11 Jan THE ACTOR AS AN ATHLETE
We’ve all seen athletes on TV: a lot of their footage involves seeing them constantly training, exercising, and practicing: sometimes until odd hours of the night, or hours before the crack of dawn. Sometimes, we see them repeating the same motion, like kicking, over and over again. Apparently, this makes the movement so familiar to them that it becomes natural: something that is easily done without any conscious effort. Most experts refer to this phenomenon as “Muscle Memory” or “Motor Learning”; and it seems to work: many successful athletes are able to draw upon this “procedural memory” to execute the same moves (shooting a ball through a hoop, executing a perfect triple twisting double back, hitting a ball with a bat) over and over without fail.
But what if you could apply that same technique to acting? In his acting classes; The Heller Approach Acting Studio’s Founder and Top Hollywood Acting Coach Brad Heller has been doing just that. He has developed The Heller Approach as a “non-method” acting technique that eliminates the need to delve into personal experiences in order to evoke emotion. One of the foundations for this technique is an analog to muscle memory which Brad refers to in an interview as “lightheadedness memory”: in a nutshell, we are so familiar with emotions that the mere mention of an emotion is enough to trigger a physiological reaction in our bodies; and get us started with drawing this emotion for use in acting out a scene. One exercise they teach to “train” their actors to use this “lightheadedness memory” in their preparation phase is doing deep breathing while saying the name of the emotion to be able to physiologically evoke it. By performing this exercise; the actors train like athletes for their roles, auditions, and cold readings. This training is vital to developing their craft. Brad explains it like this:
“Another cool thing people like about our school is that we often compare acting training to the training one would face as a professional athlete, musician, or dancer. For those people who come from an avid sports background, for example, this technique is wonderful. We build on the same principles one deals with like preparation and execution, and their differences, as well as making sure actors understand the importance of practicing their craft daily. Acting is like a muscle that needs to be worked often. Just like going to the gym. If we don’t work out, we get fat. It’s the same with acting. If we don’t practice, we get rusty. Many actors, before coming to us, don’t train enough. I see actors all the time who only will train once they find out they have an audition. This is crazy. It’s like only training right before a boxing match and trying to cram workouts into a short period of time.”
“Frequently, we call Hollywood the Olympics of Acting. And it needs to be treated this way. Nearly everyone in the known universe who wants to act will come to pursue this career. It needs to be treated that way. The competition is fierce. And, as an Olympian must train daily to work the muscles, an actor must do the same. At our school, we give our actors specific tools to practice daily to help them improve their ability to act prepared scenes, as well as learn how to audition with material with limited time to prepare. Actors must know how to audition a 10-page scene when they are only given the scene one day in advance. This is a talent that needs to be learned and shaped. We do that at The Heller Approach.”