We all talk about ‘the moment’ in acting. It’s become something of a buzzword. The problem with buzzwords is that they become meaningless through over-use.
Moment to moment acting work can produce phenomenal work and I’ve been privileged to see my students and clients do that kind of work in class, as well as on stage and screen over the years.
Really being in the moment means being present with your scene partners. That means paying attention and listening to them. Meisner suggested that actors don’t listen to each other and I happen to think he is right. I think they intend to, but the human brain is so efficient, it won’t let you. What do I mean? Your brain is designed to do so many things at once, but one thing it doesn’t do is useless tasks. Why don’t actors listen to each other? Because it’s a useless task. In general, you know their lines as well as they do, especially after a few days rehearsing, or 10 takes. So you don’t need to listen any more. The need to listen is gone. Therefore the brain simply won’t do it.
So, there’s a simple exercise to get you listening. There are two parts to it.
Listening to Words: Listen to your scene partner’s next line. Where does the desire for you to speak come? We know we have to speak when they have finished speaking, but when do you feel the URGE to speak? If you listen carefully, there must be some moment which causes your character to want to respond. If we wait until our line to respond, we will look like we only have life when we are speaking.
But if we really listen for where the urge to speak comes EACH TIME. We can start to truly listen again. We are not listening for a cue line. We are listening for a cue moment, which can be different every time.
Listening to Behaviour: This version isn’t very different. The main difference is to wait until the other actor DOES something to cause you to speak. A look, a tone of voice. A smile. A gesture. Now you are listening to the person with a fuller sense of the word.
Try it with your next scene, you’ll find you are listening differently and your focus is off your self and onto the other person.