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The Artwork of Listening as an Actor

A lot of what we concentrate on creating as actors are the output abilities of efficiency. These are the issues that are clearest for us to see in our favorite actors: accents, voices, physicality, costuming and prop work, stage fight, textual content work and so forth. What is much extra necessary and much more elusive for us, nonetheless, is the enter. In different phrases, our means to pay attention, deeply and really. This ability varieties the muse of our character and efficiency, and with out it, our work is hollow- regardless of how a lot ‘stuff’ we placed on prime of it.

On this article we’ll be dissecting the artwork of listening as an actor; coming to know why it’s so essential for us as actors, and find out how to actively develop our means to pay attention deeply, to take our work to a deeper stage of authenticity and fact.

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Listening for Actors

Okay, so what are we speaking about once we say ‘listening’? Let’s work backwards – lets start by stating what listening isn’t

  • The really listening actor just isn’t ready till it’s their flip to talk.
  • The really listening actor has not deliberate their actions or emphasis earlier than the scene has begun.
  • The really listening actor just isn’t attempting to indicate or show to the viewers that they’re, in actual fact, listening.
  • The really listening actor doesn’t prioritise their very own emotional expertise over their consideration on the opposite character.
  • The really listening actor doesn’t get pissed off or thrown off stability when one other actor makes an sudden alternative.
  • The really listening actor doesn’t function from pressure.


  • The really listening actor will discover their ideas and responses within the second primarily based on the actions of the opposite character(s) and world round them.
  • The listening actor feels no must show that they’re immersed within the scene, for they’re immersed within the scene and responding effortlessly and authentically to the stimulus round them.
  • The emotional expertise of the really listening actor is incidental and can’t be predicted. It’s no matter it’s, and no matter it’s is legitimate, for it’s true.
  • The really listening actor will welcome every and any alternative from a fellow actor (inside the parameters of security and consent) for every part which happens in a scene is a present for the actor to welcome and reply to.
  • The really listening actor stays relaxed, even within the excessive stakes moments of a scene.

Listening, in the case of the craft of appearing, just isn’t a ability which is remoted to the ear drums. Listening is a full physique expertise. It’s a state of openness which the actor inhabits, each one in all their senses is alive to no matter stimulus ought to set off a response. We are able to, in fact, pay attention and be provoked to a response by one other individual’s phrases. We are able to additionally, (when our listening is really alive), be triggered to reply by one other individuals’ expression, gesture or motion. A odor wafting by the air would possibly set off a reminiscence for us, if we’re conscious of its presence. Our personal our bodies can set off a response from us, once we discover a brand new spot on our pores and skin or indicators of age we had not observed earlier than. A cool breeze can set off us into pulling our coats tighter round us. The kind of respiratory from a beloved one could make us behave in a selected manner which we finest see match. 

Listening just isn’t merely listening to. Listening is permitting and absorbing each piece of stimulus on the earth of a scene.

Even the absence of one thing is there for us to answer. A personality’s silence or stillness, as an example, will be as loud a response as in the event that they have been to scream and shout in your face. Once we are alive and listening to the world and folks round us, even the smallest of gestures can transfer mountains inside us. I typically remind actors of this when they’re doing a monologue. A monologue, in some ways, is by no means a monologue. A monologue is all the time focused at one thing or somebody, and by advantage of that reality, it’s due to this fact a dialog. And being a dialog, the actor must deal with it as such. The character doesn’t know that they’ve been given this block of time to talk every part they want to say- no, solely the actor is aware of that. So the character wants to permit for the expectation or chance that one thing will interrupt them or query them. This expectation requires the actor to be really listening to what’s round them, slightly than simply indulging within the phrases they’ve to talk. A monologue isn’t a monologue, it’s all the time a dialogue. It’s all the time a dialog. 

Briefly, listening is the muse of the craft of an actor. With out listening, we’re merely ‘displaying’ and mimicking. This isn’t appearing. Performing is the craft of emulating actual life, and really listening is to permit the viewers to witness life.

With appearing, the temptation arises by worry to push issues upon that which is outdoors of ourselves. Once we communicate we take power from ourselves and throw it into the world. Once we transfer we dispel power in all completely different instructions. What takes braveness, nonetheless, is definitely to permit power to come back in direction of us and fill us, and permit ourselves to be noticed while this occurs.

Somewhat than me maintain waxing lyrical about this, let’s watch a grasp present us how it’s performed. Watch the next clip from Shoplifters directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. I’d such as you to look at specifically the efficiency of Kirin Kiki, the older of the 2 characters sitting on the seashore.

Far out… In case you haven’t seen Shoplifters, do your self a favour. It’s unimaginable. Watching this scene makes me cry – and I’m sitting in a restaurant proper now, pull your self collectively, Jack!

What makes Kiki’s efficiency so superb on this second is her utter devotion to openness and responsiveness. She just isn’t involved in regards to the strains of dialogue she has to say or ensuring she says them in a selected manner or at a predetermined second within the scene. She is simply alive, inside the given circumstances of the story, residing, effortlessly.

