Learning lines is an important skill for the actor. You've got to learn your lines before you can step on stage or set and perform. But how do you actually go about it? There are lots of different approaches to the task, and really, you have to find one that suits you. Learning lines is simply about committing the words you have to say to memory - and that's just plain hard work for most people! While some actors have a natural flair for line-learning, others have to spend many hours on the task.
It's important to honour the writer's work, and not paraphrase it. Every time you change the words, even just a little, you change the original meaning that the author intended. While in some contexts "improvisation" around the lines may be permissable, for the most part, the actor is expected to present the words as written. It's your job!
And it's not until after you've learned your lines that a director can really work with you. Some beginning actors think, "As long as I've got my lines down by opening night, I'll be fine..." - but in a professional setting you're usually required to have your lines down early in the project's timeline. Reason being, a director can do far less in creating a scene if you're still wandering around with a script in your hand. You're not free to play, to create, to experiment during the rehearsal process.
And while theatre productions may have long rehearsal processes over many days or weeks, a film project may have very little rehearsal at all. So in that case, you've got no choice - you just have to have those lines in your head ready for the director to call "Action!"
Here are some tips and tricks that may help you get started on learning your lines:
A lot of aspiring young actors face obstacles to building a career. Some of those obstacles are external – family and friends being unsupportive of their career choice, for instance – while others are internal: an actor’s own thoughts and fears threaten to stifle their creativity and ability to move forward.
Sometimes these negative influences can leave you with self-doubt about you own ability, and perhaps make you question whether it’s really worth their while to pursue acting professionally. Setbacks can also come early on from auditions that don’t go so well, a bad review, or the long slog of working through smaller roles in the hope that one day a bigger role will come your way.
So it’s good to be reminded from time to time about how an actor benefits society at large by the work they do.
Maintaining good mental health can be challenging for anyone, but actors face certain difficulties relating to their profession. Periods of unemployment can result in financial stress. Audition failure can feel like personal rejection. And even if you are having some success and winning roles, sometimes the jobs aren’t creatively challenging enough to keep you happy.
Every actor must take measures to protect their mental health.
1. Eat well. As an actor, your voice and body are your instrument. So: feed it well. Be aware of your eating habits, without obsessing. Actors performing at night can be tempted by fast food on the way to the theatre, or may skip dinner before a show. If this is you, have a good breakfast and lunch packed with nutrients. Go for fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats and carbs, water over soft drink and juices, and find snacks that are low in sugar and high in protein to give you energy through to the next meal.
2. Sleep well. This, too, can be a challenge for actors performing at night. The adrenalin rush of performance can stay with you when it’s really time for bed. So, have a sleep hygiene routine to help you wind down – get off screens, have a warm drink, read a book quietly, listen to soothing music, shower - whatever works. If, on the other hand, you have to get up for an early morning shoot, plan ahead. Be disciplined about getting to bed on time the night before. Send visitors home, set yourself a “time for bed” alarm, grab an early night – your brain will love you for it.
3. Exercise. This is the best natural mood booster that there is, because of the release of dopamine that results. Whether you just walk regularly, or have a more structured exercise program, exercise ensures your mind is clearer, you’ll sleep better, and your mood will improve.
4. Have a coach or counsellor. If you know you’re struggling with mental health, it’s time to check in with a professional. There are many options to choose from: online chat counselling, telephone counselling, face-to-face counselling, as well as classes and workshops. Alternatively, a life coach may be able to help you set some goals. Taking the step to get help can be daunting – but treat it as an investment in your career as an actor. Be aware, too, that you may need to “shop around” for the right helper – find someone you want to work with. A practitioner will not take it personally if you say that they’re not right counsellor for you. They know that client rapport is important for healing.
5. Have some other (non-acting) work. Some actors falsely believe you have to give up everything (including a regular income) to pursue an acting career. An actor’s life is project- to-project: you might get a voiceover one week, then a commercial the next, then a guest spot on TV – then nothing for three or four months. What do you do the rest of the time? You have another job. An income gives you self-confidence and stability until you get your big (or bigger) break. (Also, we have a tendency to define ourselves by our occupation, but that’s not always psychologically helpful. Don’t wrap up your whole identity in acting – for the sake of your mental health, acknowledge that your influence in the world extends beyond acting - into other fields and personal relationships.) Save up your annual leave from your day job so you can take time off to audition or participate in a project. But make sure you pace yourself – if you don’t get a decent holiday break one year, factor in other forms of downtime to rest and regroup.
