There is power in stillness on stage, on camera, and in life. When in doubt listen, breathe, plant your feet, and say your lines. Actors often make the mistake of doing too much, trying too hard. We don't need to force the story upon the audience. We don't need to show them what amazing actor skills we have. We definitely don't need to tell them what they should be feeling at any given moment. We need to trust that the audience wants to be a part of the story telling process. Allow them to fill in some of the gaps by doing less, showing less. It makes the entire experience more creative and thoughtful.
I did a show with an amazing actress in Chicago and I was having difficulty in a particular scene. She gave me some great advice backstage. She said, “Ryan trust the power of stillness. You’re trying to do too much in that scene. If you just stand there and say the lines it will be so much more effective than trying to show any emotion, or intent – actor stuff.” Actor stuff - I love how she put it. I immediately understood what she was talking about. Actor stuff is not truthful. It is not reflective of human behavior.
The next time I did that scene I took her suggestion – I experimented with the power of stillness. I simplified my work by letting go and trusting the words. I was behaving and not acting. I wasn’t forcing anything. I wasn’t working very hard, I was playing. I realized that most of the hard work takes place during rehearsal and in class. The performance is where you have the freedom to have fun, let the work go, and do less.
The less physical energy you exert the more power you establish. Someone ranting and raving during an argument is never going to win that argument. Whereas the person who holds her ground and keeps it under control probably will.
Stillness also allows the audience to come to their own conclusions. If I have a scene in which I’m looking into the horizon thinking about a life changing decision, I have the choice of simplifying and being totally still. I don’t need to do much more than think about the given circumstances. An amazing thing happens here – the audience does the work. The audience projects what I may be thinking. If I indicate what I am thinking then they will see me “trying to act.” However, if I do very little they will come to their own conclusions.
I encourage you to watch your favorite television shows and films with the volume turned off. Observe how often the actors are completely still. Are they able to communicate without sound or movement? How does stillness impact their performance? Is their performance clear and specific?
You cannot be totally still the entire performance of course. Use stillness sparingly to establish status, to highlight events and discoveries, and to clarify your point of view. Trust that less is more, there is power in stillness. When in doubt, sometimes the best choice is to get out of your own way and do nothing.
Thanks for reading. Good luck and keep going. I wish you nothing but success in your acting career.
For more information or to schedule a coaching session, please visit www.ryankitley.com.