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.


BADASS QUOTE, from me, scottyB

“DO NOT. OBSESS. WITH THE WORDS. It siphons the life out of your acting.” – Yours Truly


GREAT ARTICLE! “Growth Spurts: Small Roles Blossom When Smart Actors Put in the Work”

Check out this great article from Backstage, discussing how it’s the smallest of roles that have the greatest potential to blossom into something great. I’ll give you a taste test here, then click the link to read the article in full! GREAT read and IMPORTANT for us actors to realize it’s not just the series regulars and leading roles we should be salivating after; in fact, it might just be the opposite…

“You never know which roles are going to provide the greatest opportunities. A part may not look like much on paper, but if you invest yourself fully and viewers sit up and take notice, sometimes it can morph into something greater. ‘It’s like an actor fantasy.’

Vik Sahay regularly steals scenes—and has amassed an admirable fan base—as antagonistic Buy More grunt Lester on NBC’s Chuck. Sahay initially auditioned for the role of Chuck’s friendlier sidekick, Morgan, but was passed over in favor of Joshua Gomez. ‘My manager called and said, “They are now offering you the role of Lester,”‘ Sahay recalls. ‘I remember looking through the script, and it was literally one line here, a word there. I was like, “I don’t want to do this.” My manager, smartly, was like, ‘Yeah, who do you think you are to say no to anything?'”

Sahay, who had journeyed to Los Angeles from his native Canada for pilot season, assumed the role was a one-off…until he was asked back. And then asked back again. Each time, the number of words Lester had to say grew a little, and the character developed into a cantankerous social misfit with, as Sahay puts it, an ‘unrequited rivalry’ with leading man Chuck. When the show kicked off its second season, Sahay was promoted to series regular.”

FULL ARTICLE HERE!


“EXPECTING TOO MUCH, TOO SOON?” Awesome Article!!!

Here is a great GREAT article from Now Casting’s ‘Actors Ink’ (Volume 9, #4). Read it then send me your thank you cards.

“Countless actors pour into Hollywood and New York every day. All after the same dream. But what is it that everybody is chasing? Why do so many people want to act? First of all … It looks so easy.

When a small town boy or girl with stars in their eyes watches tv or movies, it is really easy to sit back and think “I can do that”. But what small town America (and all those with similar dreams around the world) are not shown is that with very few exceptions, most successful actors have been working at it for years. If not decades. Remember that the good ones make it look easy. That is part of the job.

Also, media shows only the fun and glitz and glamour.

It is easy to buy into the facade that actors spend most of their time shopping and at spas, at parties, and on red carpets, because, well… That is what is shown in the media. If someone only sees what is shown on entertainment shows, the life of an actor looks pretty darn easy. In fact, the only time any negativity is shown associated with actors is when it is so sensational that it makes headlines. A starlet shoplifts, or an angry star punches a photographer, a legend overdoses, etc…

An interesting question that actors should ask themselves is, WHY do I want to be an actor in the first place? If someone wants fame, one might suggest that there are a lot quicker ways to become famous. And if an individual wants fortune, statistics would show that acting as a profession is probably one of the very worst ways to achieve wealth. 

Yet they still come.

An interesting phenomenon that is prevalent in the acting community is the belief among certain actors that just because they moved to Hollywood and bought some headshots, took some acting classes, and got an agent, they should suddenly have a professional acting career. Just imagine if it were that simple! Just put in a few hours of training and a couple hundred dollars and then in return receive fame and fortune! What a deal! This way of thinking may seem exaggerated to some, yet on many levels, it is actually quite commonplace.

Can you even imagine someone who wants to be a surgeon thinking that they could just practice with a scalpel for a few hours, buy a lab coat, and then just go out there ans operate? Or picture someone who wants to be a professional basketball player just shooting hoops for a few hours and buying some sneakers then sit back and wait for the millions in endorsement deals to pour in? No. Of course not. This only happens with actors. 

This also can be one of the reasons that the majority of actors quit and go back home when the truth of the business starts to seep in. Like many things in Hollywood, a true career as a working actor is not what it appears. When actors get frustrated with their careers and “the biz” it is almost always because their career does not live up to their expectations. This is partially because their expectations were unrealistic to begin with.

Again… Getting a headshot, an acting class, an agent, (and any number of other steps in an acting career) does not mean one should automatically receive in return, the fame, fortune, fun, and artistic fulfillment so many desire. 

