as your performance.

EXERCISE: First try walking homo-laterally. Then try walking contra-laterally, but with the torso stiff or frozen. Now try walking with exaggerated movement through the torso, and let the arms swing freely, along for the ride. What happens?

5) Allow Your Breathing Mechanism to Work.

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Nothing zaps energy more than holding your breath. And yet interfering with the natural breathing mechanism by sucking air in or forcing air out, also diminishes your power.

The secret is to let your body breath. Sounds simple, but it can be challenging. Some suggestions:

Soften the eyes. Let the world come into your eyes rather than you looking out at it.

Unlock the jaw. Remember that your jaw is double jointed – it releases out and down.

Release your knees. Locking any joint can create a domino effect, locking other joints and stiffening the body.

Stop sucking in your stomach. It doesn’t make you look better and it cuts off the breath as well as constricts all your vital organs.

EXERCISE: Sit comfortable or lay on the floor with a book under your head and knees bent. After an exhale, set an intention not to consciously inhale. Instead, wait until your body brings in the air. After it does, then wait for your body to exhale. See how long you can let your body breathe you, instead of you breathing your body.

6) Make Strong Physical Choices, Even for Weak Characters or Moments

A common complaint I hear from the other side of the camera is that actors tend to make weak choices. There are, of course, situations in which playing with the lack of power is effective. However, actors too often lapse into powerlessness, by collapsing or constricting themselves. This can easily close us off the actor, and prevent the audience from coming on the journey with them.

Excess tension and collapse are perhaps an actor’s greatest threats. They cause performers not only to lose their power, but to lose each other, to lose the moment as well as their audience. And when actors do ‘try’ to be powerful, they ‘reach’ to generate the emotion and/or ‘push’ it through the congestion, coming across as muted, inauthentic or even melodramatic.

These actors tend not to get cast. Take note of the posture and movement quality of the actors who make it to the screen, especially in the lead roles. There are exceptions, but most have good to excellent use. It’s rather Darwinian – selection of the fittest or those that are in the best psycho-physical shape.

EXERCISE: Recall a sad story from your life.  Tell it to a class, video camera or a friend. Tell it the first time, collapsing and constricting into yourself (slouching, hunching, tensing, etc.). Now tell it again, and stay up and available to your audience. Fight against the urge to ‘go down.’ Compare the footage and/or check in with the audience to learn how the two approaches came across.

7) Practice Good Posture in Your Life

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I find that if actors are using themselves well in their lives, they can play both powerful characters and weak characters. Actors with poor posture have a hard time rising to the challenge of alpha stature. It’s much easier to shrink yourself down than to suddenly bolster your strength.

In regards to nature vs. nurture, we are not all created equally. Each of us is given a genetic range of psycho-physical power. We can’t change our height or bone-structure (non-surgically), for example. Yet, we can strive to maximize the range of psycho-physical power that we are given.

EXERCISE: Practice Constructive Rest every day by lay on your back for 10-15 minutes on the (carpeted) floor. Place a book under your head (to bring it level with the spine) and bend your knees with feet on the ground. Don’t do anything. See how much tension and stress you can UNDO by releasing into gravity.

Brett Hershey is a full-time, AMSAT certified Alexander Technique (AT) Instructor and Consultant in the Los Angeles area. He is highly effective at improving posture, eliminating pain and increasing performance quality of entertainment professionals – actors, directors, producers, supermodels, stand-up comedians, dancers, etc. as well as students from all walks of life.


A Word on Stillness

Stillness creates TENSION and tension is fascinating to watch. For an actor, being still might be the hardest thing to master but those watching worship it.

This article has some great thoughts on the art of being still from actor, Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, In Treatment, Vikings):

GByrnePicBlog

 


Shrinking the Gap Between Good Taste and Ambition

Here’s a great video by Ira Glass that we’re positive you will enjoy! If you’ve already seen it, share it with someone who hasn’t.

IraGlass - The Gap


RIP, Eddie Valiant

‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ has been and always will be one of my favorite films of all time, let alone one of the most influential, innovative, record-breaking, and awe-inspiring feats of creativity ever accomplished.

