Overused acting notes #1: Being in the Moment
If there’s one phrase that an actor can get tired of, it’s that old favourite ‘being in the moment.’ I count myself as one who finds it tedious. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pay attention to it, or that it isn’t relevant … a lot of the notes I’ve given and received have been about this lack of ‘being in …. .’ But as an acting principle, it can be misunderstood. Bear with me.
There are a couple of states of being at any moment when acting … you the actor, and you the actor as if character. To deny these states of being is a misunderstanding of the basics of acting as well as the human capacity to engage imaginatively (or otherwise) with more than one thing at a time. I’ve had students who got the whole idea of characterisation mixed up with who they were supposed to ‘be’ at any given time on stage. You can’t be ‘you’ and the ‘character’ at one and the same time? Well, hello … who is it up there? We’re talking art here people.
Being in the moment for me means being fully present as actor and actor as character; I am available as needed moment by moment, beat by beat as I engage with stage action. I retain aesthetic awareness … control over the performance, and remain open to the small and large variations in the playing ‘as if’ I were Hamlet’s mother, for example. But it’s a balancing act.
If I slip too far one way or another, I am likely to find my actor’s sensibility jumping to the next page and disengaging from the character’s understanding of what’s going on. ‘Don’t play what’s on the next page’ is a note I find myself giving, and a check I need to keep giving myself as I perform. If I’m too immersed in actor as character, I run the risk of self-indulging and losing touch with the audience and the tempo-rhythms of the scene. Balancing act indeed, and part of the art of acting, being fully ‘in the moment’ as the artist. No wonder Stanislavski paid so much attention to relaxation and concentration.
‘Being in the moment’ is one of those principles of good timing and good acting hygiene that we need to keep learning again and again. Perhaps that’s why I find it tedious!