6. Educate yourself financially. In this industry, think of yourself as a business person as well as an actor. Alleviate financial stress by learning about money and how it works. You must understand income and expenses, agent’s commissions, invoicing, and other business terms. Books, websites and courses can teach you the basics. Second to this, become a saver. Several actors have told me they wished they hadn’t spent all their money when they first became successful. (Remember, success in one movie or TV show doesn’t guarantee you’ll be hired again immediately afterwards.) At a time when they could have bought a house or established some longer-term security, they didn’t! So if you do hit the big time, plan to alleviate the possibility of future financial stress by putting some of those earnings aside.
7. Have a creative project. Some acting jobs are over in less than a day: the TV commercial, the voiceover, the MC gig. While they may pay well, they may not stretch you creatively. So have something creative on the go. Write a one-person show for yourself. Join a choir. Start a play reading group with other actors. Find something stimulating that will allow you to express your creativity, even when the work you’re doing, doesn’t. Creative activity is good for you and will lift your spirits if you’re feeling low.
8. Keep up your old friends. To protect your mental health, a social support network is vital. When you are focused on building a career, it’s easy to leave behind the friends who know you best. It’s great to have actor friends – because they will understand your highs and lows – but it’s also great to have people who knew you before all this started. One of the most powerful, scientifically proven methods for alleviating depression and other mental illness is human connection. So, if you’re feeling down – reach out. This is a big call when you’re low, but it reminds you that the world isn’t only happening inside your head. Make contact with a friend, catch up for a coffee or a beer, get out the board games – whatever floats your boat! Don’t forget to reach out to family too; connect with anyone who reminds you what it means to be alive and loved.
Combine these eight methods and you’ll be in a better place mentally and emotionally for your next role. Don’t wait till you feel yourself sliding downhill before you take action. Instead, work these things into your life today.
Written by Elizabeth Avery Scott, CEO and co-founder of Perform Australia. She is also a playwright and an actor’s guidance counsellor.
Parenting is a challenge at the best of times - but what do we do when our kid misses out on the role they really, really wanted? How do we deal with the tears? What can you say that will help them through this challenge? Don't panic! Perform Australia's principal, Elizabeth Avery Scott, offers a few tips in this video for parents facing this challenge.
A self-tape is an audition an actor films on their own time to submit to a casting director, either by uploading to a particular website or by sending the footage through an email or file transfer system. Self-tapes are now required to access roles in films, TV, streaming services, theatre and even musical theatre productions.
While live, face-to-face auditions are how auditions have been conducted for decades, modern technology now allows casting directors to filter applicants more quickly without having to see the actors in person in the first instance. A good self-tape may lead to a face-to-face audition, once the casting director has caught a glimpse of what they are looking for.
As such, self-taping is an important skill for the contemporary actor to master. Just as it saves a casting director time and money, it also saves you time and money – you don’t have to travel long distances to do an important audition, plus you have some control over the product you submit.
There are two aspects to work on in self-taping. One is what you put forward in the self-tape audition – presenting your acting skills and your suitability for the role at hand – and the other is the technical know-how required to put a tape together successfully. Here are a few important suggestions around both:
Read the instructions carefully
Make sure, before you begin creating your self-tape, that you understand what is required by the casting director. The casting notice will usually outline the character description and any other important details for the audition. This may include the format they want the tape in, as well as instructions about what they want you to shoot. It may be that they have provided specific lines for you to speak, or a monologue to learn, or they may want you to present your own piece. Be clear on what is required and don’t deviate from it. Similarly, if it's a musical theatre audition, you'll need to make sure that your song is age and gender appropriate and meets all the other requirements.
Make sure you introduce yourself at the beginning of your self-tape, stating your name and the character you’re going for in the production. This is called the slate. The slate should demonstrate that you are confident, and that your personality comes through. Once you’ve made your introduction, pause for a moment, and then go on to present your audition piece.
Where a casting director has provided lines for you to learn plus the lines of another actor in a scene (sides), rope in a friend to read the other character’s lines off-screen. The camera’s focus should be on you, as you’re the one auditioning. It’s enough just to hear the other lines.
