To know you are performing at your best, you must establish some key reference points. Reference points are a sensory cue, marker, signal or sign that allows us to recognise that something is happening through knowledge, not belief or feelings or thoughts.
Reference points allow you to know rather than think whether you are on track or not. Thoughts, feelings and beliefs are temporary and transitory, reference points never change.
When we perform, we have so much going on inside us, we feel it all. And our mind deludes itself into believing that if we feeling it all, the audience must be. But the audience does not unless you make a visible choice. Reference points ensure that your choice becomes visible.
Let’s explore this a little with a discussion of approaching a monologue.
When preparing a monologue, the journey of that monologue should be broken down into chunks. The action of the monologue changes from chunk to chunk.
Awareness of those changes that occur as you move from chunk to chunk is achieved through reference points. How do you know the 2nd Journey from the Climax of the monologue?
Establishing a reference point - your sensory cue, marker, signal or sign is key to having confidence as you move from the 2nd Journey from the Climax.
You need to experience that change through your senses. And the reference point is the description of what you experience changing.
Knowing that you feel a change gives you confidence the audience can see the change too.
Visible choices, those the audience can see are felt by the actor. Making a list of what you feel as the chunk changes is creating your reference points.
As you move from the 2nd Journey from the Climax? Write down what you should experience in your senses. What does it feel like, sound like, taste like, look like?
The easiest reference points are ones that are sense-related. And the two that you will find easiest to use are PACE AND ENERGY.
Take a look at each chunk of the monologue - is the opening chunk, the Hook - is it FAST paced? Is it SLOW paced? Experience the choice of pace as you perform, that has become a reference point for the Hook.
What about the ENERGY level for your Hook? Is it a BIG energy or a SMALL energy? Make a choice. Experience that choice.
Combine it with the speed and you have an ENERGY and PACE reference to test your performance against.
When you recognise that happening every time, you can feel it. When you don’t, it’s unlikely the audience will see it.
Work through your monologue on your feet making a BIG/SMALL and FAST/SLOW choice for each chunk. Sometimes a chunk will start as BIG and FAST, but then become SMALL and SLOW.
Experience BIG, experience SMALL. Experience where you feel it and what it feels like. Now your reference points are becoming more personal, more particular and specific to you.
This immediately creates a dynamic to your monologue and no two chunks are ever the same.
A small note on MIDDLE/MEDIUM/NO CHOICE - Sometimes clients ask me if they can choose SLOW and MIDDLE ENERGY, or BIG and MIDDLE SPEED. The answer is you can do whatever you wish. However, MIDDLE ENERGY and SPEED tend to manifest as no choice at all. They don’t look, feel or sound like anything to the audience. So for that reason, they are best avoided.
Mark Westbrook is the Studio Director at Acting Coach Scotland and teaches The Inner Game of Acting course on the full time acting diploma.