Acting Etudes Revisited With Love and Compassion

“The more alive you are, the better, and that takes a lot of realization and spontaneity. That takes a trust in yourself, a trust in other actors, and a trust in the moment.”

~ Andrew Garfield1

The Etude’s Purpose

Etudes are to acting as scales are to music, and without mastery of scales you can never go on to play master pieces. You don’t just pick up a guitar for the first time and bust out Free Bird or try to perfect swan lake after just a few ballet lessons. This sounds quite normal when we look at these talents which we know require years of practice, but when we discuss acting we just think that anyone can do anything immediately. The reason it always looks so effortless is because the people we want to emulate are masters of their craft who have practiced for countless hours. So for this reason, in acting you shouldn’t really just start and try to tackle Chekov or Tennessee Williams. 

You must also continue to practice Etudes to maintain your instrument, and maintain your ability to really commit to/follow your first impulse. I can always tell how out of practice I am after a few weeks.

And for me, it is also really about establishing a connection with my partner, whom I may have either had very limited interaction with or have never met before. I don’t go searching for a particular relationship, I take them in with physiological breath and let my subconscious do the rest, whatever happens, happens. I am still learning to truly trust the process, and trust my instrument, because I know when I have either a preconceived idea of what will happen or an outcome I desire, I’ll try to force it, and when we force our acting, it becomes terrible. 

If you’ve found this blog post on etudes first, please check out my other blog on etudes that gives a bit more background information on the process here.

About the Title of this Blog

I have been doing twice weekly etude classes with the Demidov School London and it has fundamentally changed how I look at and experience etudes, and also changed how I view life, and therefore has changed my acting as well. The class is filled with talented people from all over the globe, and I highly recommend it.

At some point during class I asked my teacher, Andrei Biziorek, if I should go back and interrogate my thoughts/feelings/impulses in an etude to see where I could have done better. He told me that interrogate was too intense a word.  He said that when we look back we should do so with love and compassion in order to understand what we did and why we did it. So that is how I intend to reflect on the lessons that I have learned by taking part in an etude class for over a year now.

Below are new observations that I’ve had while practicing. It’s important to note that these are my observations and some quotes from my acting teacher that I found poignant in the moment. I have tried to give the quotes as much context as possible to ensure an accurate representation. If there is any inconsistency or things don’t flow very well, know that the fault lies with me. I hope that what I have observed can lead to better discussion on technique and the actor’s process.

My Etude Beginning

When I first started my acting journey, etudes were terrifying to me, not like monster scary but really a fear of the unknown. Between not knowing what was going to happen and not wanting to piss off my teacher by not doing a good job, as I sat in the class and waited for my turn I would think of interesting things to do, to think, and to convey when I was finally given the chance to perform.

This was not fair to myself or my partner. I did not give my whole self to the scene, effectively shutting out my scene partner, and therefore I robbed myself of moments to grow and learn. I know that it wasn’t until a few years later that I really let myself be free during an etude and found what my teacher was trying to cultivate. So if you take anything from my ramblings, it is to relax and let the process do its job.

Thoughts on having two classes per week

I consider myself a creative. I don’t work a 9-5 job, and honestly I don’t know if I ever could. But taking two classes (only six hours) a week really helped me up my game. 

  • Two classes a week forces me to be creative even when I don’t feel like it, and it is that kind of consistency that will move you forward, and prove to yourself that you are in fact a professional. 
  • I took more creative risks. I became less precious with my time in class. I no longer felt the need to be perfect because class time was no longer so rare, if I messed up I could do it again in a few days after thinking about what went wrong and actually improve/try a different way
  • I come straight home from work and within ten minutes I’m on the call for the class, this means I have to do vocal warm ups in my car. This has become very useful for days when I have self tapes that I need to do immediately after work.

Vulnerability and Connection

The biggest area that I think I need to improve on in my acting right now is in being emotionally vulnerable with my partners. It’s hard, the military and society have conditioned me to be the exact opposite. (Particularly, it is particularly harder for me to be vulnerable with other men, and I feel the same coming from them, which is really down to self limiting beliefs.) While I know I have come a long way, I still have light years to go.

I have found a correlation between vulnerability and connection though. There are etudes that sometimes feel like I am close enough to be their brother or boyfriend, and there are other etudes where I feel like I don’t know my partner at all.

After thinking about the difference between these extremes, I feel what separates the way these feel is the vulnerability each person allows. If both partners are emotionally vulnerable and open to their partner, really hearing what is being said, and being present the odds of connection are very high. Now this means that if an actor isn’t vulnerable or open, I believe that there can be no connection. With some of my partner’s I’ve felt like they were wearing a mask, not trying to be something they weren’t, but not giving of their whole selves. I think because of this my subconscious immediately calls bullshit because it can tell something about our interaction isn’t genuine, and I think that if I am not fully open the same thing happens to my partner, so its a bit of a death spiral.

How to Assign the Lines

The first step in an etude is assigning the lines, and we do this by repeating them. When we repeat the lines we are preparing the lines in your subconscious. The meaning is found in the moment without my interference.  The words are completely elastic and can mean anything depending on our emotional state.

I have seen how many people take in the lines and try to commit them to memory, and to me there has only been one way that makes sense and produces the results that we want, which is to be able to make the lines really mean anything when they’re said and to to have no preconceived (even unconscious) way that we want to say them. The way to say the lines is to be as neutral (I also say monotone sometimes) as possible. I don’t understand the reasoning behind it, but when done repeatedly it puts the lines into the back of your mind without any specific way that they’re supposed to come out. This is essential to the etude process.

I have seen other actors change the inflection into something unnatural when they repeat their lines, as if to be so unnatural that their mind cannot possibly believe that how they are saying it is how it’s supposed to come out. Now one reason this doesn’t work for me is that I am more focused on trying to change the inflection of my voice to throw off my mind than I am on my partner and what they are saying. In some instances my teacher will have us do one last repetition of the lines, slowly just to make sure that we really feel and hear our partner when they speak.

Stage directions within the lines:

You can actually assign actions the same time you assign lines. This is something that I still don’t truly understand and need more practice with, but from what I have experienced so far this plants a seed in your subconscious that will make you want to perform the action without thinking about it!

Some examples of stage directions you may encounter:

  • I come in
  • I am alone
  • I don’t speak for a moment
  • Dot dot dot

It is very important to remember that you can assign what action to perform, but not how you do it. If you assign how you will do something it becomes inorganic and stale because you’ll have a preconceived idea of what you want to happen.


After you have learned your lines, you’ll empty, and being empty is hard. This means you close your eyes and shut off your brain for two to three seconds to clear your mind. The reason it is two to three seconds is because this is about as long as you can go without a thought. When you open your eyes it is almost like a fresh start and you take in your surroundings and your partner for the first time.

Now you may have a feeling of some kind before you empty, and after you empty it may still be there, that is fine. You are not trying to erase how you feel, but to give your mind a clear break and then picking up on whatever comes to it first after emptying. 

I have found that when I do not empty properly and I come in with an idea on how things should go there is an extreme disconnect with my partner and I, and it is very apparent during our discussion about the etude afterward and finding common ground about our experience within the etude is very difficult. While this may not always be the case I find when we have wildly varying experiences and ideas on our relationship then I had failed to let go of my preconceived notions.

Once you get good at emptying it will become super quick

Following your Impulses

“You see someone who is just following his impulses, every single impulse is raw, and it’s real, and it’s vulnerable and grotesque and beautiful, and it’s poetic.” – Andrew Garfield2

If you are unsure what impulses are as they refer to acting, you can check out this post here:

In life we don’t act on our first impulse, so we need to relearn how to surrender to the first thing which may have been beaten out of us because of societal norms. Going with your impulses means going with that first feeling you get after you empty. This feeling could come immediately and be very well defined, or it could take a little bit to notice and then take even longer to define. A key to this is after emptying, don’t look for something – just exist, just wait, don’t rush. Remember, its not just patience, its faith.

We must learn to surrender to the most mundane things, there are no restrictions, your first impulse is your most honest so you must surrender to the truth of the experience as it comes to you. Some actors will have an impulse and then judge it and say “that isn’t an interesting impulse, I’ll wait for the next one.” Your first impulse is going to be the most organic, most truthful action you can take. Because of this you must surrender 100%, even if before you know what it is.

The first experience is the lens through which you see the etude, it can change, but it tints your outlook. For example if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, the rest of your day will be tinted by that outlook and it will have an effect on how you experience your entire day.

As soon as the etude begins you are the character. Next you will perceive something, then you will have the urge to to perform an action, and this is a result. Now sometimes we will see our partner and be unaffected by them and they’re actions/feelings, and other times we will be affected by our partners. When this happens, it becomes a “Yes and” type of situation because all we have is our point of view as a person and as a character. This means that you can be affected by your partner, but you cannot lose the original emotional life that you created. I use the phrase “yes and” from improve to illustrate that it is a building process as you both discover the etude together.

Do not worry about the words

Now when speaking lines, the words are elastic and can mean anything depending on our emotional state. For example your line may be “I love you.” You could say this in a way where you convey that you actually do love them, but you could also say it in a way that illustrates the idea that you in fact hate them.

Do not worry about being a good scene partner

As actors we have it drilled into us to be good scene partners, but sometimes this can clash with our impulses. For example, you have the impulse to leave during the etude while your partner still has lines left. Most actors would ignore the impulse to leave in order to be present for their partner’s lines. With etudes, you don’t have to worry about that. If you have the impulse to leave, then you just leave, it will all work out.

I have been on both the giving and receiving end of someone walking out and there are still lines left to deliver and every time the etude has resolved itself!

Repeating without repeating

“I was really overwhelmed. This guy is really doing something on a deeper level. He was alive. He didn’t care about doing it the same way over and over again. He was listening. He was very present. He was spontaneous, he was surprising. He wasn’t trying to do those things, he was just being present.”

