What are simple and essential tips onstage acting beginners need to know?

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Answered by: Kathleen, An Expert in the Acting Basics Category
"Acting is at one and the same time the simplest and the most complex of the arts." McGaw, Charles. Acting Is Believing; a Basic Method. 4th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966. 3. Print.

The opening quote to a beginning acting textbook speaks volumes in its simplicity. Who doesn’t want to occasionally slip off the bonds of our surface persona and disguise the day-to-day with a dalliance into the mysterious unknown? "Acting" like someone else seems simple enough and everyone who has told a small white-lie has the base instinct for it. Taking that inner nugget of natural performance and developing it into a full-fledged believable creature for all the world to witness might seem to be an entirely different undertaking.

It is not.

There are a few simple elements necessary to provide an onstage acting beginner with any level of experience or skill a solid foundation with which to build a believable character.

The first tenet beginning actors must embrace is the basis of all acting lies in truth. This juxtaposition can be achieved by anyone with the desire and willingness to step onto the boards. Without truth, there is no believability and acting becomes nothing more than a regurgitation of words someone else wrote.

An easy starting point on the path to truth is to find one common characteristic, belief or trait shared between the actor and the character being portrayed. Something simple like nail biting when nervous or a belief in God or even a penchant for romanticism has the ability to give credence to an actor becoming the character. While no two human beings are ever truly identical, we all share the fact we are human, including our audience.

How do you find this commonality? It’s either in the words written by the playwright, or the ones left out. We are as defined by what we say as what we do not say. And don’t merely look at your character’s lines – the answer may lie in what others say to or about your character - which means actors must listen.

Listening onstage, offstage and internally is essential to rounding out the believability of any character. An actor who listens to what is being said as opposed to waiting for the cue puts power behind pushing the audience to believe this is the first time any of these words have ever been uttered.

Listening then gives us the opportunity to do what comes next more naturally: react to what is being said. Every actor, whether onstage acting beginner or Tony Award winner, must remember acting is also found in reacting. Simply put – don’t be a piece of set dressing onstage, unless, of course, the character requires you to blend in with the surroundings.

These basics apply to any and all roles for a successful performance. Building a strong framework for Jimmy Wyvette in the The Red Velvet Cake Wars is as important as one for Shakespeare's Juliet or Williams' Blanche. If actors are together truthful and bring the audience along with commonality, listening and reaction, everyone is a winner.

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