How to Find Inspiration in 5 Easy Steps (Part 1)

Let me first define what I mean by inspiration or more specifically, inspired acting.  Let's look at the origin of the word 'inspiration' which comes from the Latin, inspirare. Literally it means 'to breath life into'.

Konstantin Stanislavsky, who is considered the father of modern acting, said the reason an audience goes to the theater is for two minutes of inspired acting and not the other two hours.  After being astonished by an actor's performance, Shakepeare's Hamlet said: "Is it not monstrous that this player here, but in a fiction, in a dream of passion, could force his soul so to his own conceit...Tears in his eyes!"  

These moments they are talking about are when the actor is swept up in the moment of the scene.  Actors know this experience of being 'in the zone.' It's an exhilarating experience.  Completely engaged and believing in the story, the actor becomes electrifying to watch.  Life has been breathed into the performance and it creates unforgettable moments.  When the actor is having a genuine experience the audience in turn has an experience as well.

On the other side of the coin is a performance with falseness, artificiality and empty gestures.  Not just plain old bad acting but 'slick' acting as well.  What I mean by 'slick' acting is a performance that seems real but if you scratch the surface a little it's nothing more than really good faking. (No names will be mentioned here.)

The problem for the actor is that they cannot wait for inspiration.  The 2nd A.D. is knocking on your trailer door or that theater audience expects you to deliver the goods at precisely 8:15pm when the curtain goes up.  In those situations, what if you are not 'feeling it'?  In short, the actor is going to have to fake it.  Ugh.  That's the worst.

Let's look at the first step on the way to inspired acting: RELAXATION.  Tension is the actor's number one enemy.  Nothing creative can happen to an actor if he or she has physical or mental tension.  When you watch a great actor, they have a sense of ease and authority that is so appealing. Their secret is that even under the most stressful situations they can achieve a complete freedom of muscles and mind.

There are many methods of relaxation.  A simple one is Lee Strasberg's Chair Relaxation.  Take a seat in any chair.  A hard back chair is fine.  Focus on the special areas that hold a lot of tension.  1)The muscles in the forehead andtemples.  Massage your forehead and temples with your fingers.  2) The bridge of the nose and into the eyes.  Let your eyelids droop.  3) The mouth and jaw.  Stretch your mouth open.  Give a huge grin.  Massage your jaw muscles. 4) Theneck and down the upper-back.  Roll your neck in circles.

Now, assume a position where you could fall asleep in the chair.  Move around and try to find the perfect position, then let all the muscles go limp.  Feel the tension ooze out your muscles.  Remain there for at least 5 minutes. 

At the start, the actor has to make a conscious effort to stay relaxed at all times.  Eventually it will become an unconscious process and the actor will always be relaxing. Because in those monster close-ups when it becomes a matter of inches with the precision of acting required, it is all-important to have an unburdened thought process.

Stay tuned for Part 2.