Andrew Garfield on working with Ryan Gosling during a screen test.3

When we repeat an etude, we don’t want to hang on to anything. When repeating the goal is not to do the exact same thing that you just did, but to experience the etude again as if for the fist time. This means that some things will inevitably be the same, and some will be different. What you are really diving into when repeating is the circumstances of the etude. Circumstances always exist in their entirety, whether or not we are aware of them! Now, for obvious reasons, most of the time it will feel as though you’ve had this conversation before, so you therefore now have more of a past with your partner, and you discover a deeper relationship. You will also be having a conversation in the present moment. Now because you have a past and a present, there is a future as well within these circumstances!

Final Thoughts

After over a year and a half of these classes I can honestly say that I am a better actor, and not just by a little bit. I am more open, more sensitive, and able to be in the moment so much better than I was before I started these classes. But I know that I am still only at the beginning of my journey, even though I have been studying acting for over five years now. I am excited to continue the exploration of the technique that Demidov taught, and to slowly become the actor that I know I can be.

Creating My Own Luck: How I Email Casting Directors

I have been writing to more casting directors, associates, and assistants recently and I want to share how I do it. I haven’t had a lot of auditions the casting teams don’t really know I exist and I would like to change that.  I tried doing a lot of research on what to include, not to include, and what to say, but I was surprised at how little information there was out there. So my hope is that this post can be a good jumping off point for actors looking to introduce themselves to new casting directors 

Don’t Be Nervous

I was nervous about doing this for a long time, I was afraid of bugging them or upsetting them to the point where they would not want to see me. But from what I have l gathered as long as you don’t write too often, don’t say anything offensive, and don’t trick them into opening the email you’re going to be OK. Writing to the Casting teams us part of the game, and they understand that. 

Don’t Just Write to the Casting Directors

You should also really write to the associates and the assistants. These people are usually the people doing the hard work day to day casting projects. I’m not being derogatory to CDs, when you’re the boss you have a lot more high level tasks, meetings, and people to please; so they are more than likely are not doing all the nitty gritty parts of the casting the smaller roles and day players . That being said, some can be real hands on while in other offices they are more hands off, so there are no hard and fast rules. To me though I feel more on an equal playing field with associates and assistants because we came into the industry at similar times and may even have a few shared credits from our time. Plus they are more than likely those that I have done workshops with so I have actually met them in person.

Key points

  • Be Brief and relevant
  • Do not write too often
    • To introduce yourself
    • When you have new headshots/show reel
    • If you know they’re Casting a project or specific role you fit


After attending a lot of events/talks with Casting directors, associates, and assistants I have put together what I think is a good list of best practices. Something to note is that all of these items are opinions and not hard and fast rules, but I do think they are a great place to start!

  • Subject: Right now for most of my emails my subject line is “New Actor Introduction” or “Thank you” because I haven’t auditioned for most offices, or to thank people for workshops that I have attended.
  • Introduction: I will always try to find the name of the person I am writing to. Most of the time I have email addresses to specific people so its not an issue, but some casting offices have the dreaded “” That to me is very impersonal so I will always try to find out who works on the casting team and address it to them.
  • I give them a brief run down of who I am, what I do, and the more unique attributes about me. (I used to include my age, which I shouldn’t have done, let your headshot do the talking).
    • My current first sentence is: “My name is Kyle Jerichow and I am an American Actor with a Midwestern accent living in the just outside of London in the UK, 6.2” tall, and a former US Army officer with combat experience, and I currently work behind the scenes on Film and TV doing special effects or props, because I honestly believe that movies and TV can change the world.”
  • I talk about projects they are working on or have coming up that I think I would fit in. I also will mention any projects we both have worked on.
  • I then say whether or not I have auditioned for them, or if I have done a casting workshop with them. If I’ve auditioned I’ll mention the month, name of the project, and the character I auditioned for. If I have done a workshop with them I’ll mention the month and year.
  • Spotlight Link – ensure everything is one click, everyone in casting is a lot busier than they used to be so time is precious.
  • Direct link to my show reel – One associate said that a if you can embed your show reel in the email so he can watch it immediately. I have tried to embed my show reel using Vimeo, but what that amounted to was really just a photo of my opening frame with a direct link to Vimeo. (But it is still only one click!) (Attaching files has been a no no since they take up valuable space.)
  • Who you are represented by with a link to the agency website or an email link to your agent 
  • Include an embedded headshot in body of the email. This was brought up many times. It helps all of the people you write to know who is talking to them
  • My signature block which contains:
    • My Name
    • My headshot
    • My contact number
    • link to my website
    • Links to my: Spotlight, IMDB, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn

This may seem like a lot, but my emails are usually just a few sentences and then links to all of my relevant materials and I try to be as brief as possible.

tracking the emails i send

Odds are that you will not get a reply from any of the emails you send, and this can be disheartening. I found that using an email tracker (I use Mailtrack for Gmail) is a real moral booster. I use the free version and it tells me if my emails have been opened, and sometimes when it is showing me premium features it will even tell me how many times my email has been read.

I also track every email email I send in a spreadsheet. This ensures I don’t write anyone too often and allows me to see how many people I have written so I can keep up with my numbers goal for the year.

When to send your emails

Friday afternoon I think is the best. This is the time of the week where most people are looking for an excuse to not do real work, and maybe my email is a welcomed distraction. Though I have heard an agent say that Wednesday afternoon worked best for her.

Send your email during normal business hours. One of the most common pieces of advice is to ensure that you don’t send it so they will first see it Monday morning. They’ll already have to sort through a bunch of emails and adding to the pile isn’t helpful. If you find yourself writing at weird times, which is when I always tend to for some reason, you can schedule your emails really easily. I use Gmail so it’s just a few clicks 

Keep your head up

At the time of this writing out of all the CDs I’ve written I’ve only gotten two replies. So don’t get discouraged.

Do you have any helpful hints or guidelines that you use to write to Casting Directors? Please let me know in the comments!

Method Acting Foundation: Three Pieces of Material

Talent is cheap, there’s plenty of talent out there, but the bright, canny and realistic actors understand you have to invest in training in order to have a sustained career. ~ Dee Cannon1

Author’s Note

Welcome to part three of my blog series of Method Acting Foundation. Because the order in which these exercise are done is important if you came here first, please check out part one Method Acting Foundation: Breakfast Drink Exercise and part two Method Acting Foundation: Mirror/Make-up and Shaving.

According to The Strasberg Notes, this third exercise is only done when an actor has a block, because “If the senses aren’t functioning and only the muscles are working, the actor can’t yet experience the other exercises.”2 With that being said, my acting teacher had everyone do this exercise, I assume because not everything will work for everyone, and I cannot see the harm in doing extra sensory exercises. Also, a reminder that this exercise is not meant to produce an emotional response, if it does acknowledge it, but then move on.

Three Pieces of Material

In comparing painting to acting I used to say that to paint an apple you have to see and to sense everything about the apple before you can come to a statement about it, and that if you combined that statement with your skill you might produce a canvas that had your mark. Picasso claimed you have to eat the apple first. He clearly wanted to come to full grips with his material and digest it before he gave it shape, before his statement came into being. ~ Uta Hagen 3

We wear clothes all the time, we touch pieces of material all the time, but we don’t really notice them let alone experience them, they’re just there. What this exercise is meant to do is to work with your sense memory skills. (See Method Acting Foundation: Breakfast Drink Exercise if you need an explanation or refresher on sense memory). This kind of work awakens your senses and makes you come into the moment, experience something in the right now as deeply as you can and then being able to recall that experience in detail at a later time.

I think that now, more than ever, being able to be present and block out the bullshit (to include what is going on around you and in your head) is just about the most important skill for an actor to have. And I think James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy, also believes that.

For this exercise you need three pieces of material: silk, cotton, and itchy wool. (I went to a fabric shop and got some fairly big pieces for really cheap.) These three different materials will have dramatically different sensory impacts, and while you know that on an intellectual level, getting to this at a sensorial level is what we’re looking for. Remember, as always, go slow. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

The Exercise

  1. Do your basic relaxation. You should do this before any exercise in order to get your mind and body into a proper creative and receptive state.
  2. While the exercise is meant to be more of a study in the sense of touch, remember to carry out an inspection of the material to include your other senses. “Pick up each piece of material, examine every inch of the fabric through your senses. Be inventive and think of things to do with each piece. Questioning is the best way to elicit ideas.”4
  3. Go to your room, and I cannot stress this enough, lock the door.
  4. Get naked and touch your entire body with each piece of fabric. Remember to take your time, really slow things down. (Author’s Note: This is weird, I know. Doing this the first time was extra strange. But remember what we are looking for. Different parts of your body will react differently to the deliberate touch of each of these fabrics. So the same fabric can have multiple different feelings depending on how and where it touches.) 
  5. Complete step 4 with each kind of fabric. After completing this step, the preparatory work for the exercise is complete.
  6. Now with your clothes back on, think back on your experience with each piece of fabric. Relive and recreate the experiences you had, but without using the material, do each material one at a time. This is just like the makeup and shaving exercise you are trying to recreate the sensations, and this takes time. Like the makeup and shaving exercise do not actually touch yourself when trying to remember the feeling because if you touch yourself you are actually creating a sensation rather than trying to recreate a past sensation. This is a bit more difficult because you now have your clothes back on which means you are having your clothes touch you all over, but this is a good way to begin to work with recreating a sensation while there is a competing sensation.

Adding Lines: Taking the Experience into Your Work

Remember that you should not add lines until you have done the exercise a few times. As an actor I know you want to get into the lines, but remember in screen acting most of what is conveyed in your acting actually has nothing to do with what you say and happens between the lines. Don’t be in a rush to get to the lines.

What we are trying to do here is distill the entire experience into just a single essence. “The main object of this exercise is to experience the materials fully and really express the difference between each in the lines you have to say. Don’t be coy. Real go for it.”5 In class Brian made it a point for us to really commit to our choices and be bold in them, because usually it is easier to reign in what you are doing than to try to become more expressive.

At this point it is necessary to mention to say, “Don’t decide to change the material in the middle of the exercise if it isn’t working. (this is true, incidentally of all the exercises.) You must stay with your original choice of material and fully investigate.”6

My Experience With the Exercise

When I did this exercise I used soft knit cotton. After the exercise, during the basic relaxation I concentrated on my experience with the material and made an immediate connection to the super comfy jersey sheets I used to own. So now if I focus my attention to thinking about jersey sheets and I began to yawn and feel tired. Its actually really cool to me to have a trigger word like that, its very good to have things like this in your kit bag.

