Updated: May 17
At Book From Tape, we see young actors come through our doors for self tapes and acting coaching all the time. They are tackling roles of all shapes and sizes for Film, TV, and Theatre. Sometimes they’re creating eccentric characters for kid and family audiences; sometimes they’re diving into an adult script that contains themes that are far beyond their years. Either way, we happily work with them to find their greatest connection with the script and get that top audition to send to casting. We are constantly thinking about and testing new ways to phrase direction and introduce concepts so that they resonate with each actor and make great work accessible at all ages.
When we look at the bulk of our work with these young actors who have their sights set on the big (and small) screen, it’s remarkable to see that there are some pretty common traps they can fall into. Jordan and I have set about arming the young actors that we coach with the training they need to stay out of those traps, and identifying these three kinds of young actors is often the first step to helping them find out where to begin.
This is the young actor who typically does not come from any kind of theatre background. They are solely interested in film acting and tend to be newer to the trade. This young actor usually has an innate ability to make a script roll naturally off the tongue, casual and understated… a handy skill to have! However, the trap for this young actor often lies in their lack of tangible acting tools. They have trouble acting as any character other than themselves; extreme scenarios, such as horror, fantasy, or even period pieces, tend to be beyond the scope of their skill. They do not have a cultivated instinct for the pacing of a scene, and they tend to stick to their first impulse and only their first impulse for a read of a script. This young actor can be very difficult to direct, because, while they can be very natural, they are not easily moldable and lack the imagination to try new things.
This is the young actor who comes from years of theatre/musical theatre training. What is great about this actor is that they know what the tools of the trade are and understand how to adjust to direction. The trap for this young actor is that often their work comes across as fake and ungrounded on screen. They have been cultivated as the type of actor who can create a dynamic performance to repeat at will, but they forget to live and breathe in the moment and to make a personal connection with the character. It’s all surface level, and the camera exploits this weakness relentlessly. What’s more, this actor tends to wait for direction, rather than bringing their own ideas to the table.
And then, there’s Number 3...
The Young Professional
The mysterious and unusual beast also known as the true professional young film actor. This is the sweet spot. This is what we hope to grow in all young actors desiring to pursue this career professionally. This actor understands and takes ownership of all the tools that theatre gives to actors, and they also have the ability to let it all go and be fully present in the moment onscreen. Their acting tools help them problem-solve and experiment with a script while continuing to truly listen to their scene partner. They can “do nothing” (a good thing in film acting!), but they can also craft moments in a way that they can access truthfully. Most importantly, they can do this on their own because they trust themselves as artists.
Do you identify with one of these types of actors? Do you struggle to feel connected to a character? Does every take seem to come out the same even though they felt different in the room? Identifying these traps is the first step; training is the second! Great acting can sometimes feel like this illusive thing— inexplicable (and possibly accidental?!)— but, in fact, it is not all the luck of the draw. It all lies in the delicate balance between understanding everything you need to know and, simultaneously, letting yourself know nothing at all.
Jordan Woods-Robinson is an Actor and Head Honcho at Book From Tape Acting Studios in Orlando, FL. He challenges his actors to harness impulse as a tool, to trust their guts, to work on their feet, to break rules, and, overall, to make bold choices that make a lasting impression through tape. Email Jordan