What makes an actor brilliant in a role? Putting aside skill in speaking and moving, which as an audience we should be able to take for granted, there are three levels to a brilliant performance. Each level gives you progressively more detail and authority in the space. So, how do you get there?

First, there is the intellectual level: you analyse the text thoroughly and, especially in the case of classical text, you are absolutely clear about what you are saying. Not a single word is left to chance.

Secondly, there is the level of creative imagination. Without this, even the most intellectually rigorous work will not engage the audience. But how do you bring more creativity into the rehearsal room? This is where all the physical work comes in: dynamics, animals, materials and other physical approaches to character.
Let’s say the stage direction is: She gets up. You can explore the dynamics of that movement to widen your choices. For instance, you can get up suddenly; you can get up while accelerating, or decelerating; or you can get up very slowly while scratching your head. All of those choices will convey a different meaning to the audience, and if you’re speaking at the same time, they will affect the way you say the words.

The point is: which one tells the story best. It’s by being clear about your choices and why you’ve made them that you bring detail to your work. And by exploring choices outside your comfort zone, you can find more creative individuality. Of course you should never hijack the role to show off your technique; you are using your virtuosity to engage and move the audience in a way that’s true to the story. These two levels – the intellect and the imagination – counterbalance each other and help give you more detail in what you do.

But even then, you can still appear cold and the audience is not transported. This brings us back to your values: if you also can bring warmth and openness to the work, you are more able to let the audience in. So as well as mind there needs to be heart, which animates your work. (It’s relevant that the Latin word anima means spirit or breath.) Then we can empathise with you by reflecting back on our own lives. At the point where these three levels – intellect, imagination and heart – intersect, you have a brilliant actor.

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