In acting, relationship is everything. Connect to your scene partner. Create the right chemistry with your scene partner. Listen better to your scene partner. No! but really listen!
That last one can be especially disheartening for an actor because you feel like you are really listening!
Instead of teaching actors to listen better, I like to give them tools that help them read people better. Reading people feels much more accurate to what we’re doing as humans.
Here’s an example. A little while back, I was in the kitchen talking to my husband as he made dinner. As we chatted, I couldn’t help but notice we had a lot of limes in the fruit basket on the counter. Now, my husband had just cleaned off the countertop behind him and there was nothing on that countertop. And that’s when I thought, I’m going to take one of those limes and put it on the countertop behind him to see if he notices.
So I did. I took a lime and very sneakily put it on the counter. And waited.
We continued to chat and at one point he turned around and looked right at the lime. With all my senses, I tried to read him. What was he thinking?
He paused for a brief moment, thought a couple thoughts as he looked at the lime, picked up the lime and put it back in the basket. That was it.
But I looked very closely, was he confused? Was he perturbed? Did he know I did that on purpose? Did he know I did it, at all? It didn’t look like it.
That evening, as he took a shower, I put the lime on the tv stand. And waited. About an hour and a half went by when I noticed him staring at the lime. I watched him look at it. And I got to reading him.
I read his thoughts, his body language. His breathing changed. His face changed. And finally he said, “What’s going on with the limes?” It’s not just what he said, it was how he said it. He knew it was me and he thought it was weird.
I said, “What do you mean?” And continued reading him.
“There is a lime on the tv stand.”
“Oh really?” I looked at the lime and said, “Ohhhh…it’s a Ghost Lime. It’s moving on its own. I’ve heard about them.”
He sighed but didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to! He was saying so much to himself! Did he wonder if Ghost Limes were a real thing? Was he trying to restrain himself so as not to encourage my behavior? Did he feel sad that he married someone who moved limes around the house? There was so much to read! And read him, I did.
That night, he went to bed earlier than I did. And before I got under the covers, I remembered to bring a lime to bed with me. I put it on his nightstand so that it would be the first thing he saw when he woke up. I couldn’t wait to read him in the morning!
Do you see how important it is to not just listen to a person? As people, we’re doing so much more than that! We are constantly reading people. Sometimes, trying to anticipate what people will do or say. Sometimes, we read people to know their true feelings or motives. And so little of what people do is actually spoken out loud!
So, yes, listen to the other. But more importantly, read them. Read them so that you can understand them. And when you do, you can watch your acting relationships find beautiful attunement and chemistry.
One more piece of advice…watch out for Ghost Limes.