Today, Bob Hoskins passed away. Yes, he is one of Britain’s and film’s greatest actors ever, with a resume longer than any of us could ever dream of attaining (BUT DO IT ANYWAY!). But for ME, and to millions across the globe, he is Eddie Valiant. Here is an interview I dug up from YEARRRS ago, in which he discusses his (PERVERSELY UNDER APPRECIATED) performance in that film. REMEMBER- this was made in the late 80s. The technology was nowhere near what we had even 20 years ago, let alone today. Listening to him discuss IMAGING, remembering THE CAMERA, using your IMAGINATION (and the way he describes what happens to our imaginations as we grow up???) is jaw-dropping.

RIP, Bob Hoskins. There is a permanent wrinkle on my brain from 1988 because of your gifts.

– scottyB, JRS Blog Moderator

PS- If you’re one of the many a-holes I know young enough to not have seen this film, do it now. It’s an absolute MASTER CLASS in all things entertainment, film, Hollywood, and acting. Truly.

Bob Hoskins Discussing His ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ Performance


The 7 C’s of Auditioning

Great read. Full article in the link below this sneak peek:

The 7 C’s of Auditioning

*  CONFIDENCE  *

 If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. The audition starts the moment you walk into the room, so find a way to be relaxed, and project unshakeable confidence. If you don’t have it, fake it. This is all about body language and eye contact, so walk into the room with your head up, shoulders back, with total focus and relaxation. It’s the kind of confidence that makes people trust you, and allows them to feel they can put you on set or on stage tomorrow and you will be fine and not waste their time. You are prepared, know your job in the scene, your lines, and believe in the circumstances. Even if you are freaking out inside, you have to “act” like a confident person. (You are an actor, right?)

*  CHARACTER  *

*  CONFLICT  *

*  CONCENTRATION  *

*  CONNECTION  *

*  CLARITY  *

*  CHARISMA  *

The 7 C’s of Auditioning – Full Article 


BADASS QUOTE from Albert Brooks

“It’s better to be known by six people for something you’re proud of than by 60 million for something you’re not.” – Albert Brooks


Class Notes, by me, scottyB

– Being approachable is swell. People could, like, approach you with a paycheck and stuff.

– A good actor’s brain is like a clubhouse. This clubhouse has a sign on it, written in black marker: “NO ACTOR THOUGHTS ALLOWED! GROSS! YOU HAVE COOTIES!”  We must only allow character thoughts. Strong moment before and opening thought. That is ALL you can allow in your clubhouse at the top of your scene. Some of us need to do more than others to get the focus that is needed to smoothly and safely head into the scene. Whatever YOU gotta do for YOU? DO IT. Cuz other stuff will fuck it up. Something, somehow, some way, regardless of whether you think so or not WILL fuck it up. It’s like termites: you never know those little fuckers are there until the sofa falls through the floor just before the end of ‘Game of Thrones.’ Those microscopic bastards have been there by the billions just gnawing away for a LONG time. And you had no idea. So check your clubhouse for termites. And cooties.

– ELLIPSES: rather than dragging them out for purposes of trying to create an awkward/funny silent pause, try making them faster/shorter but more thought-filled. Smaller, fuller ellipses pop more. Like Lisa Rinna’s lips if they weren’t fucked up.

– Focus on what your character wants rather than what they don’t have. It’s the much shinier side of the same coin. And people dig shiny coins.

– CONNECTION. You gotta be connected to your partner (s). Pay attention. Live your character’s LIFE. Listen, think, respond. The scene won’t work without being connected. Same goes for appliances.

– I think we want our work to be seen. It’s almost as if we don’t trust that our homework will be given credit if it isn’t handed in before the exam. (God I hated school) That’s why the whole ‘throw it all away’ thing can be difficult. How the fuck do you do that? Well. Time helps. Repetition, REHEARSING. That shit helps. It soaks in. It just becomes part of us. I, Scott Allyn Borden, openly admit to this being a prominently featured issue on my newsstand. SHOW THEM EVERYTHING! If they don’t see EVERYTHING it won’t make sense, or they won’t believe it, or they won’t grasp the entire picture I painted! Well. A lot of people enjoy a really great meal, right? What’s better than a great meal? We LOVE great meals! Even if the chef doesn’t sit next to us and read the recipe and preparation instructions, right? When we see a gorgeous building our jaw drops without the architect mapping out his blueprints and the crew bringing out all the bulldozers and scaffolding, right? Prep and time and dirty hands is all part of the PROCESS OF CREATION. And when it’s time, it’s time; when it’s not, it’s not. THROW IT. ALL. AWAY. It’s there! TRUST THAT. I’m calling myself out here- I REALLY REALLY STRUGGLE WITH THIS ONE! So I’m calling my own ass out here. (Please join me. Guests welcome.)

