If you can strip away acting to its bare essentials, what will you be left with? The art of listening proves to be an area that actors should truly master.
The approach to listening varies with different schools of thought but the significance of such a skill is one in which the actor must comprehend in totality.
Let’s look at a few ideas together.
Take Your Acting from Good to Great
Many acting teachers will say listening is a fundamental value to the craft of acting and they wouldn’t be wrong in their assessment.
There may be a different way to present that common idea, so that it can resonate more with actors.
When you change the focus of the word listen to the word hear, it stands up and demands the attention of the actor.
We’ve been conditioned. Listening is an overused word. Since we were kids we’ve been told to listen to our parents, listen to our school teachers, listen to our elders and so on. It is a word that is taken for granted and tends to lose its validity.
When applied to acting it has a tendency to fall flat. The word listen doesn’t stimulate as much. It doesn’t seem to awaken the importance the word listening deserves. There is also the logic of the phrase ‘listen with your ears’ that seems to dilute the word even more in acting.
Anyone can listen but not everyone can hear.
The Art of Hearing
You must hear with your heart.
Interesting how the word hear lives inside the word heart.
Hearing with your heart. Sounds better than listening to the ‘other guy’ in the scene.
When you hear with your heart, you take away the intellectual notion of listening with your ears and instead hear with your entire being. Everything becomes awakened inside of you.
When you hear music you enjoy, doesn’t it affect you emotionally on some level? Perhaps you want to get up and dance or sit in a chair and cry. That connection takes place all from hearing with your heart.
Keep in mind that when you are engaged in a scene, you are working with a human being, not ‘another actor’ or ‘another character’. You are communicating with a person.
When you hear a human being with your heart, suddenly an imaginary world opens up to you in real time and there is nothing else you need to do but exist.
It isn’t the logical sense of what you are listening to. Words are words unless they are filled with something.
A piece of dialogue can be ‘I Love You’ but it can be filled with such hateful venom, that the apparent logic of those three words means something else entirely. You need to hear that venom as an actor, not the words. What is behind the words is what you are connected to and respond to as it influences you and stirs you to express.
Go to a jazz club or watch a few jazz clips online and study closely how each musician speaks to one another through the art of hearing. The communication is vibrant and alive.
The feelings generated and what is being said between musicians, is exactly the kind of experience the actor can have during a scene. All through the art of hearing.
The Influence of Hearing
In fact, what exactly are you listening to? The other actor talking in the scene? What good will that do for you?
Let what you hear wash over you. Let it influence you.
It is a communication between you and the other people in the scene that generates the music.
The heart strings is what plays the music you express within the scene.
Practice Your Hearing
A couple of exercises to practice your hearing skills. Select 5 pieces of music in different genres. Wear headphones. Truly hear and allow each track to influence you and stimulate your heart.
Again, go to a jazz club. Connect with the musicians on stage and join them in their music playing.
Truly hearing and allowing yourself to be influenced with what you receive is a skill in acting that will take you to another level in your work.
Obviously, the art of acting has many exciting variables to explore. At the end of the day it is only what works for you and your own instrument that you should use and keep.
Hearing and responding go hand in hand.
Don’t forget your ability to hear yourself while simultaneously hearing and responding to those around you in the scene.