Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Magic of Breath

One of the mistakes actors make on stage is 
ineffective use of breath. 

The biggest mistake is failing to realize the sheer 

power of a single properly executed breath!

I'll reveal to you 4 ways to use breath so you can

  1. Connect Emotionally with the Material
  2. Manufacture Emotion When You Don't Feel Like It
  3. Mesmerize the Casting Directors at the Audition
  4. Avoid the #1 Way to Kill a Good Moment
    (at the Audition and in Performance!)
It is the actor's responsibility to bring truth to a role 
by being truthful in character development. 

Whether you are doing scene work with a partner, in 

rehearsal or performance of a role, or even working a 
monologue with an imaginary partner, use of breath is 
an important factor in terms of your ability to impact 
an audience.

1 & 2: How to Connect Emotionally with the Material
(and How to Manufacture Emotion When You
Don't Feel Like It)

There are various tools you can use to bring emotional 

reality to a scene.  As you work with your partner, you 
are striving to be relaxed enough to remain available... 
available, not only to your own instinctive impulses, but 
to whatever your partner is giving you to work with. 

I can best illustrate the power of breath with the example 

of a dramatic scene, but it'll work just as well in comedic 
scenes, and even less heightened moments in general.

Let's take the example of a romantic couple, one of whom 

is greatly disappointed in the other. 

I'll refer to the scene from Shakespeare's Richard II between 

the deposed King Richard and his Queen in Act V, scene i.

Their love is deep, and the text supports the fact that she is 

greatly disappointed, yet still very much in love with her 
husband.  He was once at the top, and has made a series of 
foolish choices that have allowed all that he has gained to 
fall into another's hands.

Sadness mixed with resentment, anger and love.  What a 

great recipe for incredible dynamics!

Okay, so...We have our actress looking into the eyes of 

our shamed and beaten, former king. 

Visiting him in the unkingly environment of his cell, she 
is ashamed/angry/resentful/sorrowful, etc., and will 
wound him with her words.  In fact, she might even 
vent her feelings through some harsh contact with her 
hands as she lets her emotions flow.


Right there, in that moment!

You missed it?

Let's back up. 

The queen comes in... sees her drooping king.  Her 

breath catches in her throat as the conflict of 
emotions rises.  She comes to him, uttering some 
harsh words -- the harshest still held in reserve as 
she attempts to remain composed.

Staring at the floor, his gaze moves to her face 
revealing damp and weary eyes.  Damn it, why is  
he so soft, she asks herself -- and with her next line 
allows the intention and emotion to blend in the 
physical act of striking him in the chest with her 
clenched fist...or a harsh slap on his arm... or 
whatever other way she can wound him, depending 
on their physical proximity.

DARN!  You missed it again?

It was in that moment before the strike -- in fact, in the 

several moments before the strike -- that the queen held 
her breath for moments at a time


** Freeze Frame! **

Okay, before we continue, I must digress to point out 

that I used a LOT of descriptions of emotions a moment 

Did you catch them?  "disappointed" "in love" "sadness

"resentment" "anger" "shame"  "sorrow"

Aren't those words that a director might use in 

describing what he wants from you?

But I also buried hints of some INTENTIONS that are 

actually useful to you as an actor:

- TO VISIT (boring - never use something so weak)

- TO WOUND (okay that's better!)

- TO STRIKE (I'm suggesting this be literal, but you 

can also strike with your words, right?)

I also implied some others:

- TO CONTAIN (tears, anger, other emotions)

- TO HOLD UP (composure, image)

- TO HIDE (resentment, shame, other emotions)

So, during the playing of all those intentions, THAT's 

where breath and breathing come in

If you are open enough emotionally, or at least AWARE 

OF YOUR OWN EMOTIONS, you have observed how your 
breath behaves when YOU are emotional.

When you are lying, you tend to hold your breath, or 

breath shallowly.

When you are fighting back tears, you take short, 

shallow breaths.

When you are riding emotion, just before it crests and 

spills over, you take a series of short inhalations, then 
attempt to hold everything together... then BAM! Here 
come the tears, the yelling, the screaming...

And, of course, you can technically reproduce all of this 

without feeling any emotion at all.

Who cares?

The audience doesn't care whether you are really 

emotionally engaged, as long as they can't tell the 
difference.  If you can fabricate and replicate all 
the sounds and other physical signs of emotion, 
they'll believe you.

And often, the very act of replicating will trigger 

genuine emotion, so that you begin to feel exactly 
what you are demonstrating.  And some nights, you 
won't even have to try.  Other nights, you just might 
not feel like doing the scene, but you'll be able to 
ACT IT -- and no one will know the difference.