When I did the exercise with itchy wool I distilled the experience to the random itches all over my body and it manifests itself in small jerks, odd muscle tension, aggressive scratching, and a bit too much energy because I am trying to suppress all of it.

Once you get the hang of this you can ask yourself what material represents the character I am portraying. This can lead to some interesting choices.

Links to Things Referenced in this Blog:

Method Acting Foundation: Mirror/Make-up and Shaving

The second exercise in the Strasberg progression is the Mirror/make-up or shaving exercise.

“Talent alone isn’t enough. What makes for greatness in the actor? Greatness needs that extra effort, which is commitment.” – Lee Strasberg1

Author’s note

This is part two of Method Acting Foundation series. The order in which these are done is important and was directed by Straberg because they build on each other and allow the opening of the instrument to the new experiences. “No baseball pitcher starts training by pitching the ball to see how hard he can throw it…On the contrary, they exercise generally, they run, they do calisthenics, and then they easily start performing their specialties.”2

So, if you have come to this page first, please check out the first blog in this series: Method Acting Foundation: Breakfast Drink Exercise.


The purpose of these sense memory exercises is to build up your concentration, the kind of concentration necessary for acting which demands the ability to recreate something which is not there. These basic exercises train the you to create and recreate any object, or group of objects, which combine into an event that stimulates the desired experience called for in the performance.3

I think that Lola Cohen described it best in her book The Method Acting Exercises Handbook when she said, “By cultivating an ethos of attention, concentrating on the details of the various tasks during the exercises, you aren’t just going through the motions, imitating or miming the behavior, but truly re-experiencing it sensorially.”4

The second exercise

“The second exercise in concentration is looking in the mirror – for the female, combing the hair and putting on makeup; and for the male, shaving. The actor actually practices these exercises while he’s performing the real task at home. He then tries to repeat the reality without the presence of the objects. The emphasis is not on imitating the way in which he performs these common activities, but on the ability to recreate the objects that go into the performing of these tasks by means of sense memory.5

THe mirror

First, as with all of these exercises, do basic relaxation before starting the exercise. Come back to relaxation if you become bored, worried, or self-conscious.

Relaxation is only a prelude to the actor’s central concern: the need for concentration. Everything the actor does is a two-sided action. Relaxation is connected with concentration. – Lee Strasberg6

The Mirror/Make-Up/Shaving Exercise is more personal than the Breakfast Drink Exercise in that it specifically involves your own visual sense of yourself. Strasberg told us that actors must understand themselves before they can understand and become a character.7 This exercise may cause some kind of emotional reaction because it deals with how you see yourself. This response is normal, but it is not the reason for the exercise, so if an emotional response happens, acknowledge it, and then move on.

Before beginning the application of make-up or starting to shave, we must first observe ourselves in great detail. This is hard for some actors to do, but being able to have a true sense of self is vital to being in touch with your instrument.

I was not taught the first portion of this exercise and only discovered it after reading a bit more on method acting progression. I feel that this is a vital step, and should not be ignored.

Look at yourself in the mirror, truly examine yourself for about 30 minutes. Inspect every part of your body from the neck up. Notice your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Are they symmetrical? Inspect your hair line. Do you notice any marks, scars, scratches, blemishes? Look at parts of you face that you normally do not pay any attention to study it in detail. What imperfections do you see? What do you see that you like? What would you change?

Make-up and shaving

Now this part of the exercise if very similar to the Breakfast Drink Exercise. We are going to go slow, it is not about how long things actually take, this is about experiential time. Going fast leads to imitation and inauthentic behavior. It may take an hour to fully experience this event. Keep in mind to only focus on one sensory at a time: sight, sound, touch, taste smell.

If you normally do not put on make-up or shave consider doing this exercise to “experience the shock of awakening to new and unfamiliar sensations and reflections.”8

The first time you conduct this exercise actually do it in front of the mirror with all the tools required. “Go through each sense slowly. Ask yourself, “hat am I touching, smelling seeing, hearing?” and so on.”9 Here are something to consider as a starting point, but by no means is this an exhaustive list.

  • Sight
    • What does your razor look like? What color is it? How many blades does it have? Is it disposable?
    • What type of make-up are you using? What tools are you using to apply it?
    • What kind of shaving cream do you use? What does the label look like? What does it look like when it first comes out of the can versus later?
    • When running the water does the mirror begin to fog?
    • Watching the shaved hair and lather swirl around the drain.
  • Sound
    • What does it sound like to pick your razor up off the sink?
    • How does it sound to open the compact, swirl the brush, or take the cap off of other cosmetics?
    • What sound is made when you tap the razor on the sink to clean it?
    • Running water over the blades?
    • What noise is made when you shake the shaving cream can, or mix the lather with a brush?
    • The sound of the water hitting the sink and taking the foam with it it.
  • Touch
    • How much does your razor, shaving cream, etc weigh?
    • What does it feel like putting that first bit of lather? Is it hot or cold?
    • What is the texture of the handle?
    • What is the texture of your shaving brush?
    • What is the texture of the end of the brush? Do you use different brushes for different make-up? Notice how each has its own feel against your skin.
    • How does the feeling of the first pass of the razor or make-up brush differ from the second or third pass?
    • If/when you cut yourself how does it feel?
    • Notice how different parts of your face/neck react differently to different stimulus. Your upper lip will have a very different sensation when compared to your throat with the same stimulus.
  • Taste
    • No mater how hard I try I always get shaving cream in my mouth. I know the taste well.
    • Notice when you lick your lips, either intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Smell
    • All of the products we use have their own unique smell, but also notice how they can change when you mix them together (i.e. putting shaving cream on top of shaving oil affects both smells).

Sense Memory

Now we’ll shift to working on the exercise away from the bathroom, with an imaginary mirror and objects. I was taught to first do this with my eyes closed and then to do it with my eyes open, but I have also found acting teachers that also teach eyes open first, so depending on how you feel you may choose to just go straight for eyes open. The biggest thing to remember here is to TAKE YOUR TIME. If you rush you will be imitating behavior, we’re here to really experience it through the senses, and that takes time.

After completing basic relaxation, stare at yourself in the imaginary mirror for ten minutes. Imagine your face, each of its features, all the imperfections, just as you did with the real mirror.

Next begin the activity. “Ask yourself sensory questions about each object you deal with. How does the blush-on brush feel in your hand, against your face or cheeks? Imagine the ‘pop’ sound of pulling the mascara brush out of its holder. What’s the smell, weight, texture, and the color of everything being used?”10

“When you apply anything to your skin don’t actually touch your skin but hover above it and try to recreate the sensation. If you were to actually touch the skin you are creating a real sensation at that moment, which is not the sensation you have when you actually do the activity.” 11

Adding Lines

It is not until you have completed this exercise multiple times should you begin to add lines. I used this quote this in the post about the Breakfast Drink Exercise, but it bears repeating.

“Don’t add words too soon to the exercises because we face the danger that the lines will become the major incentive, and that what the actor does will remain only illustrations of the lines. The lines should be part of the behavior of the character, not just an abstract set of words.” – Lee Straberg12


Method Acting Foundation: Breakfast Drink Exercise

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. ~ Bruce Lee

Success is all about consistency and fundamentals

Being a professional actor is just like being a professional anything. It’s hard work, and lots of practice. It’s all about fundamentals, and how they build on top of each other.  You can’t go into the gym if you’ve never been and lift 1000lbs, your body isn’t ready, your body needs to go through the natural progression, through the process.

This exercise is one of a few basic fundamental sense memories taught by Lee Strasberg for actors to sharpen their concentration, sensitivity, and mental discipline.  This first step, and the next few exercises I’ll talk about, have long reaching consequences. The hard part is trusting the process when you are only on your first few steps on your journey. This is one of those exercises that may test your patience, and make you think, “What the hell does this have to do with anything?” I know because I’ve been there. But to use an old military adage, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” By slowing down and focusing on fundamentals, the rest will eventually flow. You just have to do it 10,000 times.

The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether its proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing. ~ Michael Jordan

The Breakfast Drink exercise is a sense memory

“The senses hold the key to life and experience. Sense memory exercises train the actor to utilize all five sense and to respond as fully and vividly to imaginary objects on stage as hes capable of doing with real objects in life. A lack of basic sense memory work often stops the actor from developing further, and therefore being able to deal with the variety of problems which the actor faces and the theater presents to us. With these exercises, it’s not the physical sequence of the actions that we’re after. That can become external, which leads to imitation. The exercises test concentration and response, and serve as a foundation for the actor’s work.”1

“If Relaxation is the foundation upon which rests the “house of method”, then Sense Memory is the structure of the house. Without it, the house is a transparent frame sitting on a solid foundation.”2

First, what is a sense memory: an acting technique where an actor recalls the physical sensations surrounding an experience to trigger truthful responses. There is nothing inherently emotional about this, but if emotions come, that’s fine acknowledge it, and move on. 

This exercise is designed to make you work with all five senses.

  • Sight
  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Taste
  • Smell

In her book, The Method Acting Exercises Handbook, author Lola Cohen stresses the importance of focusing your awareness on one sense at a time. This creates a thorough, detailed, patient sensory exploration, which may not feel normal to you but is crucial during training.  The act of slowing down has the added benefit of cultivating graceful movements which lend themselves to actually feeling and not imitating life.3

Remember, as actors, we cannot be focused on the end result, that is like chasing a unicorn, you’ll never catch it. You have to focus on the process and believe it will take you where you need to go. I have found myself in very zen like states of flow during some acting exercises like I’ve never felt before. But when I tried to recreate that experience I continuously failed because I was pushing for my brain to do something that it had to come to in its own time.

This can be illustrated by Aesop’s fable “The North Wind and the Sun.” 

