All too often, when you land a role, you’re swept up in the excitement, the newness and the challenges of not only your part but the project as a whole. In the blink of an eye, or so it seems, the play has opened or your moment on set has arrived and there is no time left to pause and ponder over the work you’ve done or the work left to do.
Some actors will write down their thoughts or impressions in a journal or dairy, but without some kind of structured method, their observations will lack focus. Without focus there will be no clarity of analysis and then no way to truly learn from the experience. But you can overcome this with the “Plan, Act, Reflect” method.
Before the project begins you must do three things: set very clear goals; create a yardstick to measure you’re success and growth; fashion a detailed plan of action. Let’s use the example of you playing a lead role in an upcoming musical-comedy production. Among the several issues you might have during the course of this project, let’s pick just one to focus on – the vocal challenges of playing this role. Here’s what you might be thinking about.
- The goal – To maintain my vocal strength throughout the entire run of the show.
- The yardstick for success and growth – Not losing my voice due to fatigue, overexertion or illness.
- The action plan -To start working with a voice coach concerning this issue; rest my voice as much as possible; be aware of strain during rehearsals and performance; get plenty of rest.
Now you’re ready to implement this plan but you must also monitor the results attentively. What you’re setting up is feedback loop during the rehearsals. Specificity is important here. The greater the number of detailed observations you make, the better you can adjust the direction of your upcoming performance in relation to your goal. For instance:
- “I don’t have the stamina to get through the big dance number. I’m really out of breath. Perhaps I need to back off on going to the gym every morning before rehearsal.”
- “It’s really dry in the dressing room. I’ll ask the other actors if I can bring in a humidifier.”
- “I’m straining during the last phrase of my big solo. I’ve got to work with my coach on this.”
The best actors take the time, once the show has opened, to review all their notes, evaluate what is working and what isn’t and continue to challenge themselves throughout the run of the show. You can do this by creating a new plan to deal with any problems that come up…there will always be problems, what counts is your reaction to them. Remember to focus, in detail, on what you can control instead of the things you can’t.
- “I need to ask the costumer to adjust my Act One outfit. It’s not staying on correctly and it’s distracting me during my first song.”
- “I’ve got to find a place to catnap between shows on the weekend in order to rest my voice.”
- “I’m still not comfortable with my Act Three song because of the changes in blocking and the new props. I’ll need to rehearse that scene a few times before the next show.”
Finally, when the show closes, take a little time to go over the whole experience in relation to how you dealt with the challenge of that one particular issue. Where did you succeed? What could you have done differently? What were the unique circumstances of this show that either helped you meet this goal or created roadblocks? And lastly, how will you use this experience to make your next performance even better? Plan…Act…Reflect!
Sean Pratt, (AEA / SAG / AFTRA), has been a working actor for over 20 years. Sean was a member of the resident acting company at The Pearl Theatre, an Off-Broadway classical repertory theatre and has also performed at numerous regional theatres around the country. Major films include – Gods and Generals, Tuck Everlasting and Iron Jawed Angels. Television work includes – The host of HGTV’s, Old Homes Restored, and supporting roles on Homicide, The District and America’s Most Wanted. Audiobooks – He’s narrated for 15 years and has recorded nearly 550 books in just about every genre. He also teaches classes on and writes articles about the business of the Biz.