Tips for New Stage Actors

A few tips to prepare you while on stage.
These are often things new actors forget although I have worked with some seasoned actors that are also guilty on occasion.

1) Stage Presence

Actors just starting out spend a lot of time and energy thinking about their lines and their blocking (where they are on stage) in turn forgetting to incorporate their physical movements into their stage performance. Often the first connection the audience makes with an actor is visual – you may even be on stage for several minutes before ever opening your mouth. Remember your mind and body need to be there in the moment as well. Even if you are in a neutral stance be aware of what is going on around you and react to the stimuli just as you would in your everyday life.

How do we correct this?

Practice using your body to communicate your character. Think of how your character interacts with the stage, furniture, props, and people. Often a well-written script is full of hints for the actor. Pay attention to how your character interacts with another. What would your character do if they could not speak? How would you get the audience and your fellow actors to acknowledge you are there? Those watching should know what character you’re playing simply by how you move. Put as much effort into the physical nature of your character as you do learning your lines. Create a pose, a walk, and a significant gesture for every role.

2) Neglecting Diction, Articulation, And Volume

The technical aspects of acting are essential to connecting with an audience. How can the audience appreciate the performance if they can’t hear or understand you? Actors need to project to the back of the room and articulate more than they would in real life. They have to make sure they’re being heard and understood in a theatrical context.

How do we correct this?

My rule of thumb is explore your space. Get to know the SIZE of the room and use it. Remember you are talking to the audience as well as your fellow actors. Find the worst seat in the house. The one furthest from the stage and ask a fellow actor or another to sit in that spot. Practice speaking out to them. It may seem loud at first but in no time you will learn to project your voice with little effort. Breathing exercises will assist in building lung capacity and practicing your diction will aid in making sure the audience can both hear AND understand what you are saying. Simple tongue twisters are great for practicing diction, Sally sells seas shells by the sea shore or Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Use a mirror to make sure your mouth is open and you are articulating each word. Say it loud over and over, say it softly over and over. Speed it up, slow it down. Mix tongue twister with one loud and one soft., one fast and one slow. If you are still unsure have someone video you while onstage. As frightening as it is to watch back this will help you pick out all your issues.

3) Acting Like Yourself

Look for roles that stretch your limits and make you uncomfortable. These roles are often the ones we truly fall in love with because we get to be someone we are not. Playing a character suited to your everyday personality becomes all too familiar and boring. Acting is the ability to make the audience believe you are someone other than yourself. If there is no difference between how the actor and their character moves, walks, and sounds it’s really not acting at all is it?

How do we correct this?

Some will say, Define the similarities and differences between you and your character. I say don’t look for the similarities. Those come naturally, you will identify with them because they feel like something you would do. Look specifically for the differences. Those things that push you outside your comfort zone. Make note of them and choose specific moments where you play them up. Don’t over exaggerate them unless that is part of the character but make sure you use the differences to push your character out to the audience.

5) Crippling Stage Fright

As actors, we all feel a sense of apprehension from time to time when stepping out on the stage. It can be frightening to open yourself up to criticism and failure in the eyes of the audience. No one likes to fail. For a first-time actor, stage fright can be crippling. After all, the audience wants you to fail right? These kinds of thoughts can easily derail the beginning actor into forgetting their lines or worse simply standing there frozen with fear.

How Do We Correct This?

A few tips I offer my students. Before ever going out on stage learn how to ground or centre yourself. This is a particularly great way to calm yourself before ever stepping out on stage. Find a quiet spot (not easy backstage in the hustle and bustle) but… even a moment of deep breathing and focusing. Another great way to gear up is to find your character a theme song. Something that gets you in the mood to play the part. Listen to the song 4 or 5 times before heading out on the stage. In this day and age simply plugging your earbuds into your phone is perfect. Also, let other actors know about your pre-show rituals. Develop them, use them and don’t let anyone interfere with them. Being focused is key to alleviating stage fright. As well the more you get out in front of an audience, the less of an issue stage fright becomes.

6) Breaking The 4Th Wall

A great deal of preparation and focus goes into acting and we all have times where we are just not at the top of our game. We do however have to know how to push through t and NEVER break that 4th wall unless it is part of the script. If you forget your line move on… NEVER stop, break character and turn to the audience to apologize. If we are lucky the momentary lapse is picked up on by a fellow actor who jumps in with a hint or improvised line to get you back on track and the audience is none the wiser. Worst case scenario we miss a line or two altogether and our fellow actors move forward with their lines and continue on. You have to be able to find your way back on track.

How Do We Correct This?