This is not to say however, that there aren’t thousands upon thousands of brilliant, hardworking, talented, proactive and positive actors out there that HAVE paid their dues and have put in the time and effort. There are so many actors who are absolutely deserving of a great career. Some have gotten rewarded for their hard work. Many have not. Well at least not in the way they desire.

To the talented hard workers out there… DO NOT QUIT. Plain and simple. You never know what is right around the corner.

Since the competition may at times seem insurmountable, it is vitally important that actors take the time to really understand the game. Make peace with the game. And then actually PLAY the game 100%! And one last thing…. When you allow it to be, The Game can be quite FUN!


This One Time, In The Jungle……!

Prepare to live truthfully in the moment. In THE moment that you are IN at THAT moment. This means NOT GETTING STUCK IN LINE READINGS OR WHAT YOU PREPPED IN REHEARSAL! What if you were on safari in some wild-ass jungle with the best guide money could buy? Awesome, right? You know where you’re going cuz you have your guide leading the way and all is swell. Until some snake darts down from a tree and swallows him whole right in front of you. Would you just stop and stand there? This wasn’t part of the plan, was it?? So what do you do??? My guess is that you still VERY much wanna get the fuck out of there, tour guide or not, and you keep on going, using what you know, what you recognize, what your instincts are telling you, etc. You ADAPT to whatever the world you’re standing in at the moment throws at you. Right? Why should our acting be any different? LET THAT VERY MOMENT AFFECT YOU. It will affect your acting. It will affect your audience. The audience will wanna blow you.

– scottyB


Class Notes Quote

“Let your inner dick/bitch out of its cage and maul some people every now and then. It’s exciting to see someone get mauled.” – Borden


Do You Talk the Talk, Or Walk the Walk???

SHARON MOIST is a former talent agent and author of ‘101 Tips For Actors’ who now works as a leading career consultant. I read a great article she wrote with some tips on getting out of our bouts of stagnance, and they’re much easier and simpler than you might expect!

“During her career as an agent, Sharon Moist saw thousands of actors shoot themselves in the foot, on a regular basis, through the choices they made and the actions they took while pursuing their careers. And, while they weren’t doing it on purpose, it happened because they didn’t have the information and the resources they needed to make better decisions and better choices.

I recently had a conversation with a potential client who talks a really good game.

The challenge with this person is that I’ve ‘been there and done that,’ so I’m very familiar with the ‘talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk’ syndrome. Up until two years ago, I could talk just about anyone under the table with all of my big plans. Unfortunately, all I did was talk. I never took action on anything. Just ask my former trainer; he’ll tell you just how true that statement really is!

Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore. Now I talk the talk AND walk the walk, and my life has changed 360 degrees because of it.

So what changed? Just one thing: I stopped talking and started walking. (i.e. I actually took the first step on something.)

Here’s an example of what I mean: When it came to exercise, I started working out at the gym for just 10 minutes at a time. (This area is definitely a challenge for me, as I’m not a big fan of exercising, but I’m getting there!) When it came to nutrition, I drank one extra glass of water a day. (Soda is my preferred beverage of choice!) When it came to getting my office organized, I set the timer for 10 minutes and worked on a pile of papers. (My assistant lives in Canada, so when it comes to keeping my office straight, it really is up to me!)

See how simple it was? The most important thing was to make each step I took small enough for me to succeed and feel like I had actually accomplished something. After that, momentum built on momentum, and the steps I took got a little bit larger each time, until I was no longer talking, but actually walking!

Now, let’s be honest: The exercise thing and the water thing are still a challenge for me, as I’d still rather sit on the couch reading a good book and drinking a can of soda, than working out, drinking a bottle of water. But, I’m working on it!

You see, I don’t think that most people who talk a good game intend to just talk. I really do believe that they want to accomplish the things they talk about. I know I did. I’ve also come to realize that the reason I wasn’t getting anywhere was two-fold: (1) I wanted to do everything perfectly and (2) If there was too much to do, I became completely overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. 

Finally, after many conversations with one of my own coaches, I realized that the perfection thing was never going to happen! And once I understood that, she helped me break things down into bite-size pieces, which gave me a place to start.

So what about you? Do you talk the talk or walk the walk? 

If you discover that you’re doing more talking than walking, I would encourage you to take an hour or two and figure out exactly what’s holding you back from actively pursuing your goals.

Could it be fear? If so, you’ve heard what f.e.a.r. stands for, haven’t you? If not, here’s the definition: False Evidence Appearing Real. Remember, it’s very easy to let fear stop us in our tracks. However, until you know something for a fact, it might actually be nothing more than ‘false evidence appearing real.’

