I Discovered the Secret Formula to Acting

I had a teacher who, whenever someone came in late to class, would stop what he was saying and pretend like he was finishing a lecture, "...and that's the secret of acting."  He would then turn to the latecomer, "Oh, I'm sorry you missed the secret.  Too bad you were late."

Unfortunately, there is no secret to acting.  But there is a secret formula...

 Jerry Lewis in the original The Nutty Professor circa 1963

Jerry Lewis in the original The Nutty Professor circa 1963

Find out the secret...

There are three formulas, actually.  When approaching a scene you can apply Stanislavski's first:

Sometimes your instincts are on the money.  You and the character are in tandem. You relate to him or her.  Come to an understanding.  If it's working, you don't have to mess around with it too much.  Your imagination is being engaged successfully.

Let's say, you have a problem relating to the character or situation.  Or you have 'moments of difficulty' as Strasberg called them.  You can personalize it with the second formula from the mustachioed Armenian Eugene Vakhtangov. 


To illustrate his formula, here's a choice I often suggest to an actor when trying to personalize their work in a scene.  Very often the character's wants are different from your own wants.  You might not care that your character has dreamed of going to Harvard Law forever.  However, you understand through script analysis the importance it has to the character.

In these cases, a substitution is enough to get a feeling similar enough to your character.  This is where I suggest to the actor to think about his or her own dreams about acting.  Most actors' aspirations and feelings toward their career are emotionally charged.  It makes it easily used as a choice.  Suddenly, the actor can now relate to the passion their character has for the law.  The Vakhtangov formula helps the actor find very personal substitutions. 

What if you are still feeling flat after using those two formulas?  Try Lee Stasberg's secret formula:

Great advice.  When all else fails just 'start from where you are.'  You don't have to do anything.  I tell actors, "Do no more and no less than what you feel when performing the scene."  The actor stops denying what is really going on, accepts it and allows it to express.  When you are acting from a simple and personal place like that, it grounds you in  a reality.  i.e. What is happening in the here and now.  

That is the basis of all acting.  And the secret.  Don't give it away to anyone who was late for this blog.