– Stakes have absolutely nothing to do with volume. Raising your stakes means raising your stakes, not your volume. Save your volume for a No Doubt concert. (#BordenObsessionPlug)

–  Note to self: beats are paychecks. You have to earn those beats by working your way through ALL the text that appears BEFORE the beats. EARN THE BEATS!

– There are two types of people in the world: actors and civilians. We must be careful not to allow the laws of civilians to invade our actor territory. Rules in the civilian world are often times disruptive on our turf. For example- my mother is a civilian. One of her thousands of quotes for me has always been, “DAMMIT Scotty, MUST you ALWAYS dive into the pool without checking for WATER FIRST?!” (it’s true guys- mother knows best). In civilian territory, that is a bad thing to do. My myriad of experiences in civilian territory sometimes make it very hard for me to go there in actor territory. Because when I do that sorta thing I end up face-planted on the cement at the bottom, broken and bleeding. (Then I blame the sun. For evaporating H20 too quickly, see?) BUT. That hesitation, that fear, that prediction that if I leave the diving board I’m going to end up broken and bleeding at the bottom of a cement hole? Is so very restrictive and limiting to one’s potential in actor territory. That EXACT rule of good ol’ mama’s is PERFECT- for the LEFT brain. But we’re not worried about that hemisphere in our acting- we’re on the OTHER side. And the BEST POSSIBLE THING we can do in actor territory??? RUN off the fucking diving board, IN our day job clothes, NOT looking where we’re gonna land, LOVING the tickle in our stomach and the wind slapping our faces, and TRUSTING that our CLASS and our TEACHER and our SCENE PARTNER(S) are the water in that pool. We are not civilians when we are together- we are insane, lewd, hilarious, vibrant, rad, fucking awesome actors. It isn’t possible to face plant in our pool. CANNONBALL THAT SHIT.

– scottyB


Turning Negative Feedback Into a Positive

Great article from the Business section of today’s LA Times about constructive criticism. Click the link below the excerpt to read the full article. – scottyB

“… one of the main reasons we react so badly to any whiff of criticism at work, the authors argue, is that we feel generally underappreciated and under-praised. The good news, they contend, is that we can learn how to identify and manage the emotions triggered by the feedback and extract value from criticism.”


Turning Negative Feedback Into a Positive – Full Article 

 


The One Thing Riskier than a Risk

Great article on taking risks and the cool things that can unexpectedly happen along the way. Check it out. OR ELSE.

Here’s an excerpt with a link to the full read below.

Slobbery kisses,

scottyB

“A casting director friend of mine once told me she believes that for every hundred actors auditioning, there are about four who can play the role, and one who is the role. When asked if she ever knew what she was looking for in that person, she said, ‘No, but I know in which general direction to look.’ Like searching for a passport, and in the process finding lost money, embarrassing old photos, and that odd sock we thought was gone forever, our predetermined checklist simply serves as a ‘direction in which to look..’ and nothing more.”

The One Thing Riskier than a Risk – Full Article

 


Class Notes Highlights from Brian’s Ongoing, by Jonathan S.

Class Notes Highlights from Brian’s Ongoing, by Jonathan S.

–          Relationships are different points of views fusing together.

–          Make sure that when we are working with relationships we have different points of view and that we have clear choices.

–          Explore what makes each partner in a relationship different.

–          What differentiates [your character] from the rest of the characters?

–          The circumstances [are already] there and present.  What is already happening that causes the scene to start [and] take place?

–          Breathe life into the character. Don’t walk the audience through every beat.

–          What is feeding your aesthetic [as an artist]?

–          What is your artistic diet?

–          Take care of what you need to take care of before you get to class [so you can be fully present].

–          Warm up and do exercises to prepare yourself to work to your best ability.



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