I despise it when people associate actors with liars. Lying is the opposite of our craft. Revealing truth is our calling. Acting truthfully in imaginary circumstances presents a real problem. One reason that playing games is an effective method for teaching actors, is that it is up to the actor to discover how to solve the problems of truth in performance.
Traditional acting teaching is full of how-to’s, but these are false prophets. How-to’s must be discovered through interactions framed by the world of the script, the rules of the game. One danger of following a how-to guide or pre-planning in any way, is that it puts an actor squarely in their head and prevents true presence in the moment. Imagine if a basketball player planned every dribble, or even thought about it? This leads to ineffectiveness and anxiety or at best continues old habits and prevents creative discovery and the uniqueness of the individual. How kills spontaneity.
If we play, like a game, knowing we will get to the end, outcome unforeseen, but focused on overcoming the obstacles before us to solve whatever problem arises, within the confines of the rules, process always delivers product. Win or lose, the audience still loves watching the game, the struggle is compelling.
Real interactive play prevents How, and the actor learns to effectively communicate. The actor either makes the communication doesn’t. In my classes, we play acting games until we solve the problem. If our task is to communicate a relationship, and the audience or fellow actor doesn’t receive the communication, than we keep playing. When the problem is solved, the actors have learned from their own experience and have truly expanded their instrument.
If a performance for the camera is not spontaneous it is useless. Most movie directors do not allow for rehearsal. Viola Spolin wrote that “pre-planning How constitutes the use of old material even if that material is but five minutes old. Pre-planned acting is the result of a rehearsal even if that rehearsal was but a few seconds of mental visualization.”
Using games to teach acting instead of a how-to method, all that an actor has to do is play. Playing games in this way teaches actors superior skills which are the result of the whole instrument stretching its previous limitations spontaneously. Spolin wrote “like a flash fire, real performance is all-consuming, burning away all the subjective needs of the player and creating a moment of great excitement…Pre-planning is necessary only to the extent that the problems should have a structure. The structure is the [rules of the game], It is the field upon which the game is played that is pre-planned, How the game will go can be known only when the players are out on the field.”