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4 Rules of Play-Acting That Can Help in Life

philosophy from theatre

Yuvika Bhatia Art Tid Bits ,,,

Scott Zigler, the director of the American Repertory Theatre and co-author of A Practical Handbook for the Actor, believes that everyone is capable of being a good actor.

In a way, we all ‘act’ every day. We endlessly face different emotions, access different parts of ourselves throughout the day. Human dimensions are infinite, and in the words of Scott Zigler,

You are infinitely more interesting than any character you will ever play.

It was during my sophomore year in University, I decided to be part of a musical theatre production.

During the intense rehearsal schedule, I was struck by the similarities between the rules of acting are to the tricks to being successful in life. Neither are easy.

So, the following rules don’t just apply to acting veterans or promising thespians, they apply if you want to lead a fruitful life. So, here are the top 4 rules of play-acting that apply to life:

1. Let go of your self-consciousness by concentrating on others

All human beings are self-conscious in varying degrees. Our self-obsession, teamed with other people’s opinions of us, has foreboding results that range from occasional annoying thoughts to a debilitating anxiety.

In acting, the most important rule is to let go of your self-consciousness and focus on the actions of other actors on stage. Bad acting is a consequence of acute self-awareness. If an actor is worried about how they look on stage or fixated with the sound of their own voice, audience members can easily notice, as it’s an alienating force with chemistry.

Actors typically shift their attention elsewhere. If they respond to what they see and focus on the other actor’s reactions, they can forget they’re acting and easily achieve their goals on stage.

When it comes to real life, following this rule of concentrating completely on the person you’re talking to, be it a pitch to client in meeting or persuading a friend, will always get you closer to your target than focusing on yourself. It’ll help you react in a way that bring outs the best reaction from the other person.

2. Focus on controlling what you can control, not what you can’t

We aren’t always able to control our emotions, but what we can always control are our actions. In acting, ‘indication’ can cause bad acting. When an audience watches a performance, they can easily tell if a person is truly happy or just trying to act happy (hence, ‘indicating’ happiness).

Your actions and responses to characters are what you can control. It’s not an attempt to appear happy, but your actions and focus on the on-stage interaction that will make you happy in the moment.


The same applies to real life, in which you focus on improving your actions and reactions rather than trying to control your emotions. For example, feeling anxious about whether you will get the job won’t bring you success. Instead, focus on how to present yourself as the best candidate.

3. Place yourself in the shoes of the villain and be sympathetic

We have all experienced the Cersei Lannister and Cruella de Vil of our lives.

A person who deserves to just slip and tumble down a staircase. They believe every mishap in their life is someone else’s fault. Yet, remember to always see it from their perspective, understand what they’ve gone through.

The same type of sympathy is necessary to successfully play a villain. The character is rather exciting if you find a reason to be sympathetic with them. It would impossible to play antiheros if you’ve labeled them as crazy or wicked. They justify their ruthless actions, and are often unaware that they are wrong. Instead, you need to connect with the character and act it out from his/her point of view. I mean Gollum was only evil after his mind was warped from the ring’s effects, and Cersei Lannister only aims to keep her children safe.

Whether you’re acting out the play’s antagonist or dealing with a difficult person in real life, empathizing with that person is the key to understanding and dealing with them better. Instead of labeling them as challenging, try and connect with them to see how they view life.

4. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

I would become frustrated during rehearsals when I felt my lines were awkward or out of character, which isn’t the right reaction.

Good actors do not need to depend on the script. The lines are basically the paths to the character’s goals, and these words are not as critical as the tone of your voice, articulation and body language.

Humans have the keen ability to detect the slightest emotional cues – worry in a person’s voice to anxiety from their breathing patterns. These cues could very well lead you to a loved one needing immediate help or your friend actually being majorly pissed off with you. We should be mindful of messages – hidden or not – behind the actual words.

These principles apply to life’s rules regarding listening, the presence of mind, playing, showing up, going out – not giving up and saying yes to the moment.

It’s about getting out of your head and taking the attention away from yourself, to focus on the what’s exciting around you and to get lost in the spontaneity of the moment. You also may think your life would be better without that two-faced colleague or your hateful boss, but try to look into their mind and see how they view the world. It’s not hard principles to grasp; they just require giving up your opinions about acting (and life). Allow yourself to see life through a different perspective – one of play and wonder, not cynicism and fear.

As William Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.” So, if that’s the case, then we should aim to be better actors.

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