Acting like a writer

Actors and writers. The two always seemed like opposites to me:

Writers (ie, ME) were introverted. Thoughtful. Dreamy. Quiet. Lonely.

Actors were extroverted. Loud. Popular. Superficial. Desperate for attention.

Actor's Workout Studio in North Hollywood
Actor’s Workout Studio in North Hollywood

Then, one year ago, I attended my first acting class at a creative little theater in North Hollywood: the Actor’s Workout Studio. I hoped that acting would, somehow, make me a better writer—maybe teach me something about character motivation or how to write better dialogue.

I went with the intention of sitting in a dark corner and taking notes.

Instead, I—the writer—fell into the powerful turbine that is acting. I was tumbled and turned and squeezed until my internal self was made external.

And I discovered that acting and writing are not so different after all.

I thought only writers spent their lives dreaming of fantasy worlds or playing pretend as adults or going to the grocery store in character. But inside that black-walled theater I found people who care as much about fictional characters and imaginary worlds and exploring the truth of the human condition as any writers’ group…

Here is my advice: If you are a writer, TAKE AN ACTING CLASS.

I know I will have much more to say on this topic in the future, but here are just a few of the things that I have learned in acting that have changed the way I write:

  • You MUST have a point of view about everything and everyone. That is your voice. Your unique way of seeing the world. That is you. We know this as writers, but in acting, you face this every time you step on stage. Acting is great practice for finding your truth.
  • Listen and respond. In acting, this seems to be obvious—if difficult—advice to follow. Now, start applying it to your writing: Listen to your characters, your gut, your story. If you really listen (instead of forcing some plot twist or fancy, poetic language) your characters, stories and words can respond more truthfully.
  • It’s all in the details. As writers we know this. Now go into an acting studio and learn how actors bring a different set of details to the table—ALL based on character. Clothing, stance, walk, eye movement, props, gestures, laughs… Go up on stage as someone else—in front of strangers—and, I promise you, the level of detail in your writing will multiply exponentially.
  • “We are in the business of relationships.” That is a quote by my incomparable acting coach, Fran Montano. Writers should own this, too. The key to all storytelling is the interaction between people… Watch actors. They are experts at this.
  • “The parts of yourself you try to hide the most are the first parts you should show when acting.” One of my favorite acting teachers, Chris Game, told me this, and I think it applies just as much to writing. Actors are trained to reveal themselves at all times. Writers should never forget to expose.
  • The legendary acting teacher Sandy Meisner said, “Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” And as a writer, I’ve always tried do the same—to immerse myself so completely in my imaginary world that I cease to know what is real and what is pretend. Acting helps close that gap.
  • “Love the art in yourself and not yourself in the art.” – Constantin Stanislavski

Acting has made me a better writer.

But writing also makes me a better actor. We writers are unafraid of our imaginations. We go into them. Live in them. Bask in them. We create landscapes and cities and people and histories. We shut out the world around us and play pretend better than anyone. Yes, we can learn from actors, but actors can also learn from writers about how to focus, ignore the “real” world, create whole universes, and fuel emotional journeys.

And so, while I do hope that every writer takes an acting class, I also hope that every actor picks up a pen (or a keyboard) because, for me, it has been an amazing journey to learn to ACT like a writer.

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