The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger, when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak. They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did the traveler fold his cloak around him; and at last the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shined out warmly, and immediately the traveler took off his cloak. And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.4

A few notes:

  • “Before practicing a sense memory exercise, always do the relaxation exercise first and continue to check it throughout the exercise. When the exercise isn’t working, don’t change to a different one in midstream. If you get bored, tired, or frustrated during the exercise go back to relaxation for a few minutes then return to the exercise and remember, always focus on working slowly and specifically. We’re after the sensor reality, not the action of the muscles.”5
  • Your first drink of the day should have a taste, so I don’t advocate using water. I myself use Earl Grey Tea.
  • Choosing a cup/mug: I went out and specifically bought an interesting mug for this exercise. It is the main photo for this blog entry. It is engaging for touch and sight because it has hundreds of raised spots on the mug, giving me something to really focus on.
  • Always do it in the same room, with the same mug/cup, and the same drink.
  • Start with 10 minutes and build up to 45, but remember repetition is more important that time.
  • I have repeatedly asked why it must be your breakfast drink, why must it be the first thing you drink during the day, and I have not yet gotten an answer that I am satisfied with. So, after a lot of thought, this is why I think it must be your breakfast drink:  Your senses, your body, your concentration all have finite ability and energy. At the beginning of the day, when you just wake up, you have come from a sensory deprived state, and are more attuned to small changes and are able to concentrate for extended periods of time. At the end of the day, you are tired or exhausted, you have had stimulus presented to you all day, so you will not have the same sensitivity, and your ability to concentrate will have been greatly diminished. Also, at least in my house, the morning is quiet, and I am never interrupted, which always lends itself better to self-exploration. 

The Breakfast Drink Exercise:

  • With your cup and liquid sit down in a comfortable place.
  • Focus on each of the senses individually as you drink it. Here are some suggestions for beginning your observations. 
    • Sight
      • What does your cup look like? 
      • What color is it? 
      • What color is the liquid? 
      • Is there steam coming from it?
      • Are there bubbles? How many? Where in the cup?
      • Is there anything settled at the bottom of your cup?
      • Are there any imperfections in your cup?
      • One thing I found myself mesmerized by, was that every day the tea stains on my mug were different, and to me always looked like an abstract painting of a landscape. It was always different, even if I did everything the same. I’m sure there is a lesson or analogy there somewhere. 
    • Sound
      • When you pick up or set down your cup what sound does it make?
      • What sound does the liquid make when swirled around in your cup?
      • When you slurp or sip, how does the sound change? How does these sounds change as the amount of liquid in your cup goes down?
      • When you swish your drink in your mouth what can you hear?
      • When you swallow, follow the sound down to your stomach. 
    • Touch 
      • What is the temperature of the cup? Can you feel the heat or cold radiating from the cup?
      • How heavy does the cup feel in my hand. How does this weight change over time?
      • What does my cup feel like? Trace the shape with your fingers.
      • Can you feel any imperfections in your cup? (For me, there is one dot that had an air bubble in it when it was baked so it has a sharp edge, and I call that bubble my anchor point, it really helps me visualize the and place the rest of the mug in space.)
      • What does it feel like when your lips first touch your cup?
      • When you take a sip, how does it feel when it enters your mouth?  
      • How thick is the liquid? 
      • When you swish it around in your mouth, how does it feel?
      • When you swallow follow the liquid down to your stomach. Can you feel the heat or cold radiate through you?
      • How does the temperature change during the time spent on the exercise?
    • Taste
      • Become intimately familiar with its flavors. What is it like at the beginning, middle, and end of each sip?
      • Does the first ship and last ship taste the same?
    • Smell
      • This one I have always had trouble with, because when I smell a familiar smell I am immediately transported back to an event/time/location. But to really sit down and try to think of/recreate a smell in my mind’s eye seems to be damn near impossible for me. I know you’ll find blockages like this in your work because not everything works for everyone. My acting teacher always told us to strengthen our strengths, so if something works well for you, do that.

Now that you’ve really experienced your breakfast drink, it’s time to shift from observing these sensations to trying to relive them, hence sense memory. Follow the whole process again, but this time with no cup or liquid. “Don’t imitate what you did with the real object. Re-experience the sensations, not the physical imitation of remembered muscular behavior.”6

After doing this a few days, I was taught to add in a monologue. I did this monologue during both the actual drinking, and also during the sense memory portion. “Don’t add words too soon to the exercises because we face the danger that the lines will become the major incentive, and that what the actor does will remain only illustrations of the lines. The lines should be part of the behavior of the character, not just an abstract set of words.”7

First, take a sip of your drink. Experience it, then say a single line from your monologue. Next, take two full sips, taking time to really feel everything you can about it, then say your next line. Finally, take three sips, and say your third line. Stay at three sips for the rest of your lines.

Remember when doing this without the actual liquid that each sip takes a long time, you will more than likely want to force through, speed up, be doing something, but please remember to take your time. It may sound silly, but after doing this every morning, at some point I had a breakthrough where my lines flowed, and it felt so different, so natural, it was authentic.

Things Referenced in this blog:

My Acting Warm Up: Part 3

This is the third part in my acting warm up series. This is how I currently do things, but I know that how I warm up will evolve over time as I learn more about acting and about myself.

Just in case if you missed the first two here they are:

My Acting Warm Up: Part 1

My Acting Warm Up: Part 2

Essentially, acting process and voice work need to be unified; alignment needs to be linked to centre, identity, and assertion; breathing needs to become responsive to impulses, vocal onset needs to identify the actor with the character; and vocal response needs to reflect the experiences of the actor/character in the present moment”1

The Beginning

  • Start from the all fours position, with head in neutral.
  • Take a deep breath, feeling your diaphragm filling and stretching.
  • As you blow out you begin to bow you back.  The movement is like trying to get the top of you head to touch your tail bone.  Both are stretching to reach one another.
  • Once you have expelled all of your breath and are in the bowed back position, begin to inhale.
  • As you inhale start to arch your back. Get a very nice deep breath and feel the full curve of your spine.
  • Do this cycle a few times.

Adding in the vocals

  • Now we add sound to the exhale with a “vvvvvv” sound.
  • After completing this, we shift to ending the sound with a vowel sound, beginning with “vvvvvaaaaaa.”
  • Then we shift into “vvvveeee.”
  • I run through each sound three times, or a bit more if something doesn’t feel right.

Pairing the voice with explosive movement

  • Now we pair the voice with explosive movement. Throw your right arm out in front of you body as if you were trying to punch someone (you don’t have to make a fist) and the apex of the movement sound with “va.” Then do the the same with the left arm.
  • Next, move your right leg back with a mule kick like motion. Again at the apex of the movement make an explosive “va” sound. Remember to really connect to your diaphragm.
  • After you’ve done both legs several times, then move to using arms and legs at the same time. Punch and kick out with opposing arms and legs. Meaning if you punch out your right arm, you kick back with your left leg.  Again at the apex of the movement make an explosive “va” sound. Do this movement several times per side.
  • Now,  we will shift to throwing both arms up. Staying on all fours push your chest up and throw your hands to the sky. Making an explosive “va” sound at the apex. Do this movement several times.
  • Now, we move to the legs. Staying on all fours push your legs up so you are only on your hands momentarily. Making an explosive “va” sound at the apex. Do this movement several times.
  • Once completed, do the same movements again but with a “ve” sound.
  • This concludes waking up the voice.

Final Thoughts

You should never move into pain, so if you physically can’t do some of the movements, don’t worry.

I am going to go back and add some videos to these blog posts to make better sense of things, so next time I do a self tape I am going to block out time to make some movement GIFs.

Things Mentioned in this Blog Post

Voice into Acting

Voice into Acting: Integrating voice and the Stanislavski approach by Christina Gutekunst and John Gillett

My Acting Warm Up: Part 2

This is part two of my acting warm up.  During this part of my warm up I focus on my voice, and begin to work with connecting vocal sounds to body movements. Once you are done with this, you should really feel connected to your voice through your diaphragm, and you should notice your voice is lower.

Again, this may feel weird to you if you’re doing it for the first time, but like I’ve said before you’re an actor now and being weird is just part of the job.

Getting into the semi-supine position

  • First we lay down on our mat facing the ceiling and grab our knees gently pulling them towards our chest.
  • Then begin to massage and warm up your lower back by moving you legs gently around in a circle.
  • When you feel warmed up, bring your legs to the center position, then let go of them, and your legs will fall to the floor in a natural position. Ensure your legs are in line with your hips by checking the alignment by tracing with your hands from your hips to your knees. Don’t let your knees be wider than your hips.
  • Lay your arms out straight out to the sides, making a “T” shape. Your palms can be either up or down, whichever is more comfortable.
  • Let your head roll left and right.
  • Breathe deeply. Noticing the rise and fall of your diaphragm.
  • Now, we will begin to warm up the voice. Start with a private sound of, “ha ha, mmmm, ahhh.” Notice where you feel the reverberations. As you makes these personal noises your diaphragm will naturally be doing its job. Just notice it, don’t interfere with it.
  • You can move your hands down to your diaphragm and feel it rise and fall, and how it tenses when you make these sounds. (To make sure you are on your diaphragm place your hands with finger tips gently interlaced over you belly button. As you breath in you belly should go up and naturally unlace your finger tips)
  • You can play with pitch, noticing how the location the reverberations changes based on your pitch. The higher to pitch, the higher the place of reverberations, and conversely the lower the pitch the lower the reverberations occur.
  • As you warm up your voice you can begin to get louder, but do not do this too early or you may begin to strain your voice.
  • I do this part of the warm up for at least ten minutes, it may seem a bit excessive, but it is a very important part of warming up your voice.

Dropping the knees

  • Next we will release the knees. We will start by letting them fall to the left.  Do not force you knees down, just completely relax them and let them sink to the floor. At the same time let out an “ahhhhh” sound like a deep relaxing sigh when you sit down at the end of a long day. Do this several times on the left, then let them fall to the right side and complete the movement several times.
  • I always have to do this one a few times to really feel that my hips are letting go. The first few tries I always unconsciously tense my muscles and slow the descent of my legs, but once I loosen up I can really tell the difference, and there is more of a thud when my legs hit the floor.

Adding the head movement

  • After you are allow the knees to drop you immediately roll the head to the opposite side. For example if you roll your knees to the left, your head will turn to the right. While you are turning your head let out an “EEEE” sound.
  • Keep in mind that these are two separate movements, with two separate sounds attached to them. There should be no lag between either movement, but each sound should only be done while its corresponding movement is being done.
  • Do this movement several times in each direction, and then make it into a continuous movement for a few repetitions.