If the casting director has not provided specific lines for you to learn, you may have some choice as to what you do in your self-tape. In this instance, the content of your self-tape audition can be either a monologue from an existing film or theatre piece, or it can be an improvised character. As an actor, you will usually have a selection of monologues you’re familiar with for audition purposes. For your self-tape, choose one which closely resembles the character role you’re going for.
But if you don’t have one, you can write or improvise yourself a piece. There are set characters in most genres: in a hospital drama, there’ll be doctors, patients, nurses, family members of loved ones. In a police drama, there’ll be constables, detectives, criminals, drug addicts, gang members, victims, and suspects. In a coming-of-age drama there’ll be teenagers, bullies, teachers, parents, love interests and quirky best friends. Genre is really familiar to all of us – so even if you have only a little information about the character you’re applying for, you can probably take an educated guess as to what they’re going to be like and their role in the story. For your self-tape audition, you may be able to improvise a one- to two-minute monologue for a character that’s matches the character you’re auditioning for, and submit that as your audition piece. Again, this is going to take some preparation, thought, and rehearsal before you shoot.
If you’re auditioning for a role in particular market, e.g. the US market, you will need to deliver your audition using a US accent. If it’s for an Aussie production, just use your natural accent.
Props and costumes
The clothing you wear in your self-tape should be appropriate to the character. Suggesting the character through clothing should be enough – you don’t need to go to a costume shop to hire something - but if, for instance, you are going for a role as a businessman, and you don't own a business shirt and tie - get down to your local Vinnies and find something that suits. It's a few dollars' investment to achieve an important outcome. The casting director needs to visualise you in the role. Likewise, if you're playing a woman who's a little older than your actual age, choosing clothes that make you look older may be just what you need to feel in character and convey your ability to do the part - source a blouse or jacket from your mum's closet! But remember, it's got to be just enough, and not too much, for a self-tape. In the same vein, props should be kept to an absolute minimum in a self-tape. If you don’t need a prop to tell your story, you don’t need one. General rule of thumb: avoid props.
Casting directors do not expect to see a high-quality production in your self-tape; they know you are likely filming on your phone or on a home-based video recorder. What they do need to see, however, is a well-lit shot. The director needs to see what you look like, clearly, and that you can act. Don’t stand in a room with the light coming in from a window behind you; choose a bright and airy space to shoot, especially if you don’t own any of your own lighting equipment. Poor lighting can make you look washed-out. Alternatively, if you have the cash, and it’s a really important audition for a big role, book into a local facility which has what you need – a film studio, or drama school like Perform Australia may have what’s needed. The quality must be watchable and the sound decent.
Choose a background that’s plain. You don’t want anything that will distract from your face.
Make sure your camera is on a tripod or mounted securely so it won’t move during filming – or get someone to hold it for you. Place the camera at your eyeline. You want to be in the centre of the shot. Generally speaking, you want to frame yourself somewhere between a close-up and a mid-shot. There is not usually any reason for a full-body (long) shot in a self-tape. You can stand or sit in your self-tape, depending on what is comfortable for you.
File size and naming
Chances are, after you’ve filmed your piece, it’s a huge file. You may need to compress it in order to send it away to the casting director. Find a video compressor online – there are some free versions – or perhaps your device has software in which you can save it to a smaller file size. And if the casting director has specified a format for naming your file, make sure you name it that way. You want that file to end up in its ultimate destination, and if it does not follow the prescribed naming convention, when it’s downloaded to a computer it may be hard for a casting director to find, if it’s not automatically lining up underneath all the others. Don’t make them search for your file.
How many takes?
You only need to send one – so whatever you do, don’t send an edited mash-up of all your takes. Send the best take you’ve got as your final self-tape. When you’re filming, don’t do so many that you don’t know which one to choose. Put 80% of your time into your preparation for the role (learning lines or song lyrics, researching your character, developing ideas for your self-tape), and 20% on your filming. Try not to overthink it. Perhaps invite a trusted friend to help choose your best take if you’re having trouble. How you see yourself and how someone else sees you can be quite a different story!
Good luck with your next self-tape audition.
Many people nurse a secret dream to be in the movies.
It’s not surprising, really – we are surrounded by a visual culture, from Youtube, to TV, to cinema, to on-demand services feeding us exciting stories that absorb and entertain us.