She is watching her ‘household’ (watch the movie and also you’ll perceive why I put the phrase ‘household’ in inverted commas) and she or he appears to be utterly in alignment with no matter ideas come up in her thoughts. She needs to inform the lady sitting subsequent to her that she is gorgeous. When that lady leaves, her shoulders hunch – it appears as if she is listening and responding to the load of the world and her age. She listens and responds to the pores and skin on her ankles, when did she get these spots? She responds to the feeling of the sand she is sit-in on, she picks some as much as sprinkle on her legs. this sense appears to sooth her expertise of angst, she seems to be again as much as see her household within the water. Seeing them, she says, ‘Thanks’. This ‘Thanks’ was not written as dialogue within the script, however the director went on to say that this line grew to become a defining and central second for the movie, and truly re-wrote scenes from the movie to help this second. This masterful second couldn’t have occurred if Kiki was not really immersed because the character and listening with each facet of her being to the world round her. Listening, then, as Kiki proves to us, doesn’t take power, doesn’t take focus, doesn’t take effort, however slightly belief, braveness, leisure and immersion.

So how can we develop our means to pay attention? It appears counter-intuitive to ‘practise’ listening, as it’s one thing we do day by day and have been doing our total lives, however there are methods we will enhance the depth to which we’re listening to different characters within the scene, and by doing so enhance our connection to our character and our immersion within the scene.

#1 Bodily Heat-ups For Listening

The advantages of a bodily heat up earlier than we act are countless. We guarantee our means to do our varied actions on stage or display screen safely and successfully, positive. however what we additionally do is bodily open ourselves to the world round us, which is all listening is. By bodily warming up we’re relieving pressure in our our bodies and permitting for leisure, which in flip will permit for natural responses to come up inside us primarily based on the occasions happening in a scene.

So, earlier than your subsequent scene, wake your self up bodily in addition to intellectually. Permit your self to answer each the verbal and sensorial stimuli of the world by switching all of the sides of your neurology on. This can be performed in lots of easy methods, like stretching, yoga, tai chi, and even simply merely dancing across the room. Get your blood pumping. Give your pores and skin and muscle tissue an opportunity to get up and really feel alive, then merely permit them to be.

#2 Meditation and Leisure For Listening

As we have now recognized above, listening is achieved once we are in a state of leisure slightly than pressure. That is simpler stated than performed, as everyone knows what stress and nerves appearing can provoke. No matter actions we will make within the lead as much as a scene to take the reins again of our bodily expertise goes to assist us. Respiration workout routines, meditation, or any calming and stress-free train will enhance our possibilities of having the ability to really pay attention in a scene and take our focus off ourselves.

#3 Wake-up Your Listening By Listening

Listening to a music of your selecting generally is a great method to get up your listening in addition to the whole thing of your emotional expertise. Music will be extremely provocative for us, inflicting easy responses for us, from feelings rising to giving us goosebumps and rising our coronary heart charge. Listening to and being effortlessly affected by music is an effective instance of the place of openness we need to get to while appearing in a scene.

So, while you’re making ready to behave, swap your listening on by listening to one thing in your headphones. There’s not one specific style I’d say which is finest to do that with, you simply want to make use of no matter works for you finest. What’s extra, I really discover that listening to a variety of various tracks can wake me as much as the vary of potentialities for what emotions of experiences could come up inside me. Strive listening to Reverie by Debussy, adopted by Going to California by Led Zeppelin, adopted by I Really feel the Earth Transfer by Carole King, for instance. 

Bear in mind, there isn’t a ‘proper’ or ‘incorrect’ in the case of listening authentically and the experiences which come up for you. What’s necessary is the method of permitting no matter it’s to come up, slightly than feeling the necessity to generate one thing.

#4 Put together the Senses

Yoshi Oida, in his appearing e-book The Invisible Actor, writes in regards to the significance of the actor-in-preparation cleansing all of the orifices of the physique, to permit your self to obtain the stimulus and power travelling in direction of you in a scene. 

Emma, one in all our writers right here at StageMilk has written an ideal article about Oida’s e-book, which you will discover right here: Why ‘The Invisible Actor” Is My Trip or Die Performing Ebook.

And that is the part the place she summarises Oida’s directions to the actor in preparation:

The 9 holes, the backbone, the hara and the fingers:

In Japanese custom every orifice of the physique requires consideration. Yoshi provides you easy workout routines to work into your observe that brings focus to the eyes, the nostril, the mouth, the ears, the anus, the backbone, the hara (our bodily core and core of our total self). He considers these our strongest power channels that should be cleared and ready so as to use your entire being successfully in your work.

These workout routines are nice to work into your personal rehearsal prep or pre-show warmup. Even when you’re but to accumulate any kind of warmups you do by yourself to get into the zone, these are an ideal place to begin so as to deliver consciousness to your physique as an entire sensorial instrument.

As I’ve already stated, listening is a full physique motion and expertise, so we have to put together the entire physique for the duty.

