How are your listening skills?
I happen to have a husband (I can hear all you girls nodding in agreement to this one) who does not have a good listening ability.
Or maybe it’s just to the wife?
But enough of my marital idiosyncrasies ………
This got me thinking to actors.
If you are not a good listener how can you possibly be a good actor? (*Need to have a disclaimer here – somehow my husband was an excellent actor but something went wrong down the line somewhere!)
I often find that when I watch an actor whom I don’t believe, it’s because they did not listen to the line before theirs.
If you do not listen to what was said then how can you possibly deliver an authentic character?
Time and time again I hear actors saying their lines without truly understanding what they are responding to. In other words they had pre determined and pre judged what and how they were going to respond without allowing a genuine response.
I know many actors struggle with the listening concept but you cannot give a true response without listening.
Your lines should have a goal. Your goal is to get a response from your fellow actor in some form. Be it a grimace, a smile, or body language of some sort.
Actors often make the written words more important than listening to what lives beneath them.
As Kimberley Jenzen says in her book ‘Acting with Impact: Power Tools to Ignite the Actor’s Performance:
“To listen is to put your attention on the other actor and what is being said both verbally and non-verbally. You watch, you hear, you wait; you are captivated in an active process. You can even listen to the silence of someone. Listening is taking in emotional reactions, body language, facial expressions and energy.
We live in the moment, uncertain of what
the next moment will bring.”
Some tips to help improve your listening abilities:
- Don’t just hear…. Listen to your scene partner. Listen to the vocal inflections, their body language, their facial expressions. All this tells you how they are feeling as they communicate with you.
- Make sure you are organic in your planning. Obviously we all need to learn and make various choices for our characters, but don’t be too rigid. Be open to what may come up during rehearsals or scene reading . Understanding your relationships with your other characters is essential to good listening. Your backstory will determine the nature of your listening.
- When you are in the scene, stop being aware of who you are and how you are presenting yourself. Let yourself live honestly in the scene. If you’re too “in your head”, you can’t be an effective listener. The great news here is that focusing on your scene partner and listening to them will actually help get you out of your head.
- Always always be generous. If you are supporting your fellow actors/ actors, the listening will happen naturally.
- Listening is not something you show. Listening is something you do. Do not show us that you are listening..
- Be aware that listening is a life skill. Be aware of how people around you listen. Some listen with a distracted attentiveness, some with full attention. Be aware of how your character listens and listen accordingly. Listen to the words given to you by your co actors and how they are delivered. This tells you how to relate to them. Not so much by the dialogue alone but also by the beats, the breathes and the body language.
- We all have our peculiar and particular ways of listening. Listen to people listening. Hear their tone and tempo. Listen to their breathing. Watch how they interact with others. We all hear and listen differently. Watch and learn constantly!
- Always remember that hearing and listening are different beasts. One can hear without listening!
Hearing means “perceiving sounds made by someone or something.” While listening means “giving one’s attention to sound, taking notice of and acting on what someone says.” Is your character hearing or listening?
Listening is one of the greatest most important skills of an actor. Get it right and you will deliver your genuine character.
The truth of life lies in the communication and never rises above the connection. – K. Jenzen