How Batman can improve your acting (or why Actioning doesn’t work)
Actioning is a commonly taught Stanislavski principle that doesn’t work as effectively as people seem to want actors to believe. The principle is that in order to prepare a role and develop a character, the actor should pick a transitive verb – to threaten, to coax, to flirt – to assign to each line of dialogue. The actor works through the whole script making these choices. Here’s the problem: how are you going to be truthful and in the moment, if you’re constantly trying to remember what you decided to do on each line you say? And also, if you’re working with an actor who changes their ‘action’, your response may not be appropriate to that moment anymore. Last time they ‘pleaded’ with you, and you decided to ‘forgive’, but another time they ‘intimidate’ on that line: are you going to ‘forgive’ again? It doesn’t make any sense and the audience will see two mismatched actors not dealing with the reality of the situation. Some acting tutors often say that the actioning work is just a process, and it can be forgotten later on. But then that’s a waste of a rehearsal period. It’s more useful to accept that planning every moment drains the life out of the scene, and instead accumulate a bunch of ‘actions’ you think your character may use in their life, which you then use in the moment as needed. We prefer to call these ‘tactics’.
In life, you don’t plan how to get what you want. You may have an idea, but you often abort the plan because the behaviour, attitude or words that come at you are unexpected. You adapt in the moment, and change your tactics. You can pick a range of tactics you think your character may have, and wear them more as a utility belt.
Batman has his toys which he stashes in his utility belt before he gets into the Batmobile and zooms off to Gotham City. He often doesn’t know what villain or situation he about to meet. He uses what he has brought with him and sometimes (more often than not) has to improvise in the moment. So, basically, actors should be more like Batman.