Many acting coaches and teachers will tell you many different methods. I find the best one is to always be aware of what you are doing in a scene. Where is your character, what is their interaction? Your movements and actions are what drive your character and how they react. Learn to associate your movements with your lines that way you will always be aware of where you are in the action that is taking place. Learning improv is another great way to help you out of an awkward moment. Improvisation skills are paramount but…you still need to be fully aware of your movements and interactions in order to be successful.

7) Do Not Forget The Audience

Remember the space where the audience resides is Not a void. Just because your actions end at the edge of the stage the interaction does not. The most successful actors know how to draw the audience right up there with them emotionally. Do not assume that because the audience is out beyond the fringe they are not aware of what is going on within your space on stage.

How Do We Correct This?

Do not break character, and NEVER forget that while you are indeed interacting on stage we need to remember to project our voices out to the audience and cheat our angles at every opportunity. Cheating angles are simply turning our body toward the audience approx. 3/4 turn while speaking to the other actor. This allows the audience to see our faces and hear our voices.

7) Always Be A Part Of The Play

When I teach new actors one of the very first things I discuss is focus. Without it, you will experience problems and distractions. No matter what your role you must always be a Part of the Play from the time the 5 minutes to curtain is called to the moment the house lights come back up. When on stage If your character is not a part of the active dialogue or action it does not mean you become invisible to the audience. Fidgeting, talking to a fellow cast member, breaking character or standing around looking totally bored are definite No-Nos. Even off stage, you have to remain focused. Any backstage noise can be distracting to members of the crew and the actors on the stage.

How Do We Correct This?

Rule of thumb…If you can see the audience, they can see and hear you. If you are backstage and can hear the actors, then they can hear you. If you’re not the focus of the scene and you break character you will stand out. You may stand out so much that you pull focus away from the action. If your character does not have an active part in that moment find a natural position or action that neither attracts or distracts.

8) Be Prepared At All Times

As a new actor, you will not be expected to know every aspect of the acting process. You learn along the way. If you feel you are not understanding a direction given to you don’t be afraid to ask for further direction. Asking questions is always better than saying nothing. Make sure when you arrive at a rehearsal have everything you need. Your script, a pencil, and even extra paper. Writing down notes and marking your blocking are key. No Director wants to waste everyone’s time by having to call you out over and over. Wear comfortable clothes for ease of movement and get used to using your props. Remember, a 2:00 pm rehearsal doesn’t mean you show up at 2:00 pm, it means you are ready to go, in every capacity.

How Do We Correct This?

Watch what experienced actors do and copy them. And if you don’t know, ask. Don’t have an excuse at the ready, have an action at the ready. And it’s ok to make a mistake, once. If you’re making that same mistake too many times or creating excuses rest assured you will gain the reputation of an unreliable actor.

9) Avoid Stereotypes

The easiest way to avoid this is research. It really is that simple. If you are unsure WHAT your characters stereotype may be look it up. An example would be all Grandmothers are little old ladies who shuffle along slowly, have grey hair and say, Hello Dearie. We know this is not true, so find the best character traits and add your personality avoid going down the road of the stereotype.

How Do We Correct This?

If the playwright has not provided enough detail, you can easily fill in the blanks. Ask yourself these questions, Who is your character? Where do they come from? What is the makeup of their family? What do they like/dislike? What memories do they hold dear? What are the significant moments of their life? Define and write down exactly what your character wants and how they pursue that want in every scene. Will they go to extremes? Do something out of character? Figure out what stands in the way of your character getting what they want and how they’re going to deal with this obstacle. A character should appear as REAL as you and I.

10) Taking Direction And Directors Notes

Directors are some of the hardest working people in a show. They put their blood, sweat, and tears into getting the actors, and the show to it’s very best point and then have to turn and walk away releasing it into the wild. Months go into being a show to fruition and a Director’s task is to make sure that show is the very best vision of it they see. When in rehearsal a Director is endlessly taking notes on the actors, blocking, set and lighting and every aspect of the show as a whole. When a Director takes the time to share their notes make darn sure you are paying attention and writing everything down that pertains to you and those you interact with. Rehearsal notes are not for the benefit of the director, they are not the one on stage. Rehearsal notes are for the actors and the show as a whole. The worst thing a new actor can do is disregard any note that is sent their way.

How Do We Correct This?

Get into the habit of writing down any and all notes and then review those notes right before the next rehearsal. If you disagree with a note, never ignore it just because you don’t like it. Make time with the director to discuss the note. Being able to clearly state why your character does something, or standing up for why a character wouldn’t do something will improve your skills and take your acting to the next level.

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