#5 Pursuing Presence within the Second: 5 Senses Train

This train is beneficial to people who find themselves experiencing anxiousness of their daily lives, however I feel it’s really helpful for us as actors in pursuing genuine listening, too. Listening is a dedication to the current second, in any case.

The train goes like this:

First, start sitting down along with your ft positioned flat on the ground, hip width aside. Take a deep inhalation. Subsequent, start the ‘5 Senses’ train. Identify (out loud or in your head) 5 issues you may see round you. There isn’t any proper or incorrect to this train. Simply title and 5 issues. Take a breath. Subsequent, title 4 issues you may hear. Take a breath. Subsequent, title three issues you may really feel. Take a breath. Subsequent, title two issues you may odor. Take a breath. Lastly, title one factor you may style. Take a breath.

By doing this train you’re handing over to the data your sensors are sending to you, and in addition to this you’re permitting for breath and leisure to come back again to you.

#6 Meisner’s Train on Listening

That is an train from the nice appearing trainer Sanford Meisner which I’d prefer to summarise right here for our listening practise.

This train is about listening by statement:

Stand in entrance of one other actor, attempt to ‘neutralise’ your physique as a lot as doable. By this I imply uncross your arms, chill out your shoulders and stand along with your ft hip-width aside. Subsequent, one of many actors will start naming the issues they see within the different actor. Do that for about 45 seconds to a minute, and for this primary spherical purely title the issues which you could actually observe. For instance, you would possibly say of the opposite actor, “You’re smiling. You’re furrowing your eyebrows. You’re respiratory. You’re stress-free your shoulders. You’re clenching your jaw” ect ect. Permit the opposite actor to repeat this course of to the primary speaker. 

Subsequent, repeat this course of however title the issues your listening and instinct tells you the opposite actor is experiencing. This can be a course of freed from judgement, so it’s necessary each actors really feel protected within the data that this isn’t about getting it ‘proper’ or being informed what or how you’re feeling. That is merely an train in changing into alive to no matter indicators an actor is giving us in a scene. In life, it’s necessary for us to chorus judgement and never learn an excessive amount of into the delicate cues of one other individual, for it’s nearly unattainable to really inform what somebody is considering or feeling. For actors, nonetheless, this instinct, proper or incorrect, will be helpful in producing behaviour for us.

So, as soon as once more, for 45-60 seconds, title what you intuit of the opposite actor. For instance, “You’re holding your breath. You’re nervous. You need to snigger. You’re aggravated at me. You are feeling extra relaxed” And so forth. Repeat this for the opposite actor.

This course of, performed in a protected atmosphere with belief can actually awaken listening for you and your scene accomplice, and this impact will stick with it into your scene. You may learn extra about this train in our artilce about it right here: 5 Advantages of the Meisner Repetition Train (That Might Shock You).

#7 Practise Day to Day

We are able to’t actually count on to have the ability to pay attention with our entire being on the drop of a hat. It’s a ability we must be practising and creating on a daily foundation. Get within the behavior of practising, no less than as soon as a day, the artwork of truly listening to somebody absolutely. Minimise distractions, give them your full consideration. Hearken to the phrases they’re saying, but in addition pay attention and concentrate on their gestures and physique language. Listening to their breath and the tempo of their actions. Hearken to their silences. Hearken to what they’re not saying.

Practising this ability will in all probability make you realise a couple of issues. Firstly, how uncommon it’s that we really do pay attention with every part we’ve obtained in our daily life. Secondly, how a lot of an lively course of it’s, and the way a lot it wants our consideration and dedication. Thirdly, listening is one thing which can’t be performed with pressure. When performed with pressure, we could really feel we’re listening to the phrases of the speaker extra intently, however we’ll begin to discover that we’re blocking out the opposite messages and indicators we must be receiving within the course of.

The artwork of listening takes leisure, dedication and practise. So, begin practising!


Listening is a ability which is commonly glorified within the craft of appearing, however isn’t given particular consideration in the case of its growth. Deal with it like another aspect of your craft: your voice, physique, textual content work ect, and spend the time it deserves honing it as a ability. 

True listening as a personality can solely come from an intricate understanding and adoption of the given circumstances of a narrative and character’s life. After you have performed your work, you recognize your strains, targets and relationships and are immersed in your character, now it’s time to permit all that info to easily exist inside you. If in case you have performed the method work effectively, then you definitely don’t must push for any of that inside life to be current with you. All you could swap on is your listening. Hearken to the individuals and the world round you, and that coupled along with your connection to the story shall be all that’s wanted on your efficiency to be embodied and deeply truthful. 

So, take a look at out a few of the theories I’ve floated on this article! Start to look at your favorite actors within the moments when they’re not talking, to see how they pay attention. And the following time you come to appearing, place cautious consideration on the standard of your listening, to make sure that it’s alive and current. 

I hope this has been a helpful exploration for you, and that you simply really feel extra conscious of the significance of listening in your appearing, and you are feeling empowered and enabled to develop your listening actively as an important ability which you possess as an actor. 




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