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Simplicity in Acting

Charlie Sandlan - Acting Coach NYC - Acting Coach in NYCCherry Jones visited the Maggie Flanigan Studio in August to talk about her career and her process. Among the many incredible insights she shared was the moment in her career when she truly understood what simplicity meant. For Ms. Jones, it came after years of professional and artistic success, in a rehearsal room with a really good director. A light bulb went off for her, an “ah-ha” moment. I know many actors have been told at some point, either by a teacher or a director, one of the following things; “You’re working too hard.”, “Leave yourself alone.”, “Less is more.”, and “You’re enough.” When this is said to you many times it can be very frustrating, because how do you translate these notes into something that will actually change the quality of your work? The above criticism means that the actor lacks simplicity.

Stop Doing More Than You Need To

What is Simplicity in Acting? It’s the absence of pedestrian clutter; it’s the ability to do only what you need to do and no more. Simplicity means that the behavior you create is a choice. Most young actors (and by young, I don’t necessarily mean age, but new to the art form) do more than they need to. This translates into pushing, straining, over-acting, or working for results. Their work lacks ease, grace, and clarity. Good playwrights and screenwriters have envisioned the behavior of their characters as they put dialogue to paper. They write inevitable cause and effect. Really good, well-trained actors are like great detectives. They can deduce the behavior that’s necessary for the character. Good actors then use their imagination, life experience, and insight to breath life into the part. The best actors have mastered simplicity while also creating vivid behavior. These artists are at the top of their craft.

Simplicity Requires Mastering Fundamentals

Don’t however, be fooled into thinking that simplicity means not doing anything. Many “Film/TV” courses do a great disservice to actors. They end up learning some camera tricks, and camera technique, which is good to know for the medium, but it’s not going to teach you how to craft a part. Simplicity doesn’t mean, “just saying the lines”. So how can an actor work towards simplicity in their work? First, get trained. Master the fundamentals: get the placement of concentration off of yourself, really listen and take in, don’t put the burden of a scene on you, don’t ouch louder than you’re pinched, make the other person more important than you, don’t anticipate, AND BREATHE.

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