Okay, there: I've taken care of the first two things I 

promised you.  You know that you can connect 
emotionally with the script by controlling and/or 
tapping into your breathing, and you also know how 
to manufacture emotion, even when you are not 
truly "in the moment."

3. How to Mesmerize the Casting Directors at the Audition

Ah, that secret moment of power at the audition: the 

moment in which you can HOLD THEM or DROP THEM--the 
casting directors, that is.)  It's that moment at the beginning 
of your monologue, the moment right before you speak the 
first word. 

Here's what you do:

As far as your character goes, you know what just happened 
that prompts you (as the character) to speak.  So, you breathe 
in as you focus on your character's INTENTION -- THEN you 
begin to speak.

It's that magic inhalation that draws them in.

Understand: I'm not talking about a huge audible 

sucking in of air.  Although you can certainly do that 
for a comedic effect.  Usually, however, the use of 
The Magic Breath will be noticed only on a powerful
subliminal level.  

As long as you are focused on that opening intention, 
breathe in with that intention firmly held in your mind 

(used with or without movement), suspend (don't hold) 
your breath at the top of the inhalation -- embrace the  
intention, and let the words flow with the breath.


4. The #1 Way to Kill A Good Moment


Here it comes...


You'll see it so often, especially in auditions.  And it's 

a guaranteed way to lose everyone's interest.  (Not a 
good idea at auditions, by the way.)

You get on stage, nerves jumping, mouth dry...

You walk in place... You say, "Hi, I'm Hurley Blankenship 

and I'll be performing Bartholomew from Fezziwig's Palace 
and the Third Tree from the Left from Last House on the 

Then, in nervousness, you *SIGH* ...A quick rush of air as 

you try to expel the tension.

And you succeed!  Unfortunately, you also just let all the 

energy out of the room...AND you just lost the interest
of the casting director as well.

Actors will do it in performance, too, to show exasperation, 

fatigue, impatience...


I implore you: Don't.  It's a killer.  Unless you are conscious 

and creative with it, it's a killer.  You might as well hold a 
sign over your head that says, "AMATEUR"

So what do you do?  THE OPPOSITE!  Breathe IN. 

It will  

  1. Focus You
  2. Put Your Nervousness to Constructive Use
  3. Captivate Your Audience!
So take a DEEP BREATH, and...

Here's to Your Empowerment!


Copyright © 2010 Tom Brooks and The Empowered Actor Initiative
You have permission to reprint this article in its entirety, as long as you include the copyright line, and link back to

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Actor Movement & Believability: A Practical Path to Freedom

Do you frequently wonder what to do with your hands 
on stage?

Do you ever feel naked or unnatural on the set unless 
you are moving? 

Does walking and turning on stage suddenly become 

Do you ever feel stiffness across your chest when the 
last thing you want to be is wooden?

You've moved your body around for years without even 
thinking about it, yet at some point in every actor's life, 
body awareness can get in the way.

Here are 3 things you can do to forever free your body 
(and mind!) from stilted movement on stage and in front 
of the camera. Here, you'll find solutions to the issues of
  • Too Much Movement
  • Fear of Movement
  • Stiff, Unnatural Movement
On camera, dishonesty (or over-acting) is less forgivable 
than on stage. Whether your voice or body betrays your 
lack of skill first will depend on whether you move or 
speak first. In a future article, I'll tackle the voice as the 
window to the character's soul--for until you are relaxed 
and in control physically, your voice and speech will 
continue reflect body tension.  For now, I'll provide a 
practical solution to achieve natural stage movement.

These examples contain the keys that will unlock the 

freedom you need for honest and natural acting for the 
whole spectrum--from broad character work to down-to-
earth roles.  If your character is one who is supposed to 
have the upper hand in the scene or monologue, be 
aware that too much movement is probably dissipating 
your energy -- and power.  Movement does necessarily 
not equate to stage presence.

If you're in front of the camera, you'll be told over and 

over again to "do less," "be still" or "pull it back."

The first key is to pay attention to how you feel. 

Forget for a moment about what the character is 

supposed to be feeling... How do YOU feel?

Do you feel awkward, stilted or stiff when you are 

moving? Are you often told you are doing too much?

Close your eyes now -- well, after you finish reading 

this exercise -- and picture yourself performing the 
material you're working on.  (If you are not in a class 
or in a production, and if there are no auditions 
coming up for you, then file this piece away for 
later!)  If you have an entire role before you, then 
just pick one scene or moment that feels awkward or 
unnatural.  Once you ground that one, bringing the 
rest of the character into alignment will be easier.  

