ACTING IS REACTING...TO WHAT?
I spent four years of High School performing in plays. When I wasn't in class and you wanted to find me, just head to the theatre hallway or check the stage. You better believe I would be there. Acting and plays were everything to me during that time. So much to the point that my senior year I directed ARSENIC AND OLD LACE which sold out nearly every night. What an amazing time.
From all that time, one bit of advice stuck with me. It didn't come from one of my teachers or another student, but from a book I'd randomly picked up from our script cart. I wish I could remember the name of the book itself or much more about it other than this single passage. In it, the author was talking about the time they interviewed Harrison Ford about acting. In Ford's response he broke it down into one simple sentence; acting is reacting.
That single sentence unlocked all of acting for me. Even improv became my plaything. Your job as an actor is to listen to your scene partner, feed off the energy they're putting out, the emotion they're putting into their lines, and react appropriately. Everything flows from that point on and you'll be one hundred percent in the scene. How cool is that!?
I'll never forget it.
Unfortunately (and we all knew there would be a turn here, didn't we?) I haven't found that nugget of wisdom translates well for me from the stage to the booth. Not in the same way at least. Whereas with the stage, for the most part, I have a scene partner or had a director to work through the dialogue and actions. We honed in on the emotions and beats together and polished them to a shine.
In the booth, there is just me and the copy. I can work through the beats and the story. I can find the subtext. But man has it been tough to find the best way for me to REACT.
Don't get me wrong, I have and had great coaches set me up with methods to get there. They've given me tools to help build the scene around me and get me mentally there. Some have worked better for me than others. For instance, the bit of direction I'm sure we've all been given is "think of a close friend and speak these words to them." That one...that one has never made sense to me. Have you ever actually said anything remotely like commercial copy to a friend of yours?
Friend: Ugh, I've got to go on a business trip next month and I just hate dealing with buying airline tickets.
You: Don't you know Chris? Expedia is the cheapest, all-in-one place to find all your major connecting flights across the nation for as low as $99. We've done the hard part for you so you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the inflight movie. Expedia. Where you book matters.
Friend:.....We? Is everything ok, Jeff? Do I need to take you to the doctor?
Do you see how mentally weird that is? Why would I ever say those words to a friend? I mean, if that works for you and you've been getting booked with that method then all the power to you. For me, no way.
Thankfully I've had some great coaches give me different tools that made way more sense. Tools that are for them to give you in a session and not for me to give away in a blog post. But simply put it's about finding your way into those words that set the scene best for you. It's finding the way in that helps you REACT with the words on the page.
I'm still developing my own method of course. I think this is why it's great to have multiple coaches with different backgrounds. With each lesson, you can build the tools and methods that work best for you!
For me, I'm still in the development of exactly what that tool looks like. Right now I simply ask myself, "Why am I saying these words?" rather than to whom I'm saying them. That part comes after the Why of it. The "Why" will build the scene around me, put me in the time and place, and dictate just exactly to whom I would be saying it.
Take the copy above for instance. Why would I be saying those words? Easy, I work for Expedia, right? I mean, I say "we" after all. That firmly puts me in the shoes of an employee of the company. Why would an employee be saying this? Because a customer is in need of the information and I'm pumped to tell them about it. From there the rest will fall into place and I can begin to react. I can react to a customer in desperate need of a cheap flight. They're stressed and just don't want the hassle anymore. So I get a call that goes more like this.
Frazzled Customer: I just got a call that I need to fly out tomorrow and I've got three browser tabs open comparing all the major flights and hotel rooms. Please help!
Me: You've called the right place! Expedia is the cheapest, all-in-one place to find all your major connecting flights across the nation for as low as $99. We've done the hard part for you so you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the inflight movie. Expedia. Where you book matters.
Frazzled Customer: OMG Thank you so much. Jeff, you're the best in the world. Can I give you all the money in the world?
There, doesn't that make more sense? It does to me at least. Because then I can react appropriately and the lead-in fits within the context of the copy. My friends are great but not the people I'd really be saying these kinds of words to.
And clearly, there is a caveat here. This idea doesn't work for ALL copy. If it's meant to be more person on the street, real interview then perhaps the original method makes more sense. Though I think we can all agree that most commercial copy isn't that.
I hope this has gotten some wheels turning for folks. Maybe it's opened up another idea for you and a way for you to approach your copy. Or perhaps it's a terrible hot take that you can completely dismiss! Either way, I think it's worth thinking about. Reexamine your tools, throw out what doesn't work, and find the best way to act...by reacting.