Adding the leg sweep

  • This is the third movement in this series, to be performed immediately after the head roll.
  • For this movement you will take the foot of the leg that has fallen on top, and while maintaining contact with the floor sweep the leg in a circular motion. You don’t want to stretch it too much, just keep the movement comfortable, and keep your foot in contact with the ground. While making this sweeping motion let out an “oowww” sound that lasts from when you begin the leg sweep until the leg comes back to its resting position.
  • Do this on both sides of your body several times.

Patting down the ribs

  • Once you feel warmed up while doing the leg sweep, we will pat down the ribs, further loosening up the diaphragm.
  • Once you have reach the apex of your leg sweeping motion, stop in that position. Bring the hand that is opposite the direction your head is pointed to your rib cage and begin to pat down your ribs while making an “ahh” sound.  Move your hand up and down your side while patting. You can play with pitch here.
  • You will do this on both sides of the body.

Waking up the voice

  • Once you have completed patting down the ribs return to the semi-supine position.
  • Using only your breath repeat the consonants – “h, k, t, p.”  We are not using what the letters are called, but the sound they make. The reason for doing this is to exercise your tongue, to make it strong to give you a fuller voice. Pay attention to what your tongue does on each letter. So it should sound like haa, kaa, taa, paa. The order in which this is done is very important, and for the life of me I could not remember how it was supposed to go, so my stupid way of remembering is you are going to do a haka for tapas.
  • After several repetitions of “h, k, t, p” we will engage our voice using “g, d, b.” While doing this play with pace and pitch. Notice where the resonance is coming from for each variation you do, notice the role your diaphragm plays in each sound.

Standing Up

  • Return to the semi-supine position.
  • For this example I will walk through getting up on your left side.
  • Bring your right arm up toward your head, keeping it in contact with the ground in a circular motion.
  • Once your arm reaches your face, turn your head to the left, and let your knees drop to the left. For this part of the exercise your right knee must be behind your left foot, so it is not the same fall that you were doing before, this is to set you up to be able to be able to move.
  • Keeping your right fingers in contact with the ground continue moving your right arm in the circular motion, once you cross your left arm begin to raise your upper body.
  • Ending in a sitting position.  During this part of the exercise begin with an “mmmmm” sound, and then as you near the end of the movement, move to ah “aaaaa” sound.
  • Now by shifting our knees and arms we will make a mirror image of this pose on the other side. Your legs should fall relatively easily into place with your left knee behind your right foot.
  • During this movement begin with an “mmmmm” sound and as your go into the final pose replace it with an “eeeee” sound.
  • From this second sitting position begin to push your body up, bring you left leg with a big sweeping motion around until your body is facing the other way from the second seated position.
  • From here you should be bent over, legs wide apart, and knees bent.
  • Now we do a spinal roll from this position until we are fully upright.
  • During this phase of movement you begin with an “mmmm” sound and as you near the final pose shift to an “ooooo” sound.
  • After doing this at least twice on each side I usually then do a few lines from a monologue of the scene which I am going to be doing shortly just to feel connected to my voice and get into the right head space.

Final Thoughts

Remember that warming up your instrument is vital to ensuring you get the most out of any acting endeavor. It not only wakes up your body and voice but will also put you into a creative state, being more open to new experiences.

If you like this blog please share it, if you don’t like it let me know why, and finally if you want me to cover any subjects in a future blog post let me know!

Never have a plan b.


My Acting Warm Up: Part 1

In the next three posts I’m going to go over my basic warm up, including waking up the body with a modified roll down, voice warm up, then a voice and movement connection exercise.

The first part of my warm up is a modified roll down you’ll find very commonly in Pilates. This is a very good exercise for lengthening your spine and giving your central nervous system room to move, and a bit of a wake up call. This also is a process to see where your body is at physically in terms of tension, or anything else that may be interfering with your instrument.

“The best part of this exercise is really discovering your own body. You can really feel which areas of your spine are tight and need work… You can sense how you distribute your weight on your feet. Maybe you favour one foot over the other, or have your weight in your heels.”1

The Exercise

  • Stand with your feet slightly closer than shoulder width apart.
  • Next, we’re just going to loosen up the head, shoulders, and feet.
    • Turn head to the right then to the left, do this twice.
    • Next move your shoulders up and down, roll them backward and toward. Pick them up and drop them to release tension. do this twice.
    • Next, move down to the feet, shake them out one at a time.
    • Rock back and forth on the balls of your feet, finding your balance.
  • We will always work this way head to toe.
  • Next, imagine a string being pulled from the top of your head, and it runs through each vertebrae, but ensure you don’t lift your chin. This will help you stand up straight and align everything correctly. I still even grab the invisible string with my hand above my head and pull it tight. But if you just remember to do it, that’s enough.
  • Make sure you do not lock out your knees, we want to keep them loose, and keep your stomach loose.
  • Keep breathing throughout focusing on your diaphragm.
  • Now we start the spinal roll. first drop you chin to your chest, keep your jaw relaxed, and your arms and shoulders lose.
  • Now starting from the base of the spine where your head meets your neck, slowly start to roll down, vertebrae by vertebra. Trying to notice each vertebrae as you roll down. There are 33 bones in your spine, try to feel each one. Keep your knees soft, but not bent.
    • I have not yet been able to feel every bone, but I’m trying to listen to my body and really focus on it, and even if you never feel each vertebrae, if you’re doing that, its perfect.
  • We are going to roll until we feel our coccyx stretch. Then we’re going to just stay in this hanging position and take a few deep breaths. Feel your diaphragm expand and how it attaches to the base of your spine. Feel it stretch. Usually during this I’ll hear some cracks and pops from my lower back, as long as it doesn’t hurt, nothing to worry about. But please do remember, never move into pain.
  • Now, while still bent over, move your weight to your toes and let your back hang loosely.
  • Rock back to having the weight on the balls of your feet. Now give your arms a gentle swing and let them come to rest on their own.
  • From here start to slowly roll back up. Feeling from your coccyx each vertebrae as you roll up. Bringing your head of last.
  • Now let out a private “ha” sound. Don’t make it too loud, we’re just warming up the body, to me it sounds like a loud sigh.
  • Now, we’ll do this sequence a few times before we move on.
  • Once we’ve completed this a few times we’ll add the second part.
  • When you are at the bottom of the roll down, slowly walk your hands forward until you are in a downward dog position.  From here we do a calf stretch. I personally go right side, count to two thousand, switch to left side to two thousand and then repeat this stretch one more time.
  • After stretching the calves we move down on to all fours, making sure that our hands are under our shoulders and our knees are under our hips.
  • From here we breathe in as we bow our back. With this position you should attempt to touch your coccyx to the back of your head this will give you the correct shape (Only super humans can actually touch their coccyx to the back of their head, this is just to get you into the correct position). Then as we breathe out we shift to angry cat (arching your back). In this position try to bring your coccyx forward to your nose. Then we breathe in as we shift into the bowed back, then breathe out as go into angry cat, breath in to shift to bowed back, and finally breathe out into our last angry cat.
  • From this position we bring our feet back so that our toes are on the mat, and then we shift up into downward dog.
  • Slowly we walk our hands back until we come to the end of the roll down position where we start to slowly roll back up. Feeling from your coccyx each vertebrae as you roll up. Bringing your head of last.
  • Now let out a private “ha” sound.
  • Do this whole sequence a few times.

Final Thoughts

I hope these blogs are proving useful to people. Please let me know if they are or are not, so I can better tailor the content of the blog to meet people’s needs.

Its been a whirlwind few weeks for me, but opportunities are like buses, wait forever for one, and then BAM! My cup runneth over!

Never stop pushing. Never stop dreaming. Go get it.



Relaxation for Actors: What is it and Why is it Important

Author’s Note

This blog has been a bit delayed, but I know that it is worth it. Relaxation is a major part of being an actor, and I got caught up in the research of actor relaxation. Please enjoy this one!

“When there is tension, one cannot think or feel.” – Lee Strasberg1

A Bit of History and Why Its Important

“Among the nervous people of our generation this muscular tensity is inescapable. To destroy it completely is impossible, but we must struggle with it incessantly. Our method consists of developing a sort of control; an observer, as it were. This observer must, under all circumstances, see that at no point shall there be an extra amount of contraction. This process of self-observation and removal of unnecessary tenseness should be developed to the point where it becomes a subconscious, mechanical habit. Nor is that sufficient. It must be a normal habit and a natural necessity, not only during the quieter parts of your role, but especially at times of the greatest nervous and physical lift.”2

Relaxation is the foundation on which almost all actor’s work is based.3 Relaxation is needed in short, to help identify where there is tension in the instrument and helps to get rid of it. An instrument with tension is not as open to creativity and expression, or as Stanislavski put it,  ‘Muscular tautness interferes with inner emotional experience. As long as you have physical tenseness you cannot even think about delicate shadings of feeling or the spiritual life of your past. Consequently, before you attempt to create anything it is necessary for you to get your muscles in proper condition, so that they do not impede your action.’4

You can use relaxation exercises to enter what Stanislavski called the “creative mood.”5

Stanislavski was the first to try to define those moments when the actors act well, to establish a technique to stimulate a creative mood, to relax and concentrate.6 Strasberg studied at the American Laboratory Theatre with Stella Adler and Harold Clurman, where they were all taught by Richard Boleslawski (Who studied directly under Stanislavsky at the Moscow Arts Theatre). These three actors were the founding members of the Group Theatre, which was the first American acting ensemble to utilize Stanislavski’s techniques.

It is very important to know that this exercise is not designed to produce an emotional response, though that may happen as physical tension can have emotional roots.  “The muscles around the mouth, jaw, and the tongue are the most conditioned through the habits of speech and expression. The muscles and nerves contained in the back hold traumatic experiences from childhood and can be very tense and are more difficult to make contact with.”7 By systematic and deliberate exploration of these muscles, the actor will identify the tension in each of them, and release that tension through an act of will.8 Don’t go searching for anything other than tension in your instrument.