Is doubt getting in your way? If so, what exactly is it that you’re doubting? Your talent? Then maybe it’s time to get back in class and get your confidence back. Your headshots? Then think about giving yourself the gift of new pictures. Your demo reel? If it’s not a good representation of your work today, then don’t send it out right now, as I can promise you that hundreds of actors have gotten auditions and/or representation without a demo reel!

And if, for some reason, you can’t figure it out on your own, talk to your friends or even consider hiring a coach to help you. 

Once you have the answers you need to break through your stuck spots, the sky is the limit on what you can achieve!”

– Now Casting, Actors Ink, Volume 6, #40


CLASS NOTES HIGHLIGHTS by borden

Here are some appetizers to nibble on before digging into the meat of the sides you are working on:
* WHAT THE FUCK’S GOING ON??? What is the STORY of the scene? What is the ARC, of both the full script AND the audition sides?
* What is the style/genre,/environment, etc?
* What is EACH SCENE about in relation to, AND independent of, each other and how do they contribute to the overall story?
* Where does each scene take place in the overall story?
Once we have a firm grasp of the above, we must then figure out the answer to the following question, one most actors have probably never stopped to think about:
* WHY did CASTING pick THESE particular scenes to audition their actors with for this project???
Once we find out what the simple story is that they’re trying to tell, we know what they NEED AND WANT TO SEE IN THE ROOM. They pick the sides they pick for a reason; my guess is that it’s a taste test of their story- these moments are key bullet points of the characters and their personalities, these moments mirror the arc of the full script, this monologue shows their proficiency at spouting off facts about snorkling, etc. The sides we are given- in some way or another- are probably some sampler platter of their story’s full menu.
Allow me to take this food reference of mine and run with it:  they’re hosting a dinner party and we’re the caterers. They need us to serve up what’s printed on the menu so they don’t look stupid to their snotty guests that pay their rent.
(Let’s eat!)
– Borden

BADASS QUOTE, from me, scottyB (from class notes)

“Actors are storytellers! WE tell STORIES. In this industry, we are GIVEN stories to TELL, but WE TELL THEM, through OUR eyes and OUR point of view. Simply tell the story that’s been given to you as you would ANY story you’ve ever told and THAT’S what they are looking for. We ALL know classic kids stories and songs, yeah? We all know the same thing, hear it time and time again, but the REASON these LAST is because they’re never told the same way TWICE. You will NEVER hear two people tell ‘The Three Little Pigs’ the same way. EVER. It’s all about how WE learned the story, what WE thought about it when we heard it, what WE think about the story AS we tell it (get where I’m goin’ with this?)… Sides are handed to HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of actors; casting will hear the same 2 pages for days on end, and only the few that somehow manage to make them curious to hear that The Big Bad Wolf was unable to blow down the third Little Pig’s brick house will give them a boner and a callback.”


CLASS NOTES HIGHLIGHTS by borden

– Make a choice! ANY choice that is a CHARACTER choice is better than PLAYING IT SAFE. for your scene.

– Actors are storytellers! WE tell STORIES. In this industry, we are GIVEN stories to TELL, but WE TELL THEM, through OUR eyes and OUR point of view. Simply tell the story that’s been given to you as you would ANY story you’ve ever told and THAT’S what they are looking for. We ALL know classic kids stories and songs, yeah? We all know the same story, hear it time and time again, but the REASON they LAST is because they’re never told the same way TWICE. You will NEVER hear two people in class tell ‘The Three Little Pigs’ the same way. EVER. It’s all about how WE learned the story, what WE thought about it when we heard it, what WE think about the story AS we tell it (get where I’m goin’ with this?)… Sides are handed to HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of actors; casting will hear the same 2 pages for days on end, and only the few that somehow manage to make them curious to hear that The Big Bad Wolf was unable to blow down the third Little Pig’s brick house will give them a boner and a callback.

– Not sure how to start the scene? Peek at how the scene ENDS. It’s called an ARC- THIS IS GUARANTEED TO IMPROVE YOUR SCENE!

– MAKE SURE YOU’RE SELLING YOURSELF AS SOON AS THE SCENE STARTS! Once they buy the car and drive it off the lot, your job is DONE, right?

– It’s a cliche term, I know, but the ‘moment before’ entices the audience to follow you into the story. It’s unspoken flirting that LEADS TO SEX.

– Dressing the part will often times do half the work for you.

– You don’t get cast for your choices, you are cast for embodying the character. Choices are tools. Never in the history of this solar system has a brilliant architect been praised or had heaps of fortune piled upon him because of his protractor and graph paper.

– Borden



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