Spacious Acting™

motionuses Time and Motion to simplify the most important elements of acting to produce genuine, touching moments on stage.

When I first directed in community theater, it was instantly clear that the untrained actors I worked with had no idea how to use Space — that is, Time and Motion — to create entertaining, believable theater.  Even the experienced actors were terrified of both.  Helping them to use Space was surprisingly easy; few could identify that some actors in my casts had never been on stage before.

If you don’t make room for your feelings, your audience will not be moved.  If you don’t expand your perspective so you can make more creative choices, your performance will be trite.  If you don’t employ the action that is the root of acting, your performance will be dull.  And if you don’t translate emotions to verbs to escalate a scene’s drama, your performance will lack power and believability.

Make Space for all these things, and you’ll be amazed at what happens and how quickly!  It’s technique class in the context of scene study work.

Spacious Acting™ flips commonly accepted acting myths on their heads, myths that are keeping you from being the best actor you can be.  Stop subscribing to the myths and you’ll still have work to do, but you’ll know you’re traveling on the right path, and you’ll progress much faster.

Spacious Acting™ helps you to

  • Experience what great acting feels like in just one night
  • Really receive what your scene partner is sending you
  • Play verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs, and get to the heart of the subtext
  • Use physical movement to create more interesting characters
  • Analyze characters and scenes in ways that honor the playwright’s vision
  • Make unexpected, creative choices for your characters
  • Give your performances clarity and power, so they aren’t “muddy”
  • Think of acting as storytelling, maximizing the dramatic impact on the audience
  • Understand what is keeping you from doing all of the above!

Translating an in-class experience into the written word so you can figure it out on your own is tricky.  This blog isn’t for everyone.  If you can take advantage of it, it’s the best substitute for in-person acting classes I know of.

I try to make everything as practical as possible, only digressing into theory when I want to jolt you from the “myths” to a perspective that IS useful.  I do my best to make it something you can relate to.  If you’ve read other acting texts, you’ll see that I steer away from some common terminology.  I use standard terms only when I find them expressive.  Otherwise, I avoid anything that turns you into an English Lit student instead of an actor!

Most of the exercises I use take more space than a blog post permits, but there’s plenty of content here to help improve your skills.  However, I do offer a weekend acting workshop called (surprise, surprise!) Spacious Acting™ that gives you the “great acting” experiences I give my students, and you can arrange for your theater or school to host one. Also available are a number of shorter acting and directing workshops that can be given separately or together.  More information on them can be found under the Workshops tab.

So read.  Enjoy.  Ask questions.  And get just a little bit better at this thing called acting than you were yesterday . . .

14 thoughts on “

  1. I haven’t reviewed all your archives, so perhaps you have covered this historical tidbit. I saw the movie, “Chaplin” last night and realized how little I knew about him that wasn’t media fodder. I was fascinated by the idea that, as he moved reluctantly from silent to speakies, he was the first (or perhaps,one of the first) to teach the truths of acting emotions. The over the top silent movie method was neither accurate nor did it translate to the speakies. He pointed out that in real-life, people tend to repress emotional overlay a little or alot so that acting must be infinitely more nuanced to express it. Anyway, I thought this was an interesting anecdote for your classes.

    • I think we may have talked about it a little, Fran, although whether in the blog or in class, I’m not quite sure. The blog is an adjunct to the classwork as opposed to being the whole kit and kaboodle. But I have two thoughts off the cuff. One is that screen acting is very different from stage acting, and so nuance is more critical when the camera can get in your face than when you’ve got an auditorium to fill. But the other is that because people DO tend to repress their emotions, actors (as they learn the craft) have to actively learn how to get in touch with their emotions. Until you are in touch with them, you can’t “hold back” and do the sort of subtle work you are talking about. What happens instead is that you come up with something that has no heart to it. So you’ll find more discussion in the archives about how to get in touch with your own feelings in the context of the work, and that is one place I focus on with untrained actors — real emotions rather than “ideas” about what emotions are. (You, of course, are in very in touch with your own emotions and so would need less of this sort of work! But most actors do need it. And it’s interesting to see how quickly they realize how out of touch they are with their own emotional life once they start thinking in these terms.)