If the goal is relaxation why can I not do yoga or meditation

This seems to be a very common question, so I’ll throw my two cents in here. These can and do produce relaxation, but not in an actor sense. They do not show you where there is tension in your instrument. This is a very crucial part of the process. As my acting teacher says, imagine if you take your car to the mechanic because it is not running properly and without even seeing the car the mechanic just says “I’m just going to fix the the windscreen wipers.” You would probably go somewhere else. You want the mechanic to examine your car to find out what’s not working right so he can fix and fine tune your car. This is what this relaxation exercise is about, it is about identifying and releasing both mental and physical tension inside of your instrument. Also, if the actor did learn to identify this kind of tension, the actor obviously cannot stop in the middle of a scene to meditate, or start doing yoga. Strasberg’s relaxation exercise, when mastered, helps the actor identify the tension as it becomes apparent, then release the tension in a manner invisible to the audience.9

With yoga, along with the issue mentioned above, also focuses on form. Every move has a form, a way it is supposed to look like, a hand not pointed the right way, a leg not bent the correct amount, and the exercise will suffer for it. Strasberg’s relaxation does not focus on form, in fact it makes the actor do large movements that are very much outside of what people do day to day. This is important because if the actor is focused on how something should look rather than how something feels there is a issue. When we focus on form we are wholly thinking about how we think things should be, if you act like that you are merely imitating, pretending, and audiences can see that! The goal of Strasberg’s exercise is freedom, physically and mentally.

The Chair

I found this video by The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute while researching the topic of relaxation and I just loved it.

This may sound trivial, but you need the right kind of chair to do this.  I have tried this exercise in a lot of different chairs. If the chair is not fit for purpose, the exercise does not have the same impact.  Here are some key things I look for.

  • It cannot have arm rests, they will interfere with the movement.
  • It must be sturdy, to be it has to be made out of metal. I’m a big guy so plastic backed ones seem to be, wooden ones from Ikea don’t hold together well at the joints for the writhing of the hips.
  • It cannot be awful to sit in. If you cannot sit in it for 45 minutes to an hour, it’s not going to work. I prefer a bit of padding.
  • It can’t slide on the floor very easily, so I do like my chair to have rubber feet. If you’re going to do this on carpet this is less of an issue, but I tend to do this on wooden floors so it’s necessary to me.
  • The height of the back of the chair cannot be too high or this will interfere with movement.

Here is a photo of the type of chair I prefer.

The Exercise Itself

“The Actor’s body can be of optimum value to him only when motivated by an unceasing flow of artistic impulses,; only then can it be more refined, flexible, expressive and, most vital of all, sensitive and responsive to the subtleties which constitute the creative artist’s inner life.” – Michael Chekhov10

A few quick notes:

  • Almost every time I do this exercise, my eyes begin to water, not full on cry, but there is definitely something being released.  You may or may not have any kind of reaction to this exercise, that’s ok, just don’t go chasing an emotional response.
  • You also may feel hot or cold without any explanation during this exercise. Its ok.
  • Yes, this is strange, and people will think you’re weird. Its ok, you’re an actor, get used to it.
  • If there is pain or you have a condition that prevents you from doing any of the movements, skip that portion. Never work into pain.
  • The exercise will always move from head to toe.
  • This exercise is done without music.
  • I was taught this by Brian Timoney, who describes this method of relaxation with a bit more finesse in his book The Ultimate Guide to Method Acting. So if you want to know more about this, check out his book and website at:
  • You can also see how Lola Choen describes this exercise in her book The Method Acting Exercises Handbook.

First, sit in the chair, with your arms hanging loosely by your sides, you head hanging loose, and your legs in front of you, but not parallel to the floor. The chair should be taking all of your weight.

  • Next, we are going to turn to our breathing, taking nice deep breaths.
  • Next, ask yourself, “Where am I right now?” No, not where you are physically in a room, where are physically in terms of your instrument. Does anything feel off, do you feel any tension right off the bat, any pain? And also ask yourself, “Where am I now mentally?” Is there something that is pressing that you cannot stop thinking about? Are you stressed over an event, a conversation, a to-do list? Acknowledge all of these things, don’t try to block them out, let them flow as they want, the goal is not to contain them or push them off to the side, let them live. If you start to have an emotional response, that’s fine, if you don’t that’s also fine.
  • Now you begin to let out a private “Ahh” sound. Just like when you open your mouth for the dentist, and just keep it going. This sound starts off “private” meaning low in volume and intensity because this is a warm up and your vocal chords need to warm up as well. As you progress through the exercise you can increase the volume as you feel comfortable, just don’t strain. You will keep this sound going through the entire exercise.
  • You break up this “ahh” sound with short, explosive “ha” sounds whenever you have the urge to. When you do these sounds, you should really feel it in you diaphragm, not your throat. By tensing your diaphragm and quickly expunging the air you are releasing tension. It may sound strange, but I usually do feel a lot of tension leave when I start doing this.  This explosive “ha” sound should only be done once you feel you have warmed up your vocal chords, and if you feel any strain in your throat, you should just continue with the “ahh” sound. Usually I wait until I have completed the first round of basic relaxation head to toe before I interject these, but again this is totally up to you.
  • While still making the “ahh” sound begin to roll your head, clockwise. Taking note of any resistance or tension. After several times clockwise, stop and go counter clockwise also noticing any resistance or tension.
  • After stopping with the head roll, take your hands and with your pointer and index finger gently rub the temples of your head.
  • Next, using your pointed finger on one hand, gently rub the area just above the bridge of your nose, right between your eyebrows. (This helps a lot when working with really bright lights, your eyes will tense up while squinting, this will help ease that)
  • Now release your arms so they sit loosely at your side. Remembering to take nice deep breaths and still making the “ahh” sound.
  • Moving to the arms and shoulders. You’re going to be rolling your shoulders and your arms, while your arms are outstretched. Begin to roll them backwards in a very large exaggerated circle. With this movement, I have found that I get the most out of it when I try to make my shoulder blades touch when my arms and shoulders are moving backward, and then trying to reach my hands out as far as possible when moving forward. I really feel in my upper back.  This is a very unnatural movement, and that’s the point.
  • Now drop your arms to your sides. You can test to see where there is tension by lifting up one arm at a time and letting it drop. There should not be any resistance as it falls. I always keep my wrist limp when doing this in order to remove any unwanted tension. This particular point I got from An Actor Prepares, “He insisted that when we use an “isolated” group of muscles, be they shoulder, arm, leg, back muscles, all other parts of the body must remain free and without any tension. For example: in raising one’s arm by the aid of the shoulder muscles and contracting such as are necessary to the movement, one must let the rest of the arm, the elbow, the wrist, the fingers, all these joints, hang completely limp.”11
  • Now with your arms by your side we will now shift our attention to your hips.  (Now this is by far the strangest feeling and oddest position of this whole process to me. So if it feels weird, you’re in good company.)  Let your legs slide forward until your butt slides to the edge of the chair. Your head should be roughly looking toward the ceiling and your arms should be hanging loosely at your sides . Now using your heels as your pivot points move your hips clockwise for a few rotations, then stop and go counterclockwise. During this part I always find making the “ahh” noise the most difficult, I assume because I am engaging my core muscles while rotating my hips.
  • Now sit back into your chair in your original position.
  • Next part of the body we will work on is the legs. Keeping your knee bent (keeping your calf and foot loose) pick up your right leg and make very large exaggerated circles both clockwise and counterclockwise. Once you have done both directions, straighten your leg and do circles in both directions with your feet.  After you have done both directions, let you foot drop to the ground, don’t gently put it down, just relax your leg and let it fall.
  • Now do the same procedure with your left leg.
  • You have no completed one round of the relaxation exercise.  Try to do this for 30 minute before you begin your exercises to get you into the creative state. You will notice a difference, I promise.

Final Notes

This blog does take up more time than I had anticipated, but it is a lot of fun and really interesting to me. So this will continue, but the schedule may fluctuate.

Links to Topics Discussed in this Blog


Etudes: Acting Basics

If you find this blog post on etudes helpful, please check out my second blog on etudes containing insights gained from a year and a half of etude classes: Acting Etudes Revisted With Love and Compassion.

What is an Etude?

  • a short musical composition, typically for one instrument, designed as an exercise to improve the technique or demonstrate the skill of the player.

So how does this translate into acting? An etude is a small piece of work that over many repetitions teaches you the basic building blocks on which all of your future work will be built on. Demidov etudes – specially-designed exercises that establish an actor in the process of subconscious living onstage. The Demidov etudes foster creative spontaneity and emotional responsivity, and develop actors’ readiness to surrender to the given circumstances. In addition, Demidov etudes cultivate the habit of independent creativity.1

In a Demidov étude, a simple text is given to the actors, and nothing more. This text is designed in such a way that it is open to interpretation. It provides some of the given circumstances, but does not firmly dictate characters, relationships, place or time. The text is never discussed, but simply repeated several times by the actors. The instructor then asks partners to forget the text, to “toss it out of their heads,” and to remain empty for two to three seconds. The first impulse following the period of emptiness (be it thought, movement, sensation or mood) is obeyed by the actors – they passively surrender to it and continue to do so for the duration of the étude. What follows is a spontaneous improvisation of the circumstances (relationships, time, space, facts etc.) embodied by the actors in the course of the étude. The actors’ ability to imaginatively perceive the circumstances, the partner and the environment is cultivated in the Demidov études.2

Since the actual surroundings and the partner become the chief source for the actor’s imagination, the Demidov études – like no other exercises – open up the actors’ perceptive channels and develop their reflex of creative perception. Active behavior and emotional life occur in Demidov’s études just as they do in life – as reactions to the perceived circumstances. In addition to Demidov’s discoveries on the primacy of perception over action, his études also feature the signature “cultures” of the Demidov School, which include “emptiness” and “passivity.”3

On Creative Transformations in an Etude:4

  • Redirection into my own self
    • The actor is still himself. There has been no requirement to be any particular “character.”
  • A shift toward transformation.
    • The class environment, the teacher, the classmates, and the partner – all of this makes the actor prepare for the fact that he is entering a creative path. All of this has already “shifted” him off the fact that he is merely his own, personal self. He is already an actor.
    • Repeating the text and listening to the partner’s text “shifts” him even further.
    • And now, the text, the partner, his own state, and all the rest, evoke in the actor some first hints of new imaginary circumstances. Then the circumstances of his new life, created in his imagination solidify.
    • Alongside the circumstances and immediately following them an actor receives a new sense of self: he feels himself being somebody else – the circumstances, and new imaginary life have remade hi,.
  • Unity of the actor’s personal “self” and the emerging “character”
    • While experiencing himself as somebody else, he never loses his person “I.”
    • This total unity of the actor’s persona and of the character is a prerequisite to creative life on stage.

