Why PLAY Matters To Your Performance


As an actor and an artist you need to give yourself plenty of room to play. You need to allow yourself room to create and discover, often under great time constraints and the pressure to deliver your very best on the fly.

At SOUND ADVICE, I refer to a specific technique I developed I call ‘stretching the canvas’.

I call it that simply because far too many talent make a habit out of ‘ramping up into their performance’ anticipating a longer runway than we are typically given, such as during an audition, where we‘re often only given a single take or two. And if we’re given the luxury as voice talent to audition in front of those most likely to hire us the pressure to deliver can introvert us, rather than the other way around. So, by giving yourself a broader playing field right off the bat you’ll more than likely deliver a far more impactful, desirable performance instead of revving up into the delivery and, ultimately, offering a mere passable take.

We create a certain muscle memory the first time we do anything, so giving ourselves the freedom to create and ‘go too far’ from the very start allows for room to fully animate even the most dry and unimaginative text. We’d rather see you go too far and calibrate you back a bit if necessary, than have to come at you with a whip and a chair to offer anything of real value.

And with that, you could say there are two types of actors in this world: character actors… and everybody else. If you’re not a character actor and you ‘stretch the canvas’, so to speak, and allow yourself to go ‘too far’ right from the very start—you’ll most likely hit it out of the ballpark rather than inch-worming your way up into your performance. Unfortunately, far too many talent approach their performance trepidatiously, rather than leaning in. You’ll hit a bulls-eye right from the start, provided you’re willing to really take a great leap of faith. And if you are a character actor, if you drop the over-the-top delivery of ‘going too far’ on the following take and simply deliver the read—all that color, expression, and residual energy will spill over into every take that follows. You’ve now set a precedence of play and you have a much broader playing field to create in as a comfort zone!

The goal is to continually surprise ourselves with each and every take. Every true professional embraces this precept, which is in part what makes us valuable artists: The ability to honestly explore and continually create right from the start.

In fact, Peter Bart, former editorial director of Variety, once asked Ben Kingsley whether he would have handled any part of the role of Gandhi differently, and he said, “I don’t think so. I think I might have been more economic. I think I would have done less. That comes with practice. It was my first real feature film. And having been blessed with a decent career since then, I’ve been able to hopefully minimize what I do between action and cut. So, that what I do is precise and precisely services the scene. And I try to add fewer and fewer ‘fancy bits’. So that take two I do less than take one. Take three I do less than take two. Hopefully, so that by take nine I’m almost Zen-still, hoping that something will still come through.”

Of course, it’s not hard to peg what sort of actor Sir Ben is. Granted he’s a ‘character-lead’, but, without hesitation, he is a character actor of the highest order.

You have to allow yourself to discover what too far is BEFORE minimizing your efforts in your performance. You can’t edit yourself prior to creating anything. You have to allow yourself the freedom of finding how far is too far. ‘Stretching the canvas’, as I refer to it, may not be immediately intuitive, but it achieves an immediate result. You need to expose yourself to it repeatedly in order to allow yourself room to create, and become more agile in your performance. So, get in there and slap some paint around, Jackson Pollack. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Embrace what can be learned from all that play, but be willing to go too far from the very first take. It’s a remarkably good habit to get into. You’re paid to play!

Copyright © 2017 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.