So... picture yourself in that particular awkward moment 
of the play, or in that scene in class, monologue or song.  
Close your eyes and WATCH yourself go from start to finish.  
(Really, I'm serious about this. Do it.)

If there are "blind" spots -- places where you are UNABLE 

to see yourself -- those are areas that are particularly 
disconnected somewhere between your head and heart/guts.  
Your movement and speech are affected.  (If you cannot see 
yourself mentally at all, keep working through this article -- 
we'll get you grounded yet.)

When you watch yourself in this mental movie, some of the 

stilted movement will often make itself known -- things you 
didn't know you were doing, like rhythmically moving that 
leg, or pinning your left arm to your side.

Just noticing these things will help, but it's time to take 

concrete action.

The following exercises are ones that will help ground you.

Solution:  Change the environment of the piece so that you 

can minimize everything.  If it's a stage piece, forget about 
projection.  Speak in your own "quiet conversation" voice...
much too quiet for the stage.  If the setting of the script is 
large and open, change it to an intimate setting -- just for 
the purposes of this process. Don't move at all unless 
absolutely necessary; every move must mean something specific.

Now,  I'm not suggesting that you "freeze."  Think low-key. Think 
film noir.  Play it like this a few times, and notice the movements 
that seem to WANT to come out of you.  When you have the piece 
grounded like this, then get back to whatever environmental 
requirements are called for the in the script -- and work the middle 
ground between where you usually operate, and your latest 
discoveries.  Remember: This is a PROCESS, so you need to allow 
time to adjust.

Solution:  Secretly select a piece of music, preferably calm and 

flowing (even if that kind of music goes against the grain of the 
scripted material you are working on) and, in private, dance

Slow, flowing, outstretched arms, whether you have formal dance 
training or not. If you do, great. Then you'll understand this and 
have no problem with it. At any rate, you've certainly SEEN dance.  
The point is to MOVE...  Okay, I know this is wacky, but you're alone, 
right?  Shades drawn, doors locked...   Once you break any barrier of 
inhibition, then put the scripted words to it, and, now... sing it.  
Like an opera kind of thing.  Make the flow of words match 
the music and the movement. Remember, even if it's supposed
to be a "choppy" rapid-fire piece, change it to a smooth flowing 
one. Do this a few times in succession until it becomes easier.

Now... change gears. Drop the dance as such. Begin speaking the 

piece again, but find the middle ground in terms of pace and tone, 
and allow some purposeful movement. (Movement for movement's 
sake is just as bad as refraining from movement due to fear.)

In the end--in performance--your movements don't necessarily need 

to be flowing.  The reason for doing this exercise was to break the 
inhibition to move.  Short jerky movements are fine--as long as 
they are a deliberate choice to fit your characterization.  And 
anyway, now that you've danced it, you've subconsciously given 
yourself permission to move, which will make your movement 
naturally better at rehearsal, in performance, and at the audition.

Solution:  Whatever the content of the piece, sit down at the 

breakfast table with it. Preferably after you've just gotten out 
of bed, and before you've even had your coffee.  (I know, I know
...don't look at me like that.)  Run the piece then, as you're 
spreading butter on your waffles or shoveling eggs into your 
mouth...or just leafing through the paper.  You'll be groggy, 
your movements purposeful, since they have nothing to do 
with the play.  You'll utter the lines between sniffs as the 
contents of your sinuses shift -- okay, sorry, you're eating, 
that was gross -- and the clearing of your throat, rubbing 
your eyes, etc.  If you have anyone who wants to look at 
you that early (unless you arise at the crack of noon), it 
would be great to have them run the lines with you. 

Still unclear on the purpose?  Okay, then run the lines as 
you unload and load the dishwasher.  Or hey, forget the 
dishwasher and do them by hand. The cool thing is, the
content of the scripted piece will begin to inform your 
movement.  You will begin to respond naturally, which is 
what you want in the first place.
Eventually, get the piece back in context of the whole so 

that movement is related in the reality of the drama.

The entire purpose of these and similar exercises is to 

give yourself permission to move, and move with 

And Now: The Bottom Line:

If you've just read all of these exercises and thought, 

"Hm, yeah, neat -- I'll never do any of that," fine.  

