Professional advice and guidance for aspiring actors.
We’ve all seen performances where the actor captivates the audience before they utter a single work. The way they are on screen. The way they move through space. The way they hold themselves. An actor’s body language says so much about the character they are playing. Master performers understand that people are not only what they say, they are what they do. The actor’s job is to embody the behavior that reveals the truth of a character in their body language.
The actor’s business and craft revolve around the actor. Their individual mind, their individual voice, their individual body. Neglect the development any of those aspects of yourself and cut yourself off from expressing the unique, irreplaceable energy that makes you a desirable actor.
Any theater student will tell you that a big part of their training involved rolling around on the floor, breathing together, moving freely and (consensual) exploration of touch and body through massaging each other. This is because an actor's physical connection to their body, breath and fellow players is paramount to their ability to connect authentically to their acting work
The mind and the body are inextricably linked, don’t make the mistake of only working on learning your lines and imagining scenes in your head. Consistently develop your connection with your body and your understanding of what someone’s body language reveals about them.
Here are some exercises that can help improve actors' connection to their body language.
Go for a walk
Put your phone on airplane mode and go for a walk anywhere. But not just any walk, a mindful walk. Think about how your body is moving, connect your thoughts to different parts of your body.
What do your feet feel like on the ground?
How do your hips sway from one step to the next?
Is your core engaged?
Are your shoulders back?
What does your head feel like on the top of your neck?
Where are you holding tension?
What happens if you change the way you walk?
If you encounter someone; how do they walk? Can you (discreetly) get your body to walk the way they do?
This practice is a vital acting exercise since it contributes to your understanding of your own body, how you move through space as well as plays with your imagination and helps open up curiosity around what it would be like to embody someone else.
Step one of this body language acting exercise is the same as the last one: put your phone in airplane mode. But this time, sit yourself down in a public space and simply watch the world around you.
Pretend the very moment you are experiencing is a scene in a movie and the people around you are the characters.
What do you imagine is happening in their lives?
What might their relationships be?
Where do you think they’re on their way to?
Where do you think they’re coming from?
What do you think they want right now?
Does anyone notice you? If so, how do they react?
What impact do you have on the people in the scene?
What does their body language say about them?
What does your body language say about you?
I hope this goes without saying, but in case it doesn’t, this exercise is about observation only. Don’t assert yourself into anyone’s life, simply watch and see what you discover.
Everyone’s body holds tension differently and knowing where you hold your tension and more importantly, how to let go and release that tension is the pathway to finding a neutral starting point to work from with your character development.
Once again, step one: Put your phone on airplane mode.
Step two: Lie down on the ground on your back. Make sure to center your head so that your chin is slightly tucked. Take a few deep breaths and settle comfortably.
Step three: One breath at a time, mentally check in with each part of your body from your toes upwards. Ask yourself if you are holding any tension and if you find that you are, concentrate on releasing that tension on your breath.
Check in with your:
Make this a regular practice and watch your acting work find a deeper center.
Actors don’t act words, they act actions. Explore playing simple phrases with active verbs in specific relationships. Pick people specific to you and visualize interacting with them.
Pick any phrase, any relationship and play out any action.
Play around and see how shifting the relationship and the action changes your physicality and body language.
Extra Challenge: Try removing the phrase all together and try to accomplish your action without words.
Imagination in space.
Pick an acting scene or monologue to play with and record it onto an app like line learner or voice memo.
Find an open area of your space and imagine where the scene takes place. Add pieces of furniture if it’s helpful.
Listen to the scene and physically move around your imagined set and embody the intention of the character, without using the words. Don’t even mouth the words, just listen to the scene and focus on what impulses go through your body.
Tip: This is a great way to learn a scene before memorizing the lines.
Develop your own warm up
Get into the habit of preparing your body for your acting work. Whether it’s a walk around the block followed by some sun salutations or one minute of freestyle dancing and light stretching or star jumps, squats, high knees, push ups and shadow boxing.
Develop a short, easy, and fun warm up routine that you can do every time you tackle a scene and open up your mind body connection.
Always remember that an actor's body language is the result of the behavior of the characters they are playing.
To nail that behavior, do your homework, identify your actions, understand yourself, shed your personal tensions, relax and allow your imagination to help you embody your character's experience.
I hope you all love this collection of body language exercises and find them helpful in your acting endeavors. If there’s one thing I want to impress upon you, it is that there’s no quick fix for gaining the ability to read human behavior and understand oneself.
The techniques I have outlined here are tools that have worked for me and have allowed me to hone in on presenting myself authentically in all my acting work. There’s a lot you can learn from working with professional acting coaches, and these skills are the ones that all working actors master; so give them a try and watch how they can serve you as well as they did me.