Etudes and the Actor’s Creative Process5

These etudes are the most accessible and direct way to explore an actor’s creative process.

A Mere observation of their flow enables us to establish:

  1. Conditions for the creative process.
  2. Conditions for its sound flow.
  3. Its errors.
  4. The scheme of the creative process: assignment – free reaction – perception – another involuntary reaction…
  5. These etudes alone made it clear that the creative process must not be compiled like a mosaic, by laying its fragments (the “elements”) together. Rather, one should not interfere with the creative process that already exists. The fact is, as soon as an actor steps out to do an etude, and the assignment has been given – creativity has already begun.
  6. When observing etudes, we notice that every attempt to break down the creative process into its constituent parts (as we used to do) leads to its destruction. Therefore, it is not just undesirable to do so, but it is impermissible.
  7. We used to make additions to what we saw in an actor. We added what we deemed missing: attention, a circle, an object, a task and so on and so forth. Our practice has taught us that, instead of adding what is not there, we must remove what interferes: excessive effort, haste, the “braking system” – “It’s correct…correct!”, “Give it a green light,” “Take your time,” etc. In short, we must proceed from the sound impulses that exists in a student; we must affirm them, rather than demand the non-existent, and thus extinguish the student’s creativity.

Key points for understanding etudes:

  • Etudes are organic character building. It’s about doing the work together
  • Don’t come into a scene and change yourself, know and understand how you are and take that to the scene.
  • No one can ever predict the directions of the etude. It will go the way it goes…
  • Tell me what happened/talk me through this one
    • Remember you are the only one that knows what is going on inside your head, so it is not what you are thinking about that is the chief concern, it is that you are thinking.  And by thinking the audience will see your process, and you won’t be focused on an end result.
  • Take your time, don’t rush.
    • These exercise are designed to help all actors, but they really help beginning actors learn what a real impulse is versus what a fake impulse is. This is a key building block for
    • When you’re living you are not expecting a scene to occur.
    • Understand why you’re saying the lines. The scene gets done itself – it will happen as a result of what happened.
    • Get your intellect out of the way → it will change everything
    • Be available to respond
  • You need to have depth to your explanations
    • If you can’t answer what do you think about that person, then you’re not doing the work.
      • Who is this person
      • What do they mean to me
      • What do they make me feel
    • All the answers are in you scene partner, actively seek what is going on with the other person. The answers are in front of you, that person is here to help you solve the problem.
      • Don’t play an idea, you’ll go blind to the other person
      • When you do a back story  it becomes harder to stay real/in the moment.
    • Perceive the person, not a character.
    • When looking to find out what’s going on
      • What is going on, and how can I take it further
      • What’s at stake
      • The relationship between the characters
      • Flights of fancy – this is where you create the imaginary circumstances in which you find yourself during the etude. It doesn’t matter if your partner has imagined different circumstances.  An individual artist is unique, has a unique perspective. What is important is that you take what your partner is giving you and then use that as you continue. The moment is a fluid process, not just at the beginning, keep constantly adapting.
      • Why is how we get deeper, we get better answers, and complexity. Keeping asking “why.”
      • What is taking my attention, why, then go further
  • You are the character:
    • All of the teacher’s questions suggest that my “I” – the seeing, feeling, thinking “I” of the actor – is always present and always participates in the creative process. Moreover, it is the main participant in the process.
  • Wipe the slate clean
    • When you wipe the slate clean, there can be similarities, but you are just playing what is in front of you.
    • There is no scenario, no given circumstances.
    • Accept reality first, accepting your actual reality will help you relax.
    • First accept reality before you can go into a fantasy world or you’ll reject the imaginary world.
    • Let go of preconceived notions, create.
  • Don’t judge your impulses, just feel them and execute them.Don’t judge the impulse – we need to take it so that it lives. If you judge an impulse you will not take it immediately, and then think about it if you should do it or not. If you start to think like this you’ll never actually do anything.
  • Follow through with the impulse, don’t judge it and stop halfway through.
  • Commit to it, don’t be wishy washy.
  • Things of high standard take time.

So here is this method, in general terms, speaking primitively:

  1. FIRST stage: calm repetition of the text (without “acting,” just to remember).
  2. SECOND stage: “putting the text out of your head” – so as to forget everything, as far as possible, for one-two-three seconds, to silence your imagination, to become “empty,” to turn into a virginally white sheet of paper on which nothing is written.
  3. THIRD stage: I quit interfering with myself- I no longer arrange for any “emptiness.” In this instance, my life begins or, rather, returns to me. When I interfered with myself, it was as if it were not there: I did not see or hear; there were no thoughts – it was a second of “confusion.” And now everything goes back to normal: thoughts come; I start to see objects; things I perceive evoke certain attitudes (as the aforementioned sunlight spot on the wall, and now this young actress). I begin to hear the noise of the street, the music next-door, the movement of the neighboring actor’s chair. I feel the cold or the heat; I experience my posture being comfortable or uncomfortable. None of it should be fought. There should be no interference: thoughts flow, feelings change from one to another – this is what life happens to be at the moment. Nothing more and nothing less. To this, and this alone, I must surrender. “Let all of this live on its own.” I have nothing to do with it. And here it comes.
  4. THE FOURTH stage: Apparently, the words of the etude you just repeated are not lost – they were just waiting for their time, and are starting to break out. Their first appearance is vague and indistinct; they don’t sit on the tip of your tongue; they do not even occupy your thoughts. Yet for some reason, your imagination arranges out of your surroundings – people and objects – a very particular set of circumstances. These circumstances will, in a minute or earlier, make all these words quite handy.  In short, the repeated text organizes the entire etude on its own, bypassing any conscious, rational fabrication. Apparently the text has not been forgotten, and it is doing its job. And here it comes.
  5. FIFTH stage: one must have the courage to give into all of this. To give in entirely, without looking back.

Perception Occurs Involuntarily, by Itself7

  • At times, an actor gets so carried away in the course of an etude, he misses the partner’s lines and responds to them at random. I would use this pretext and ask:
    • What did she really tell you when she said these words?
    • I don’t know, really…I missed it – he would frankly admit (Or else, he would say something incorrect – after all, he did not really hear her.)
    • No need to be embarrassed. Did you really make a mistake? You were busy with something else. You could not hear her.
  • If you forced yourself to listen, you would do something you did not want to do. This truly would have been a mistake. In life, when we are passionate about something, do we not often miss what we are told; do someone else’s words not fall on our deaf ears? This is a normal way of life.
  • Sometimes it is regrettable that he missed something significant coming from his partner, and this shortchanged the etude a bit. Nevertheless, it is best to make this temporary sacrifice – so far as the student is learning to live freely and naturally on stage. [A careful attitude toward the partner’s lines is developed later, by adding and clarifying the circumstances (as indicated in Part Four of this book). Author’s Note]
  • Even when we watch something keenly, it happens on its own, without any effort on our side. It happens when we find something particularly interesting.
  • Our senses are in perfect order: as long as there is something to see, hear, smell or touch – we certainly would see, hear, and so on. That is: perception would take care of itself. Life begins with that.
  • Therefore, the only thing we ever need to worry about, when in our normal state, is not interfering with perception.

Etudes with Stage Direction 8

When, prior to an etude, you repeat the lines, you must also say your stage directions: I leave, I sit down, I take a book, and so on. Otherwise, the words will get spoken on their own, yet the actor won’t feel like leaving or doing something else specified in the etude.

I would ask students: why didn’t you leave, or why didn’t you do this or that? The answer is the same: “I didn’t feel like it.” And they are right. They were correct to completely “green light” their desires and urges. There was no error there. There error was elsewhere – in the assigning. As it always turns out, assignments are to blame – students forget to say “I leave,” or “I do” this or that

An actor who clearly tells himself a stage direction – for example “I go to the window” – that actor will not notice how he finds himself by the window. Some force will inevitably lead him there.

There is nothing miraculous or supernatural here. This phenomenon is rather commonplace. Going to bed in the evening, fearing to oversleep, we say to ourselves: “Tomorrow I need to wake up at seven o’clock.” In the morning we wake up from some jerk or from some thought. We look at the clock… and the arrow points to seven.

The same thing happens with the assignment we practice in theatre, in our classes.


A: Have you been to the Tate Gallery?
B: No, I have not. I am going tomorrow.
A: What time tomorrow?
B: At noon, Why do you ask?
A: Nothing, I just asked.9

A: Is it eight yet?
B: I think it’s after eight.
A: I have to go.
B: Will you be back soon?
A: Don’t wait for me. I won’t be back until after one.
B: Another meeting?
A: Another meeting…10

A: Are you mad at me?
B: I am.
A: Why?
B: You know perfectly well why.
A: This is exhausting.11

A: We need to have a serious talk.
B: I was expecting this for a while.
A: How could you be?
B: I just was.12

Links to Topics Mentioned in This Blog

Acting Impulses: What Are They and Why Are They Important

What is an impulse and why is it important

We all know things like impulse buys or impulsive behavior, but what about an impulse in acting terms? It is hard to explain to be honest, but here it goes.

An impulse is an instantaneous, conscious or unconscious, idea to do or say something. There are big impulses, like slapping someone, to micro impulses like scratching your nose or adjusting your glasses or your idiosyncratic movements. These can be based off of exterior factors, or it can be from internal factors.

Physical impulses are the easiest to spot, because they manifests so boldly.

In real life people react with words or movement because of impulses.  Impulses are on the inside – take the focus inside. Most people don’t think they have time to feel in today’s society, but if you are an actor that is the exact thing you must do.

Impulses as Described by Nikolai Demidov

These are a few key points from Demidov’s book, Becoming an Actor-Creator.

