What is good acting?

You all know acting. According to the Oxford dictionary, it is “the art or occupation that involves performing fictional roles in plays or films or television.” Great, that sounds very straightforward. However, it’s a huge leap between that statement and the definition of good actin is. This is what we are going to explore today. What is good acting? This is a subject often disputed and argued about in our industry. 

What is the secret to good acting?

Although it may seem simple, this definition I believe is accurate and useful for actors because the primary focus is on the audience, not ourselves. Great acting and performances serve someone or something else than the actor. They serve the story, the audience and the character.

It’s all great to talk about, but how can we do it? How can we make the audience think, feel or even do something by simply displaying it on their screen? There are many factors to be aware of. It can be broken down into two areas.

  1. The Performance
  2. The Role

The Performance refers to all that the audience sees, hears, or experiences due to your actions. The role refers to the practical side of acting, including understanding how you are part of a production and the simple joy of being able to repeat performances night after night. It is the behind-the-scenes aspect of acting. These two factors work together to allow the audience to think and feel. They make great acting.

The Performance

Let’s get started with what we love to geek about. Let’s discuss the hard work that each actor must do to deliver memorable performances. Ask your actor friends what makes a great performance. They will give you a million buzz words such as “Bold choices”, Truthful”, Method, Free, etc. These words are all relevant but let’s not simplify it and divide it into three areas.

  1. TECHNIQUE
  2. BACKSTORY
  3. TRUE STORY

These three words don’t cover enough. Let me explain. Each section will be illustrated with a great example of Performance. I’ll show you the film version of Doubt, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, to keep things simple. If you haven’t seen the whole film, I recommend it highly. Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t yet watched Doubt. For your convenience, I have included YouTube clips of the relevant scenes in this article.

TECHNIQUE

Master craftsmanship is demonstrated by a master actor who gives a flawless performance. While spontaneity is important (we’ll discuss that later in the “Truth” section), I think the best of the greats have perfected their technique to near perfection. They know the rules and can break them. Hard are the best actors in the world.

Technique refers to all aspects of an actor’s work. It can include, but not be limited to:

Voice and Movement:

Technical mastery of one’s voice and body allows one to make clear choices about how one speaks and moves.

Script Analysis

Mastery of story analysis and scriptwriting. The great actor must have the ability to squeeze every bit of humanity from a script. This requires skill and experience.

Punctuation:

Understanding punctuation in scripts. This is more relevant to plays than films scripts, but I would always say that the writer is God when analysing performative texts. Magic is created when a well-written story and a great actor are connected. It is fascinating to see an actor who can honour the writer’s intention. We can gain insight into our characters’ thought patterns and pace by using punctuation.

Imagery:

If we can recall an event, we can think of someone we have met, seen, or envisioned. Our imaginations and minds will create an image of that thing. These images are essential for actors to fuel and sustain their performances. Without these images, your Performance can feel empty or ‘dead in the eyes.

Inner Life

Like my example in The Graduate, good acting can continue even when nothing is spoken aloud. Actors/characters need to have an electric inner life. They must be pursuing something in their minds and have firing thoughts.

Actions and tactics

What are the options available to the character to reach their goal? How can they win the game of life with the skills and knowledge they have accumulated in their lives? An actor has many choices in any scene. These choices don’t always make sense or are right. Some options are more right than others. The greatest actors can make choices that we wouldn’t have imagined possible.

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