Professional acting is exceptionally hard. The problem is that it looks very easy when it’s done well and people like to perpetuate the myth that you can or you can’t, you have it or you haven’t got the ability.
Acting is a craft that is learned in practice. It is far too difficult to make it look easy without proper technique. Craft and development of proper technique requires repetition. If you are shown something once, you might remember something of it. If you do something once you might remember some small moment. If you are asked to do something repeatedly with feedback, you will continue to grow and improve. Acting is a craft built on solid technique.
If acting were easy, everyone would do it. Some people appear more naturally inclined to it. We call it ‘talent’. We should better call it ‘exposure to those things in early life which incline us towards acting.’ But that isn’t quite as catchy as ‘talent’. Even if we are inclined towards acting, we must still have a way to harness and control what we have. Stella Adler famously said ‘you’ve got to have a talent for your talent’. So even if we do have inclination and ability, we must have a way to channel that ability. That channel is technique.
Most people start from a position of unconscious incompetence. They aren’t very good, but they don’t know it yet - so it’s still fun. Once their lack of skills and ability becomes conscious (conscious incompetence), it stops being fun. It is as this point, the professional and dilettante will take two different pathways. The dilettante is only interested in doing something while it feels good. The professional knows that the route to success is often painful. Do you think Olympic swimmers enjoy getting up at 4am and swimming so hard that every muscle and sinew burns with pain? Excellence requires commitment and dedication. This is where the dilettantes will part company - they were only interested while it felt pleasurable.
Conscious incompetence is an uncomfortable place, it’s painful and it’s tough on the ego. But eventually with enough repetition, our competence improves and we become consciously competent. We have conscious control of our abilities and it feels good again. The final stage is to stop thinking about it altogether as unconscious competence takes over. The pleasure returns because we have tools we can rely upon.
Developing craft through technique is an individual journey that you must all take. It will be fun, fascinating, challenging, frustrating, painful, elating and finally liberating.
Technique is not the enemy of impulsive, spontaneous, immediate acting, it is the method by you learn to harness and enhance your ‘talents’. It is the enemy of the mystical, intangible tripe that passes for advice on acting.
To You, The Best
Mark Westbrook is the course leader of the full time diploma in Stage and Screen Acting at Acting Coach Scotland