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4 Tips for Mastering the Nonverbal Side of Acting

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More than half of an actor’s job is actively listening to others who are speaking on set.  This means remembering to act even when you’re not reciting dialogue, this is the nonverbal side of acting. Many different camera angles are used in filming a production, and audiences will continue to focus on anything in the frame.  So, it’s important for actors to master this skill.  Here’s four tips for doing just that.

Here’s the first tip for mastering the nonverbal side of acting

Much of actor development is focused on memorizing and reciting lines of dialogue in the script.  However, actors are also expected to anticipate in the nonverbal side of being on set.  First and foremost, this means paying attention to the script’s content that does not involve speaking lines.  There will be notes about the scene and camera angles that should also be committed to memory.  These notes give clues to the actor about when he or she is doing in the scene – they ‘set the stage,’ so to speak.  So, whether reciting lines or listening, these cues are an essential part of the production and shouldn’t be simply disregarded.

nonverbal side of acting

Here’s the second tip for mastering the nonverbal side of acting

Remaining present even when you’re not speaking shows passion and motivation to ensure each scene is successful.  Actors should ‘stay alive’ in their reactions to what someone else is saying.  If, for example, the dialogue is somber, the accompanying actor should use facial experiences and body language to demonstrate distress and offer comfort.  If the dialogue expresses excitement, share in this enthusiasm.  Again, head-nodding, leaning in, smiling, and other nonverbal communication is just as important to nail the purpose of the scene and help the audience understand the message being conveyed.

Here’s the third tip for mastering the nonverbal side of acting

Accurate reflection of what’s being said though nonverbal communication is especially vital.  If the speaking actor is discussing something that is secretive and difficult to share, consider how you might react to this in real life.  You probably wouldn’t be smiling and laughing but, instead, projecting genuine concern and appreciation for this intimacy.  Accurate emotional expression will enable the audience to ‘feel’ the scene – it will allow viewers to feel immersed in the same secret, and eager to watch what happens next.

nonverbal side of acting

Here’s the fourth tip for mastering the non-speaking side of acting

The camera will capture active listening as often as it will capture speech.  If you practice your nonverbal skills according to this assumption, you’ll be more likely to remain actively engaged in the moment and liken the dialogue to real-life conversations and interactions.  However, it is also important not to pay too much attention to being filmed.  If an actor is far too focused on whether the camera is capturing their reactions, it will be difficult to come across as genuine.  Assuming so ahead of time will relieve the stress of having to check to see if you’re on camera. 

Mastering these nonverbal skills takes practice.  However, treating every scene as if it’s actually happening will help you to feel engaged and able to react to dialogue in a way that keeps audiences doing the same.  When you connect both with fellow actors and the audience even when not speaking, this shows immense talent that will continue to get you booked!

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nonverbal side of acting

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