And we want to be a part of of it! This is the amazing power that stories have: they move us and change us. They give us an adrenalin rush. They can make us feel sad or excessively happy. And visual storytelling is all the more powerful because it makes the world of the story seem so real, even if it’s a fantasy. We imagine ourselves up there on the big screen, living the exciting life of another person – a fictional character, a historical figure, or even an alien or other-worldly being.
So how can you be in a movie?
Well, it’s not so far-fetched an aspiration. But it might take you some time, some training, and some work to get there.
Hoping to see you in the movies sometime soon!
Have you ever considered what an actor has to offer the corporate world?
An actor’s craft involves body, voice, mind and emotions. It involves creating characters. It involves taking command of a stage or feeling confident in front of a camera. It involves creative thinking and ideas generation, team (or as actors call it, ensemble) skills, and imagination, not to mention storytelling and the communication of ideas through the spoken word and physical expression.
There is a long history of theatre that stretches way back to ancient times, and a history of film over the past couple of centuries. Within that history are a tremendous range of practitioners, innovators and theorists who developed the craft of acting, and theatre and film as art forms. Many of their ideas have application not only to acting but also to daily life and the world of work.
At Perform Australia, our corporate training draws on acting technique and its traditions to:
While many come to our corporate training never having set foot on a stage, or participated in a drama program, fears are soon allayed through a group agreement as to how we will proceed.
After that, we use a range of drama games and activities, along with theory and discussion, to lead participants through a journey of gentle self-discovery. Believe it or not, a big part of what we do is play. The playwright George Bernard Shaw reputedly said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Often participants in our workshops find themselves playful again, after a very long hiatus!
Sometimes we use scripts, as actors do, and sometimes we use improvisation (spontaneous performance) or role play. Sometimes we select a handful of acting techniques and invite participants to apply them to particular circumstances or workplace issues.
There is usually fun, laughter and learning as people step outside their usual context of cubicles and boardrooms and find themselves permitted to explore ideas through the performing arts. Participants wear casual clothing to allow them free movement, and come prepared to try new things, in what is a safe and socially interactive learning environment.
Perform Australia’s corporate training programs have been commissioned by government departments, non-profit organisations, companies and educational institutions alike to upskill their workers.
Some of our programs run for just a couple of hours, while others can be full-day programs. We have some classic corporate training programs that are tried and true, which can be selected from our website, or we can work with you to identify a problem you need to solve in your team, and then create a bespoke program to address it.
We can also call on our bank of professional singers, dancers, writers, producers and directors to bring their expertise to bear in a training program, where voice, movement, music, and literature can assist with learning. We can send our trainers to your site anywhere in Australia or Asia-Pacific, or your participants can come to us at our headquarters in Canberra.
To find out more and book your corporate training program, please click here.
What is an acting school?
There are various names for institutions running acting classes. You may have heard some of the following:
These are all generic terms and mean roughly the same thing, and tend to be interchangeable, depending on where you come from.
Perform Australia could be happily described as any of these things. Needless to say, there are some nuances to the titles. For instance, a “drama school” generally trains actors for work in the industry; “drama school” implies that classical actor training is taught. A “theatre school” may tend to specialise in theatre over film, while a “screen academy” may focus only on film and television without any reference to theatre. An “acting conservatory” usually means the school thinks of itself as providing practical, workshop-style training attending to the body, voice and mind. Meanwhile, a “performing arts academy” might branch out beyond acting into music and dance. So if you are thinking of going to acting school, make sure you find one which is going to deliver what you are looking for, and doesn’t exclude one aspect of acting at the expense of another that you’re interested in.
One of the most important things to consider in actor training is the quality of the teachers concerned. Be wary of those who set themselves up as self-styled ‘acting gurus’, but who really have little or no professional experience to speak of. Make sure you see through the bold claims they make. It’s easy to claim their work is “hugely successful” or “highly respected” without any evidence to support it. Take a good look at the teachers’ acting CVs – have they trained at a recognised institution? If not, they may have little professional knowledge to draw on, and little of substance to teach. And the awards they list in their resumé – do they come from amateur competitions and settings, or are they industry awards? While the arts landscape has plenty of room for both amateur and professional endeavour, there is a huge difference between the two. You can see some of our teachers and their credentials here.
