One thing amateur actors lack is technique. Sometimes trying to embed a foreign technique into a new actor can be a challenge. One of the most important techniques any actor must have is the innate ability to control time and space. A good actor can speed up time or slow time to a crawl. Speeding up is easy; slowing down is hard.
When we are upset, time speeds up for us. Our heart accelerates. Our limbs move faster. The world spins a bit. We speak quicker. We are out of sync and the best way to re-start someone in a hyper state is not to match the state or even calm them with reality: You must slow down time to bring them into normal.
You see parents naturally use that technique with temperamental children who have lost their reality in crying and anger. The parent uses a soft voice and speaks slowly. Arm movements toward the wailing child are slow and tender and deliberate. Like pressing your finger against a roulette wheel to slow the spinning, so too, a parent slows a spinning child with the emotional brake of a reality retard.
One of my favorite techniques to teach actors is how to take over a stage in slow motion. If someone hands you a bottle on stage and if you slow down time in taking that bottle because you know there’s poison inside — you’ve created a moment with your movement — and that is always a delicious, and silent, joy for celebrating on stage.
You might be surprised how hard it is for young actors to comprehend the idea of slow motion. One student, who was supposed to “run like leopard” in slow motion simply ran around the room at normal speed. When questioned about the lack of slow motion, she said, “But I can’t run as fast as a leopard, so I am in slow motion.”
“You might be in slow motion to a leopard, but to us, you are running very fast,” I told her. “You need to understand it is our perception of time that you need to bend, not yours and not the leopard’s.”
She looked at me with a blank expression.
“Lick your paw,” I said. “Create a perpetual momentum out of nothing.”
She licked her paw.
“Slower. Take 60 seconds for your tongue to touch your paw and lick one inch of your fur.”
“But that’ll take forever!”
“It will take 60 seconds.”
As she began to lick her paw, the rest of the class quietly counted out loud from “one Mississippi” to “sixty Mississippi” to help time her action — and the things she did with her hips and eyes and her other paw during that one-inch lick where hilarious, touching, and masterful. When she finished her licking, she collapsed on the floor — exhausted and red-faced from the tremendous toll on her body from warping time and collapsing space.
Imagination comes alive in the ruins and it is the actor’s job to take on any challenge and make a moment — and one way out of the rubble is to slow down time and walk through the valley of a deconstruction you did not commit, but can still abide with professional aplomb.