Richard Sarell: Acting Revolution – 11 new techniques for bold and effective performances

TRR Acting Revolution Richard SarellWhy is this a revolution? Directors see the actor’s world differently to the way actors do. They are looking to be engaged by a performance. Directors want to anticipate what might happen next and be enthralled. Actors on the other hand focus on being authentic. They want to live the experience in a truthful way.

Both approaches are totally valid. But surely the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. A good performance is one that engages the audience and is also totally believable. This is true whether it is live theatre, TV series or a feature film; the same parameters apply.

The ideal world is a director that has a flair for story and drama who works with an actor that can deliver a believable performance. But often the mix is more imbalanced than that. I have seen many independent theatre productions where the director is entirely focused on the life-like reality of the performance. The result is that the audience’s engagement with the story is very low.

If a director has hired an actor who can’t be real or an actor is working with a director who can’t deliver the story, the outcome is usually painful for the audience. A surprising number of performances, both professional and amateur, are not very engaging.

From the actor’s point of view this is the first area that needs to be revolutionized.

The actor is the primary instrument that delivers the writer’s story. Together the actor and the director are the interpreters of that story. In which case, isn’t it a priority that actors should, at least be competent and at best be expert storytellers?

But where in the acting literature is the importance of story addressed?

Additionally, actors often leave university with little idea of how story functions. An actor who trained in classical theatre in Paris can’t remember story ever being connected to acting process in a practical way. It was only addressed philosophically.

Story structure determines the energy that drives every scene and story purpose guides the nuances of character choice. Although, at least in theory, control of story is the director’s domain it is an essential survival skill for an actor to be able to collaborate on story choices. This is a revolution that needs to happen.

The second focus for significant change must be the actor’s process itself. Since Stanislavski first uttered the words… “Of significance to us is: the reality of the inner life of a human spirit”, actors have been trying to create that inner world in a real way. And, because the human spirit is a very complicated instrument many complicated techniques have been developed. What is more they are often vague in definition and frequently never connected to story outcomes.

What is revolutionary about this process is that, for the first time, the unconscious workings of the character’s inner world are managed as a separate and clearly defined entity. These techniques are simple and highly effective. They are incredibly efficient because they can change the unconscious elements of the performance in seconds without impacting the fundamentals of the story. This profoundly simple concept is the heart of this revolution.

With these techniques the actor can control the sub-textual elements of a performance with predictable and consistent outcomes. The nature of a character is no longer left to instinct and chance. Now it can be programmed to function in a rich and complex way, using everyday processes of life.

What is more, these techniques leave the actor’s mind uncluttered and free to play with a vast range of intuitive impulses without getting lost. These are exciting and very practical tools.

The Rehearsal Room’s approach to acting is to simply create actors who understand how to deliver an engaging story and be real at the same time.

The final goal is to create an acting process that enables actors to prepare effectively and efficiently in the short preparation times that occur on a TV or film set. Traditional methods have all been based on techniques developed for the theatre.

There are twelve-step processes and six-step processes, and generally all must be completed before you can start a rehearsal. But The Rehearsal Room process addresses the contemporary issues that tight schedules place on the modern actor.

On a film shoot you might only have ten seconds to make your decision, so your choice needs to be an effective one. Under those circumstances, where do you start? The Rehearsal Room techniques enable an actor to productively manage a variety of time frames.

If you have 10 seconds there is one option, but if you have 30 seconds there are other possibilities. Whether you have two minutes or two hours you need to make sure that your time is used productively. Our process also ultimately addresses the complications that over-preparation can generate.

This is a revolution because it is an acting process for our times.

Eleven Powerful Techniques:
There are many many more acting techniques sprinkled throughout this book than the eleven referred to in the title. The techniques vary from simple specific tools to broad understandings. Many elements function independently having very productive outcomes in their own right. Others combine to create a powerful and new dynamic process.

Here is a list of eleven techniques that are the key fundamentals of The Rehearsal Room acting process. They foster bold and believable performances. The moment a director or casting agent asks to see something different the actor now has the tools to change their performance quickly.

This book is the product of over 35 years of research, and these techniques are proven to deliver the highest performance outcomes.

  1. Story is the vehicle that engages the audience. It is the foundation element that is source of all an actor’s decisions. With these techniques story is now front and centre in the actor’s process.
  2. Conversation Goal is the reason each character is participating in the interaction. Discover the three types of active Conversation Goals. This technique will drive your scenes dynamically and seize the audience’s attention.
  3. Conversation Goal, the Nature of the Character and What the character knows are the three main areas for the actor to manage. Keeping them in an appropriate balance is the key to success.
  4. In life, Issues drive relationships apart and managing them keeps relationships together. Understanding the importance of issues in shaping a conversation is a major breakthrough. This simple technique creates very engaging performances.
  5. Conversations have a form. Understanding form enables actors to create conversations that reflect the way we behave in life. It is the form of the conversation that enables a scene to build to a riveting conclusion.
  6. 6. A character’s subconscious ‘Need/Desire’ defines their behaviour. It gives depth to a performance. Use of a simple sub-textual ‘Need’ will instantly build complexity into your character.
  7. Colours are an essential tool an actor can apply to any scene. They reflect the way our decisions are made in life. This wonderfully practical technique is very useful for implementing or adapting directors’ notes.
  8. What the Character Knows is a way of developing a quick and practical backstory for a character. It produces complex and active (1) outcomes. This essential skill prevents overloading the actor’s mind with unnecessary complications.
  9. Surprises are the bedrock on which true life-like dramatic complexities are built. They are also a major driver of story. This is a fundamental Stanislavski acting technique that is never taught. It is an essential skill.
  10. Centre of Gravity control is a way of physically adjusting your body in response to a character’s emotional state or experience. This is universally useful for adjusting the physicality of the character’s reality and for driving the intensity of a scene.
  11. Intensity Meter is a powerful tool for adjusting any performance element. This technique applies with equal efficiency and effectiveness to adjusting emotions, feelings, conversations, problems, issues, relationship, surprises, memory etc.

Learning to use the above techniques, individually and in conjunction with each other, will enable you to perform any scene in unlimited ways. Take these trusted, creative techniques with you into auditions and on set. Use them to expand your creative horizons and to deliver vibrant, compelling performances. These tools will set your performance apart from the rest.

Explore, have fun, play!

The above extract from Acting Revolution has been republished with kind permission from Richard Sarell.

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Image: Richard Sarell (supplied)

Note (1): In using the word ‘active’ in this book, I mean that the technique has a demonstrable and measurable effect on the performance.