The Art of Acting Alone

One of the most iconic scenes, from one of the most iconic trilogies of all-time, features an actor who is acting alone.

Gollum

Yes, precious, false! They will cheat you, hurt you, lie!

Smeagol

Master is our friend!

Of course, the scene, which is equal parts hilarious and spine-chilling, is from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Most people consider talking to one’s self to be a symptom of a severe mental problem, but for an actor, the ability to converse while alone is a sign of a strong and vibrant imagination. Although acting classes in a studio setting, like those offered by New York Film Academy, are the best way to practice, actors can perform solo exercises to improve their craft. Monologues, imagination exercises, vocal exercises, and the simple act of reading scripts are all effective ways for actors to progress.

Watch Yourself

Johnny Depp famously refuses to watch himself on film claiming, “Actually, my kids have seen more of my films than I have.” Conveniently for Depp, he is big enough to stand by such eccentricities, but for the rest of us circumstances are different.

More and more, it is becoming commonplace for actors to watch the playback of their scenes for directional purposes. So, being comfortable watching yourself on camera and understanding the technicalities of film acting are both important skills that can be practiced.

Film A Monologue:

  1. Set-up a camera, cell phone, or webcam to capture your performance
  2. Prepare as you would for an audition
  3. Choose a point in the room to talk to, a chair, a speck on the wall, whatever
  4. Picture the other character in the room with you and play to them, observing their reactions as you act
  5. Press Record, perform the monologue
  6. Watch the playback and observe yourself. What worked? What didn’t?

This exercise will help you become more comfortable on camera and also help with the technical side of film acting. Do your eyes drift? Are you “over acting”? Experiment with your motivations and technique until you find what works for you. This simple and solitary exercise builds comfort and confidence in front of the camera that directly translates to the film set.

Remember that acting is an internal process that leads to an external performance. Do not focus on external results like your facial expressions or posture. Focus on the thoughts that led to them.

Watch Others

Technically, this exercise is not a solo exercise because it requires other people, but those people do not have to be willing participants. People watching is an excellent way to hone character building skills by stretching your observational skills and imagination.

Spy on Strangers:

  1. Go to a public place – coffee shop, mall, park, or anywhere else with foot traffic
  2. Pick a person and observe them. Look at the way they walk, talk, laugh, wear their clothes, etc.
  3. Allow natural questions to arise. What job do they have? Where do they live? What are their dreams and desires?
  4. Answer these questions as honestly as you can, taking into consideration all that you have observed.
  5. Repeat the process over and over for different people around you.

With this exercise, an actor works on their imagination, taking their surface observations and using them to fill in the details that make a person unique. These skills of observation and imagination directly translate to script analysis. The next time you break down a character, your decisions will be more specific – rooted in observation – and the result will be a well-rounded and unique performance. And to think, this was all accomplished by practicing alone.

Acting alone is a powerful way for an actor to strengthen their imagination and build confidence in a risk-free environment. However, acting alone is only worthwhile if it leads to better public performances in the future. Take these exercises and learn from them, but continue to pursue auditions and classes to further your acting career.

The Art of Acting Alone by

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