We are pretty jumpy people these days, allowing ourselves to be pulled in 20 different directions and becoming increasingly unable to focus on what’s in front of us.
Some people are proud of this, claiming that they are geniuses at multi-tasking and get so much more done in a day than most other people.
“But how much did you actually experience today?” That’s the actor’s question. It’s the experiences of your life that add up to who you are and, ultimately, what you have to offer a role.
Which brings us to the subject of presence. The word gets thrown around quite a bit by actors and teachers as if it’s just one more thing to be ticked off on a list of positive attributes for an actor to have. “Now that I am about to go into the audition, I’ll be present.”
Not so fast. Presence is not a magic cape that you drape over yourself when you feel like it. Presence is a learned skill and it won’t show up in your work or in the room if you don’t practice it in your life.
How Being Present Affects Your Work
An audition is a series of moments. The actor with the brightest, truest, most connected moments gets the job. But how can you sustain a moment in your work if you don’t know the feeling of doing so in your life? If jumping from moment to moment is what you do 95 percent of the time, then that’s what you’ll do in the audition. Under pressure, the body goes to what it knows.
This is professional suicide for an actor. I see actors who get four pages of sides for, say, an argument scene. When I ask them about the emotions involved in the exchange, many can’t tell me, because they don’t stick around long enough in their real lives to find out. That’s where they get caught. Walking away or checking out is not an option in a scene, and if you don’t know the feelings that occur from being present for an entire experience in your life, chances are your focus will wane and your presence will weaken before the end of the scene. I have heard the refrain from casting so many times: “Why do actors find it so hard to stay present and involved? It’s only a 90-second scene!” …
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