  • The ability to follow the first impulse without delay is so important for actors that every one of them – regardless of their persuasion – consciously or subconsciously prizes this particular gift.
  • Let us take a closer look at it. Any impression we receive evokes in us a certain response – a reaction. In a spontaneous person, this reaction is immediately visible – it meets no obstacles on its way. If someone unpleasant walks into a room, at that very moment his face would pout – without even noticing it, he would turn away. That would be his first reaction.
  • The next moment would bring a delay of this first reaction – its inhibition. With it would come the orientation in the surroundings: the person understands that such a direct expression of his attitude is awkward and indecent – finally, it is insulting for the newcomer.
  • This brings about the third moment: a reaction in view of the surrounding – this reaction can be called secondary. Now the person may, on the contrary, make a friendly face and even offer his hand to the newcomer.
  • The actor’s creative reaction cannot be like either of those. It is much more complicated.
  • The actors must transform into a character with his or her nature, beliefs, feelings and tastes. In addition to that, actors have to live with all the circumstances of the play.
  • In the meantime, the natural orientation cannot disappear: actors cannot forget that they are actors, performing onstage.

Nikolai Demidov, Becoming an Actor-Creator, trans Andrei Malaev-Babel and Margarita Laskina (New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016), 290.

What do you mean “Judge your impulses?”

If you let impulses flow without judgement your behavior is real. But, if you judge them (stopping to think about them) then rather than impulses they become thoughts, and thought out actions. If we move or talk based on thoughts then we are aware of what we’re doing, and it becomes just an imitation of what we think we would naturally do. But it’s not what we would actually do, it is stifled and lacks life.

Another problem to this is when you judge an impulse halfway through. This happened a lot to me when I first started out; I would let the impulse go and begin to act on it, but then halfway through I would start to think about it, and the immediate thought in my head was “This is stupid, why are you doing this?” and then I would immediately shut down that impulse and almost every subsequent impulse for that scene.

Go with the impulse, we can argue about how it landed later.

A recent example of me judging my impulses

Here is an example I noticed in myself the other week. I walk home in the dark, and when I see groups of three or more men, especially loud or clearly drunk ones, my body begins to shift toward fight or flight. I become aware of my own behavior and I change it so as not to attract any attention. (I know I’m never in any sort of danger consciously, but our mind and body still react, seriously it’s super interesting to realize you and your thoughts are actually two different things)

Rather than do what I normally do while I’m walking home, looking around for foxes, squirrels, and dogs, I now have tension in my instrument and judge those impulses. I keep looking forward until I pass that group, making sure to avoid eye contact. While I was walking I realised that from the outside looking in, because I was not letting my micro impulses go through there I guarantee you could tell I wasn’t executing my real behaviour, and that something about me was off. I bet I really just had my head down and lengthened my stride, I didn’t look real.

Real vs Fake impulses

This is hard to figure out, but it is something you need to really think about. When I first started my acting classes I thought that I was freeing myself up and letting impulses flow. This was not the case though, I was acting off of fake impulses.

I was uncomfortable with the long pauses between lines. Rather than sit still and wait I pushed and changed that nervous energy into physical movement. The want to move was not an actual “want” based on what was really happening in front of me, but was an escape button to let myself out. By forcing these actions I was no longer truthful.

Saying or doing nothing when you’re performing is hard. It takes a lot more courage to do nothing.

Dealing with an impulse that the script doesn’t call for

How can you deal with an impulse to talk when the script doesn’t allow it?

In this case, you need to transfer the verbal impulse to a physical impulse. Do something, maybe it is not what you want to say, but you want to do something.

Being watched changes you

People change their behaviour when they’re watched, sometimes consciously or sometimes  subconsciously. In fact there is a study that showed even just a picture of a person’s eyes can alter the behaviour of people (link in further reading at bottom of page). And there is further study that if you are watched while you’re working out you will increase your efforts

This is a massive problem for an actor as what we do is inherently done in front of an audience or a crew. I remember when I first started acting I made a comment to the extent that if someone was paying to watch me act, I’d better be trying hard to do something.  This is the completely wrong attitude. Trying harder and pushing for a result in acting leads to an imitation, something people also can subconsciously detect instantly. And audiences feel insulted if they sense this from an actor.

So why does being watched matter to our impulses?

When we are watched we judge ourselves, and every impulse we have. This is why some people who may be very lively when you’re talking to them one on one can become stiff and stifled when onstage.

When we judge our impulses we don’t let them occur naturally and in their own time. And when we think about or analyse our impulses they become conscious thoughts.

In judging what we are doing we are creating tension in our instrument. This tension can stop the fluidity of our movements and can move the voice from the diaphragm to the throat. When the voice no longer sits on the diaphragm the actor loses authority and people will begin to think he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Final Thoughts

This has been just a very brief introduction to the idea of acting impulses, but I wanted to leave you with as clear of an example as I could of what our true aim as actors should be. Think about watching children at play. They follow every single impulse that comes to mind, they don’t worry about what it will look like, or what people will think. They feel it, they act on it. Our goal as actors is to get back to this mindset of really just allowing ourselves to be free to feel and to act on those feelings.

Links to topics mentioned in this blog

How being watched changed you – without you knowing. By Jason G Goldman

Nikolai Demidov: Becoming an Actor-Creator

So, you want to be an actor?

“All the world’s a stage” – William Shakespeare

So you really want to go into acting now?
That’s a question I asked myself about two or three years ago. Hell, I even laughed at myself.

To start acting at the age of 30, I’d be competing with well established movie stars, and besides what did I know about acting?
I was in my final year in university getting my second degree at the time, and let’s just say the idea was ludicrous. Why the hell did I spend all this time and money in order to throw it out the window? I was, at the time, and still am just searching for what makes me happy.

My First Excursion into Professional Acting

I had done some community theatre growing up, and even did a small monologue show while I was at West Point. But by no means did I really have any experience acting.
In 2015 I was selected because of my American accent to be an extra for Jason Bourne. My first day on set I got selected for a speaking role and was thrown into a scene with Alicia Vikander and was being directed by Paul Greengrass. I thought that this world was amazing, and I thought, hey this is easy, it’s only my first day!
But I thought that acting wasn’t really what I was supposed to be doing, and that I was meant to go into Special Effects. Do the behind the scenes work, just make cool stuff that makes people scratch their heads wondering how we did it.
But, just trying to get onto an SFX team for years wasn’t panning out, that acting itch came back with a vengeance.
So I knew I had to follow it.

I started reading acting books at the rate of one a week. I could not get enough information.

Then I researched training and went to seminars and short courses.

Something just felt right.

Something I wish I would have known about acting

The most important thing you want to know before you chase the acting dream is your “Why.”
Why are you doing it? Is it to be rich and famous? To feel loved? To fill a void?
These are not the answers you should have. If you become an actor the problems you have will still be there even if you become the most successful actor in the world (in fact they may actually get worse because you will become more sensitive to your own emotions.) The process of Acting isn’t about putting on a mask and playing a character. It is about becoming wholly vulnerable, and to do that you have to be comfortable with your authentic self.
You are the character.
Think of Michael Clarke Duncan’s amazingly power performance in The Green Mile. This amazing and powerful man let you look into his soul when there were close ups of his eyes, he was wholly vulnerable. You could see and feel the pain of the whole world.

“Acting deals with very delicate emotions. It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself.”

Rodney Dangerfield

You should only follow acting at a professional level if you honestly can’t see yourself doing anything else, because it’s going to be a hard road, where most of it seems like an uphill battle. So you must enjoy the work and the process.
Your “why” needs to be solid and bigger than you. It will keep you going when things get tough.

My Personal Why

My personal why is because I believe that film and tv can change the world, and that’s exactly what I want to do.
I have always been a movie lover. In fact I saw Jurassic Park, 12 times in theatres. (I was 8 at the time, so thank you dad for taking me so many times.) I also read Jurassic Park and The lost World back to back, seriously what 8 year old does that? I watched all the Indiana Jones movies countless times on VHS and idolized Steven Spielberg. I wrote a book about him about the time I was 8, which I can only guess was almost completely plagiarized from one of the many books I read about him. I even dedicated it to him. I began making really terrible stop motion videos with my GI Joe’s.

Movies were also an escape for me. When life got tough all I had to do was go to the cinema. I would be transported to other worlds, laugh uncontrollably, or fight off personal demons.

To me films can make you feel and learn about yourself. They can bring us closer together and challenge your beliefs. They make us laugh and cry. The moving image is a very powerful thing.
If you know your Why, you will find your how.
Remember that nothing worthwhile is easy to obtain.

Some other things I wish I knew:

    • It will be hard, harder than you think. The best actors make it look easy, like they are just existing on camera. This is a skill.
    • In being so vulnerable, any criticism is deep cutting at first. You have to learn that your teacher is not telling you how bad you are, they want you to improve and be the best you can be. It’s never personal, it’s about the work.
    • You are developing a very different set of skills. You will doubt yourself, just keep pushing
    • You will find new and exciting ways of being uncomfortable.
    • It’s ballbusting hard work. Not just the exercises and daily routine you adopt, but the life after you are done training. You must come to terms that you will be unemployed for long periods of time. And in today’s world a lot of people gain a lot of self worth from what the do that it can wreak havoc in a person’s mind.
    • Almost every audition will end up in not getting the job. It’s not personal, the reasons people are or are not cast can be ridiculous. As Michael Kostroff says in Audition Psych 101 on going into auditions., “I’m not getting the fucking job.”

Further reading links to things I mentioned in this blog:

Why Your “Why” Matters – Corey Poirier
Michael Kostroff’s – Audition Psych 101

About this Blog

Hello, my name is Kyle and I am going to use this blog to help share what I know now and and what I will learn about acting and the business of acting as I progress through my career.
I want to provide value. I may not know a lot, but I know I know more than some, so I know I can help.

I will be publishing weekly blogs with the goal of compiling a resource for beginning actors and eventually creating a tribe of positive actors sharing their knowledge and supporting each other.

If you have questions let me know because I want this to be an interactive page so I can help as many people as I can.

I believe that films can change the world, and that is exactly what I intend to do.