There's an easier way. You can forget about the hands, 
the feet and the rest of your body... as long as you are 
firmly focused on choosing specific, active and powerful 
intentions for your character.  FOCUS ON WHAT YOUR 
CHARACTER IS FOCUSED ON.  These intentions (always 
expressed as concise action verbs) should carry you 
through, moment to moment, throughout the song, 
the monologue, the scene, the role.

If your intentions are specific, active and powerful 

enough, all else will follow.

Still have a movement issue?  Email me, and we'll set 

up a time to talk. 

Here's to Your Empowerment!


Copyright © 2010 Tom Brooks and The Empowered Actor Initiative

You have permission to reprint this article in its entirety, as long as you include the copyright line, and link back to

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Actor, the Journeyman

Wanderlust...What a great way to describe the
pull the actor feels for the stage, the drive to
get in front of the camera.

When you get down to WHY you are compelled
to come back to the stage, to get back in front of
the camera yet again, it must be wanderlust.

Why? Why do we actors do what we do?

To connect. To make a difference.

That's why you act, right?

To connect, and hopefully -- in at least some small
way -- to enrich the lives of those you connect with

a n d

to enrich YourSelf

I'm not talking about the applause. Well, sure, that's
part of it, but that is not what is ultimately driving
you to perform. The applause is icing on the cake.

The reward is the connection, and the connection
can only come once you have done the work, and
the work is the Journey.

"An infant who has only his physical needs
met will soon succumb to a host of infirmities.

The emotional and psychological connection
to other humans is
essential for development."*

That is a quote from Evan Balkan's book, Vanished!, a
book about "true and harrowing accounts of adventurers
who never came home."

It struck me as I was reading this book this morning
that actors are like travelers, adventurers, journeymen.

Mr. Balkan so eloquently describes the wanderlust that
strikes him, compels him to journey from the familiar
environs and comfortable routines of home.

"...I love nothing more than being [at home],
with the people I love. But to get back out, to
see the
world...that remains essential."**

Essential, he says, because the reward of the journey
is a more complete self.

With a more complete self, you have more of
yourself to give to others, for it is giving in life
that is essential to your well-being.

The better actor, then, is one who more fully delves
into the journey and emerges from the experience
as a higher more evolved self.

This not only greatly benefits the audience, but you
also profit tremendously as well. You are more highly
evolved spiritually, perhaps; emotionally; even
physically in some cases, after the curtain comes
down, after the run is over.

The mediocre actor is one who is not willing to
take that journey.

The mediocre actor settles, and the process of acting
becomes routine. The aim for this actor is to memorize
the lines, say them in just the right way, hit all right marks,
and get the applause.


It's not enough to do a play for the sake of doing. Not enough
to do the film just to be in a film.(If you continually feel
empty when each show closes, and you find yourself hurrying
on to the next audition, then it is time to realize you have no
real goal as far as your career is concerned. I'll address this
another time.)

The degree to which you grow and expand your capacity
to live and give is in direct proportion to the degree to
which you are willing to embark on the journey, to invest
in the experience; to invest in your Self.

The only reason to audition for the next
role, to take on the next project, is to
stretch your own boundaries,
to step outside your
comfort zone; to

As I tell my students and coaching clients, there are plenty
of mediocre actors. To go the distance onstage and in front
of the camera, you must be willing to go the distance within.

There is risk in the journey.

Without the risk, the journey is meaningless.

The willingness to step outside the familiar is inherently
more fulfilling.

"The purpose of our lives is to give
birth to the best which is within us."**

That's why you are an actor.

That's why you are continuously pulled back into it.

That is what separates you from the mediocre: the
determination to endure the pain of growth.

It is not by accident that you are reading this, for you
understand that the relative pain is well worth the gain.
The rewards of empowerment come after the trials.

It is the thrill that propels you forward to the next step.

By the way, the trials are usually never as bad as we
anticipated, having come through them.

Although, if we knew exactly the effort
needed to achieve what it is we
most desire, we would
probably never
begin the

That's why the Dream is implanted, to overcome the fear.
It is only too sad that most people allow the Dream to become obscure.

"Without a vision the people parish."

And Vision must be followed by Action

May you be empowered to take the small steps
necessary each day to get that much closer to your
ultimate achievements. May you update your passport
with every role! May you be willing to go beyond your
previous expedition.

I hope I can help, even in some small way.

Thank you for reading -- Here's to Your Empowerment!


Copyright © 2010 Tom Brooks and The Empowered Actor Initiative
*"Vanished! Explorers Forever Lost" by Evan Balkan,
Menasha Ridge Press, p. xiii
**ibid, p.xii

I get no remuneration by mentioning this book. I reference it
because of its inherent inspirational quality.