But what do you do at an acting school? You’ll expect to receive “drama training” or “actor training” – that is, lessons on how to act - which may include things like:
At Perform Australia, we teach all these things – and more! If you are looking for a qualification in acting, which gives you a thorough grounding in all of these things, start with our 10197NAT Certificate IV in Acting for Stage and Screen and you can later move onto the 10295NAT Advanced Diploma of Performance. If musical theatre is more your style, with singing, dancing and acting included, look to the CUA40513 Certificate IV in Musical Theatre as your starting point.
But if you’re more after a short acting course, there are a range of courses on offer every term at Perform Australia. Just check out our short courses page, where we have a range of topical courses.
What happens in an acting class? If you’re new to acting, you might be curious as to what happens in an acting class... and unsure as to whether acting is for you. At Perform Australia, the following ingredients may play a part in any class you attend.
The Warm Up
An actor uses voice, body, mind and emotions to create characters for stage and screen. So, it makes sense we need to warm ourselves up, just as an athlete might. So it might involve some stretches, some meditation or relaxation exercises, as well as making vocal sounds which help you access greater range in your voice, or drama games to get your sense of fun and imagination going.
Actors often learn the skill of improvisation. Improvisation (sometimes called “improv” or “impro") is spontaneously creating scenes, characters, stories in the moment. Sound scary? It does get the heart pumping - but it’s a skill you can learn through a range of games and activities. Your teacher will lead you through a range of exercises to improve your improv skills, and before long, you’ll be tapping into creative energy you didn’t know you had. Improvisation is not our sole focus at Perform Australia, but it is regularly incorporated into classes to help actors develop self-confidence, stage presence, and technique.
Script or Scene Work
While improvisation is a great skill to have, traditionally, professional actors work from scripts. So, more than likely, you’ll work with scripts in an acting class with Perform Australia. Scripts are a blueprint for a performance, giving you a character in a story, plus their words and actions. Often scripts are fairly open, allowing you to come up with your own gestures, expressions and movements. Actors also interpret the text, playing their lines with their own choices in terms of tone of voice and emotion. In a professional setting, a director will give the actor instructions on how they would like the actor to interpret the text. Some directors are very prescriptive, while others like to include any and all the ideas an actor comes up with. In an acting class, you might workshop a short scene, or a longer play or screenplay. Your tutor will act as the director, and help shape how the scene turns out. Often classmates will then present their scenes to the rest of the class. Some classes might work towards a performance at the end of the term, to which family and friends are invited.
Every athlete, dancer, and painter needs technique. So do actors. Acting technique is frequently taught in our classes through exercises that focus the actor and help them create a believable performance. We draw on the thinking of some great acting teachers of the past, including Konstantin Stanislavski, Sanford Meisner, Viola Spolin, Anne Bogart, Jacque Le Coq, Rudolf Laban and many, many others.
Monologues are a script for one person (while duologues or dialogues are performances for two or more). Monologues appear in plays, screenplays and also as stand-alone performance works. They can be anything from a minute or two through to a full-length play. Sometimes you’ll work on a monologue – either an extract from a larger work, or a stand-alone piece - at Perform Australia. Monologues are also commonly used in auditions and self-tapes (also called “piece to camera”).
Many classes at Perform Australia have what we call “performance outcomes” – in other words, they’re not just about learning how to act, but you put it all into practice! So your performance may be a stage performance (in a theatre, or even more informally in a classroom), or a screen performance (in a clip, a short film or a longer production). You may spend some of your lessons in rehearsals – where you go over and over your script, making incremental improvements each time. Repetition is key here; every actor must be able to replicate in performance what they’ve practised in rehearsal. Your tutor will guide you towards your performance, offering you encouragement and direction along the way.
Whichever aspect of performing arts training you’re involved in, you will be guided by your tutor. At Perform Australia, our tutors are industry professionals, so you can be sure you are in good hands. So where do you start? Check out our suite of courses here and find the perfect learning experience for you. Begin your actor's journey today!
West Side Story was born of a collaboration between dancer/director Jerome Robbins, librettist Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and of course, composer Leonard Bernstein. It's a retelling of the Shakespearean story of 'Romeo and Juliet', but reset amongst the gangs and ghettos of New York.
Elizabeth Avery Scott, Perform Australia's CEO, spoke with Paula Kruger about the significance of West Side Story in the history of musical theatre.
Program: Afternoons with Paula Kruger, ABC 666
Date first broadcast: 19 March 2019