Acting Is & Acting Isn’t

Acting Is.


by Sydney Langosch.

This is based on a hand-out I received from my high school drama teacher, Mr. David Nattress and I’ve always found this a list I struggle to live by.


  1. Acting is creating a believable character. The actor calls upon all of his experiences, observations and imagination to build a character which is based on reality.
  2. Acting is speaking with better than average speech. While the reality of the character on which an actor is working must be maintained, the ability for an actor to communitcate to his audience so that they may hear without straining is a necessary technique. Special training is important, but any actor can increase projection, avoid sloppy diction and learn to point important words in a speech without special classes. Sometimes a director or assistant director will provide extra rehearsals for those members of the case who need the additional training.
  3. Acting is bringing the stage area to life. There are no limits to the way space may be utililized by the actor and designer. Sometimes space is defined by quite traditional and realistically built sets. Other productions may depend very little on sets and properties. Whatever the style of the production, it is the actor who makes the design work through his own creative abilities during the actual performance. An audience will believe the setting because the actor does.
  4. Acting is learning to concentrate at a far greater intensity than you usually do in real life. An actor cannot become preoccupied with himself during rehearsals or production. A performer is like a magnet: if you are able to concentrate successfully, you pull in the audience while creating a heightened emotional intensity.
  5. Acting is establishing a relationship with all of the characters on stage. An actor must know how he feels about everyone and everything in the play-his own and other’s appearance, what the other characters say and do, even if the context of the speech does not directly relate to his own character. It is therefore important for you, as an actor, to become totally engrossed in the entire play, even though you may appear in one or two scenes.
  6. Acting is using every resource inside and outside yourself. Preparing for a role may include remembering sensory experiences, including tasting, smelling, seeing, feeling and moving. Sometimes memory is sufficiently sharp, but there are occasions when you must refresh your memory, either through direct experience or through research.
  7. Acting is connecting your role with everything going on around the character. The most innovative, effective characterisation is meaningless unless the actor’s creativeness is blended in with the entire production.
  8. Acting is evolving a physical picture for the audience through complete knowledge of the inner parts of the character. An actor must carry a physical image of himself as the character he is portraying, but not without a sound precept behind the choices made. While a limp may be a part of a physical identity of a character the actor conceives, a director will seldom welcome such additions unless the limp is part of the action of the play.
  9. Acting is knowing what the character is saying, but also knowing what the character is thinking. It is in the “inner meaning” or the “between the lines” study from which an actor truly creates his role. This was one of the main building blocks of the Stanislavski method for training an actor. In Constantin Stanislavski’s book, Building a Character, the director wrote, “The words come from the author, the subtext (the meaning and imagery between the lines) from the actor.”
  10. Acting is getting across to the audience the main idea of the script. It must be clear in the actor’s mind what the play is about and the way the character you are playing forwards this main idea. Referring once more to Constantin Stanislavski, the artist must know the “super-objective” of the production. It is the director who makes these decisions according to the script and other production details. If you don’t understand the theme and main goals in a production you are in, then you should ask the director to explain them. Most directors will welcome such discussions, especially if the actor approaches him early in the rehearsal of the production.

Acting Isn’t.


  1. Acting isn’t building a character on stereotypes or faked mannerisms. It is never wise to base a role on the manner in which a famous star might play the part. Even if some well-meaning friend suggests the role in terms of another actor’s portrayal, try to ignore their suggestions. Even when recalling reactions and patterns of movement from real life, there are many stereotype movements and expressions. Because they are drawn from real life does not justify using such stereotypes unless for a specific purpose.
  2. Acting isn’t a credible execution of physical acts and a parroting of the lines in the script. When you are creating a role, you must have a sound reason or motivation behind your performance. Sometimes a director will help with the motivation. Sometimes the actor will be given what appears to be a purposeless piece of action or business. It is then the job of the actor to find some motivation for the direction, even if he is not given this.
  3. Acting isn’t coming to a rehearsal only to decide that the director doesn’t need you, so you think you might as well return home. Even if the director does not use you on a particular call for your scenes, it is advisable to watch other scenes in rehearsal so that you may add to your knowledge of the total play. While watching a certain scene, you may suddenly realize why your character has a certain attitude towards that same character in another scene. Also, rehearsal time is often interrupted by a technical problem. These interruptions cannot be avoided. However, the actor may further familiarize himself with the total production if he listens to the directors discussion instead of getting angry because rehearsals are temporarily halted.
  4. Acting isn’t forgetting the audience. While an actor certainly cannot become preoccupied with the audience, there is always a thread of communication, a kind of spirit behind his performance which includes the audience, not exclude or “puts down” the audience. Actors who have private jokes with each other may not know it, but they communicate this feeling to the audience, making them feel uncomfortable, eventhough they do not identify the source of their feelings.
  5. Acting isn’t a chance to show off for friends and family. Acting takes every ounce of concentration you can muster and is not a matter of directing attention to yourself as an actor. Look Ma, no hands so bores the audience who came to enjoy an ensemble effort, not applaud tricks and facility of technique.
  6. Acting isn’t tearing down the production, the director, the crews or the other actors either before, during or after the production. After working several weeks with a great variety of people, you may have some very negative feelings about certain aspects of the production. Keep them to yourself. You may also discover that some friends or members of your family did not enjoy the production as much as you hoped they would. Listen carefully to their criticisms, but don’t let them discourage you. If you did your job as well as you knew how, you can be pleased that you had an opportunity to be in the play, even if it did not come up to your expectations or the expectations of the audience.
  7. Acting isn’t giving direction to other actors. It is never the place of the actor to tell another actor how he should play a role. If something is bothering you about a scene, bring it up before the director at the time you are rehearsing. Sometimes very worthwhile ideas come from this type of discussion.
  8. Acting isn’t keeping yourself from looking bad at the expense of others. If there is a slip, or if another actor forgets his cue, you should try to pick up the scene if you can. The entire performance is based on the premise of the group effort. A performer must “keep the ball rolling” even at the risk of making himself look bad for the moment.
  9. Acting isn’t nagging the back stage workers or giving any of the technical crew a hard time. An actor should do everything he can to keep the play running smoothly. If he is backstage waiting for a cue, he should stay well out of the main path of operations until he is ready to enter.
  10. Acting is not a competition. From the moment you receive a copy of the script to the final performance, the “play’s the thing.” The individual actor is subordinate to the total production: it is the total effort which the audience views, not one person’s performance, or one lighting cue, or one beautifully constructed set. When this feeling of complete cooperation and group effort is achieved, the performance is stronger than any one person in it, and it is the whole, not any of its parts, which receives the applause.
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3 thoughts on “Acting Is & Acting Isn’t

  1. Pingback: One Hundred Nineteen | Lorraine James

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