The highest paying skill in the business is doing well on a first take. That’s sometimes called a “cold read”, but there are several things you can do to be at your best on your first take.
However, some coaches describe the real “highest paying skill” as being good at practicing on your own! Here’s how you can learn to get good at both performing a great first take and getting better at learning on your own.
Following an Acting Process
People ask “What does an actor do, anyway?” Well, first you warm up, right? Duh! Then you look at the script. Duh again! The real secret is having a process that you follow to warm up and review the script. But first, let’s number the steps in the process:
1. Warm up.
2. Review the Script.
3. Perform as if you are in a conversation with someone.
4. Decide how to generate the best results from whatever directions the producer gives you.
Over time, how what will work best for you depends on your goal, your experience, you skill level and brand voice type.
We say there are four people in every scene, the actor, the character, the listener, and the producer. The first stage or your process, the warm-up, is designed for you the actor, to help you be loose. As they say in method acting, the foundation of acting is to identify and release tension. Tension is the occupational disease of the actor. So you need to start by being as loose and playful as you can.
Warming up goal to get loose means to widen your vocal energy range. Over simplified, this means being authentic and playful both when being loud and when being quiet. This is a time for improv and playfulness.
There are four primary components to intensity: pitch, speed, volume and vocal strain. Think of how someone’s voice changes when they are being very “whiny”—the change in vocal quality is due to emotions “bending” the voice. So think of vocal strain when warming up as character voices, like performing different animated characters.
Yell NO!! with emotional intensity and then, with EQUAL intensity, equal feeling, equally strong emotion, say it very quietly. When trying to be emotionally intense yet at low volume, you may sound exasperated, threatening, incredulous, disgusted, or as if your voice is under great emotional strain.
You can’t be a voice talent if you can’t express emotional intensity at low volume, and the easiest way to do it is to quickly make a high-energy sound (NO!!!), followed by an equally intense but low-volume statement, e.g. “N… O.”
Understand the Script
The second part of your acting process is for the character. The character is determined first by the writer, so this is the stage of script analysis, and noticing the meanings, emotions, and emotional transitions in the script. This where you notice what must happen, and decide what you will do to make what must happen seem real. More about this below.
Make the Conversation Believable
The third stage, performance, is when you put your attention on the listener, or your scene partner, and you make us believe that you’re having a real conversation with a real person.
To achieve the directions a producer gives you, you must decide which to focus on: The actor, the character, or the listener? You will generally be the last to notice where tension creeps in, so often, a producer is telling you they need a more loose and authentic read. For this, you must help the actor—you—by doing a brief reset, or loosening up your body language, or concentrating more on being casual when reading the tougher parts of the script.
Another common reason behind a producer’s direction is that you aren’t making your conversation with the listener feel real enough—so you need to concentrate on your process for making the listener more real to you.
But the main reason for breaking your acting into the stages of a process is that yf you try to loosen up, interpret a script, and make it sound conversational all at once you won’t be as effective as you will be if you break those different requirements into stages.
The overall goal is to be the best producer of your own talent by having a process that helps you be skillful at dealing with the requirements of being a good actor.
Practicing a Script
When practicing on your own, after warming up, your next goal is become quickly familiar with the script without getting locked in to a certain approach.
The worst thing to do is to first read a script out loud from top to bottom. The next worst thing to do is to record your performance and listen back. More about that later.
Instead, read the last third of the script to try to get a sense of its flavor. Often, the beginning of a script doesn’t give you enough information on the emotional direction that is revealed by the end of the script. After reading the last third, read from top to bottom, but not out loud, and look for any line, or a few words in a sentence that you enjoy or like for any reason. Look for something that feels easy and fun to you. if you have a specific reason that you like something you’re probably overthinking it. Do not pick anything that seems challenging or difficult. Your goal is to find something that you would enjoy.
Next to get familiar with the content of each sentence, you want to read the next-to-last sentence in your head, and then read the last sentence out loud do that a couple of times to try to notice what the important words, concepts, and emotions are in the last sentence. you read the next-to-last sentence in your head before reading the last sentence out loud so that you can see how one sentence leads to the next.
You continue this process working backwards through the script. So the next step would be to read the third to last sentence in your head and then read the second to last sentence out loud a couple of times. When you’ve worked backwards through the script in this manner and read all the sentences out loud, you want to go through the script from top to bottom with a dark highlighter and place a. Between any two words where there is a transition that seem significant to you.
Ror example if a sentence ended with and not all the children survived. but thanks to your donations, obviously there would be a transition from problem to solution and you would want to put a. Between those two sentences.
For example, if you found two main transitions in a script and put a. At each, everything before the first. Would be the beginning, everything between the dots would be the middle, and everything after the second. Would be the ending.
Next decide what happens at the transitions. You can experiment simply by performing and reading the words before and after the transition, or you can make notes such as by looking at a chart of emotions and labeling what is happening before the transition, and what is happening after the transition.
Finally, look for the most intimate, plain-spoken, or matter of fact one or two moments in the script. These are moments when your vocal energy and volume 10 to be lower than average, and you speak without a lot of artificial qualities in your voice. Make a note of those sections of 1 2 v words are so, and make sure that your energy is higher before and after those points. Sometimes it’s as simple as a word like so, you have to make sure that you use the lower energy and less artificial part of your speaking range because if you do not those moments will usually be skipped over and your overall range will be less.
Generally, you need to notice where the script is
- More personal, intimate, thoughtful, and/or conversational. Often the words used here are approachable, or straight talk, or voice in the head.
- More playful and loose
- More serious.