Experiencing acting as an audience is like agreeing to buy into a magic trick from start to finish. Have we been driven to be afraid? Moved from observer to believer? Mesmerized?
People who spend time and money experiencing an acting performance want to feel their investment has been worth it. And, so when an Indie or mega-budget movie maker invests time and money, the entire project will likely hinge on performances.
But, how viewers really define that thing they want to feel takes some considering. I’ve decided that really, it’s the emotional investment that lends a moviegoer to be so passionate about a film performance.
With the exception of the jaded, dysfunctional or iconic cynical superstar, actors care about great performances. So, the hunt for effective acting schools becomes the holy grail of those aspiring to better their craft, and the question about how to improve breathes for these actors. What brings great acting then becomes the ultimate question.
The issue’s been on my mind for awhile, because I’m a writer, and writers and actors have similar desires. Writers are only as good as their readers think they are, just like actors are only as good as those who experience their performances believe they are. And, so any light on the issue of how acting translates to a happy moviegoer, is fodder for me as to how great acting translates to great writing.
In 2011, I had the good fortune of meeting Amanda Reed, an actress whose performance convinced and moved me. I met Amanda at the Indie premiere of “Mother’s Red Dress,” a feature by No Restrictions Entertainment.
Amanda plays Brenda in the film, dynamically conveying the alcohol-tinged angst of a disenchanted young woman.
When I asked her about how she prepared for the role, she surprised me. Amanda said, “I tried to give over to the character and give that person the respect she deserves.” Her comment sounded a lot like a conductor who seeks something magical from a symphony.
Recently, I asked her to shed light on her acting technique, and Amanda opened my eyes to acting in a new way. She was able to speak about acting as an actor and acting coach. She teaches at The Acting Center in Los Angeles. Founded by Bill Kilpatrick, Christopher Smith, Eric Matheny, and Tamra Meskimen, each has brought their acumen to create a creative and supportive place for actors.
Amanda explains that the key approach at The Acting Center is to become the character. This is very different from portraying a character as in character acting, or how it seems a character should be portrayed according to some plug-in approach, as in method acting.
At first, I really couldn’t get my head around the concept of becoming the character; I was looking for the “how” this happens. My intellect tried to wrestle the concept to the ground. After all, it sounds simple but enigmatic at the same time, kind of like explaining love. ‘Love is,’ is how the saying goes. The How of Love, that seems like a legitimate question to ponder, right?
But, thinking through the question of how an actor becomes a character failed for me. I found I simply couldn’t do it. Apparently, this mental limitation is common among new actors at The Acting Center. They’re encouraged to let those mental frameworks go. As I spoke with Amanda further, she peeled away at the concept until I could see the core: The concept of being a character, having respect for that character, and giving that person her due. The idea of simply Being..being someone else for awhile.
There are other actors that make this look easy; Kristin Scott Thomas comes to mind. Come to think of it, I have never questioned whether she has not indeed become her character. Another actor who I believe becomes her character is Erika Christensen, the actress who plays the lawyer turned full-time mom in NBC’s Parenthood. I wasn’t surprised when I learned that Erika has been to The Acting Center. She talks about how The Acting Center has bettered her acting here:
The Acting Center’s approach is not only praised by actors, but by producers. Producers seek actors from The Center, and acting gigs for The Acting Center actors, common. The Center’s success, in terms of actors getting auditions and jobs, is a reputation built one actor at a time, and The Center has Industry and actors praising it worldwide. Actors as far away as New Zealand and Australia have sought out The Acting Center’s guidance.
I couldn’t have been more happy for Amanda when she wrote me and said that she’d recently appeared on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother.
I’m not surprised, because Amanda‘s very funny. Here’s a little morsel of Amanda being Kathy Satens, talking to God… two minutes of guaranteed LOL smiles:
Amanda will continue to pursue acting that allows her to become her characters. And, she will continue to assist other actors at The Acting Center. Classes start regularly, and, I’m grateful. Because, when I sit and take in a performance, I’m longing for it to be as if a magician has donned cape and top hat, and I’m witnessing a Golem breathe for the first time.
Katherine Bennett is a freelance, screen, and fiction writer. She also reviews films. She resides in Northern California. You can visit her on Twitter @VerbaVitae and her website KatherineBennett.com.