Possibly the most remarkable of all common mistakes made by amateur actors when learning how to act, and one which should be addressed first and foremost, is something known as “playing the state”. You may often hear of aspiring actors being warned “not to act”, what this generally means is a warning not to play the state. Characters, and acting as a whole, is by its very nature centered around the experience of human emotion, nevertheless, learning how to play is not about learning to portray an emotion. Human beings are driven throughout their daily lives by one thing only and one thing, the drive to execute a “want”, not the drive to sit around and experience what having that want makes them feel. All activity on stage is driven by these wants, we experience who a character truly is not by what the Actor shows us, but principally by what the character does.
Preparation is crucial
Obviously the emotion that a character is experiencing is still essential to the activity, so this is not to say that the performer should not investigate the emotional state as part of how to act as a character, the difference is that character work is done in preparation and not during the performance itself. The difference is essential to really inhabiting a character and is essential to Presentational (see approaches to acting on my website) Acting, whilst an actor will knowingly pursue his want on stage, thinking about what that want is and how to act in order to achieve it, he will not be thinking about who his character is, or about how that character is feeling, this will have been done in the rehearsal stage and will instead be experienced by the actor, as if they were the character them self. Indeed, trying too hard to “play” usually comes from a belief that an entirely fabricated human being must be formed with no apparent link to the actor in order to truly create a character, in reality an actor must be prepared to draw on all the relevant parts of himself and his own experiences in order to create a character.
Rise is given by this to a common error in itself, as the inexperienced attempts to cram everything he knows about how to play, and about the character he is portraying, actively into his performance on stage / screen. The road to inhabiting a character is a long one and it is all down to preparation and rehearsal, real people do not have to think about who they are inside in order to keep a persona, it is who they are inside that determines what they think and feel, and also what it is that they need, which, in turn, determines how they determine to act. The procedures involved in this kind of character development and preparation will be covered in another article.
Actions and wants
Now that we understand that the character is focused on what he or she wants rather than their emotional state the next essential thing to discover is what the character does instead of just experiencing what they feel. As a general rule, all wants, and so all that occurs on stage, plays out as one character performing an action on another. These “actions” are more formally known as transitive verbs, that is to say, something that another individual can experience being done to them. i.e. I can experience the sensation of being threatened, pushed, teased etc. In their excitement inexperienced actors often rush straight in to rehearsing a piece without taking the time to establish each characters wants (be aware that these can change as often as one line to the next”) and what actions each character performs on another (or occasionally on themselves) in order to attain each specific objective. Learning and reading lines with these ideas in mind gives rise to a much more organic, presentational style of acting that attempting to engineer the way a line is read in order to give the impression of the correct emotional state without it being felt.
Possibly the biggest mistake that any zealous young actor could make would be to give up too readily, yes the business is a competitive one, but you do not have to be a Hollywood A-Lister in order to make a living working at what you love most! (Focus initially on aiming to get by as a jobbing professional actor.) Stay determined and keep up the good work, you are on the right path!