  2. Recently been introduced myself to some American styles of acting and was very interested in them myself. This blog, although I’m not attending the classes, is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for and so far I’m loving the content!

  3. Hello Jeanne – this is wonderful! Keep up the marvelous work! I really liked what you said about what rehearsals are for and it got me thinking, again, about how I feel when I rehearse and act. And I was reminded of the joy I feel when actors work TOGETHER to make theater. I guess for me it is similar to the acapella singing I do. It requires more than a soloist but everyone needs to do it together and be connected emotionally, and physically to what everyone else in the group is doing at all times. The production cannot succeed except as a group exercise.

    Bruce Spector

  4. Hey! I was curious if you are hosting any online workshops right now, I found this website incredibly useful and I was wondering if there is any way I could be a part of your workshop.

  5. I enjoyed sharing the stage with you, Jeanne! Thank you for bailing us out! Your sincerity and professionalism was quite palpable!

    So…. what are the myths?

    • Oh, gosh, Tom, now you’re testing my memory! (And I enjoyed acting with you all as well!) I began this blog in 2013 and have been negligent in keeping it up in recent years, although I REALLY do intend to. I just seem to have been very busy directing and writing and that has sucked up all of my theater time. Thank you for the reminder that I have about five blog posts almost ready to go and I should get them scheduled!

      So what was in my head back in 2013 (when I was actively teaching acting and therefore had these thoughts front and center)? I’ve just flipped through my various posts and I’m going to guess that the following is some of what I was getting at, although it is not everything, I’m sure.

      “I need time to transition from that moment to the next.” (Real human beings switch emotions on a dime.)
      “The words are what really matters in a play.” (No, more often it’s the spaces between the words.)
      “I’m sad in this scene, so I need to play sad.” (Playing emotions never works, playing needs/verbs does. Every time.)
      “The purpose of rehearsals is to get to a final performance. The faster I make those choices, the better the production is going to be by opening night.” (Rehearsals are not about perfecting. They are about exploring. The sooner you make a choice, the more creative options you have cut off. You have plenty of time to make choices in the second half of the rehearsal period.)
      “I need to figure out how my character would react to him saying that to her.” (If you’re really in your character, that will happen on its own. Don’t force responses. And if you’re talking about your character in the third-person, you’re tying your own hands.)
      “There is a right way to play this character/say this line.” (You probably won’t find it if that’s your attitude. And no, there are usually several rights. And you might see all of them show up during a single run of a show.)

      And lastly, there is probably something about blocking. Like keeping to the blocking matters. Or that blocking is simply a matter of standing, crossing the chair left, and sitting. When I call it Spacious Acting, I mean that you need to use all of the space available to you — physically and temporally. Be greedy with it and use as much as you can grab without the director telling you to rein it in. Most actors are shy about doing so, and that’s because most actors are under-actors. I have a post on this, I’m sure, but the thing about under-actors is that they are afraid of looking stupid onstage, so they exercise restraint and never “overstep” and risk the audience laughing at them. As a director, I always dare my actors (especially in comedies) to go too far. That gives them permission to take risks.

      I need to add a caveat to my opening page, however, something that I’ve learned in recent years. I think I may have written a post on this in the last year or two, but I may need to rewrite it a bit. In theater, YOU CAN’T GO TOO FAST. Yes, using the spaces between words is still critical, but apart from the places where space is your friend, you need to be a racehorse and go as fast as you can WITHOUT disconnecting from your character’s inner emotional life. As long as you are connected to that, you can rattle the lines out like Secretariat and the audience will be thrilled. Being self-indulgent with the lines is deadly onstage.

      I wish you all fun with your last two performances!

      Jeanne

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