It was 1955. Two eager, ambitious psychologists sat in a poorly lit and by their own account, creepy, office at UCLA. They were working on what might be the biggest help to your acting career.
It happened largely by accident. They didn’t set out to create this for actors. They intended to create a model that would make it easier to decipher group dynamics and interpersonal relationships.
It’s called The Johari Window.
Chances are that you have never heard of this concept, grasshopper, and you have certainly never heard about in this way. We’ll come back to the Johari window in a moment.
First, we have to go discuss the job of an actor…
See, when we think about our profession it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae. It’s easy to think of our jobs in terms of learning lines, rehearsing, and all of the “technical” aspects of the industry. If ETs landed tomorrow and asked, “what does an actor do” what would your answer be?
If you don’t have a good answer to that, how well can you truly perform that job? Have you noticed that the most successful shows and the biggest films all share one thing in common: a terrific ensemble cast.
Modern Family, The Office, Friends, Will and Grace. Think about it.
There are multiple reasons for this but primarily, a key factor in their success lies with the actors feeding on each other’s energy. As with most things, we can take this concept into the mystical and talk about auras and how the human mind connects to other minds, or we can keep it practical and talk about things we’ve all experienced.
If you have ever attended a sporting event you know that group think is real. When the home team wins big, you can feel the energy of the crowd. Everyone’s on cloud 9 and the air is almost electrified.
When the home town gets blown out, you can feel the heaviness in the arena. You can feel the disappointment.
That is group-think at work. What world class actors are able to do is use the concepts that you will learn today and tap into group-think in order to make the audience feel a certain way. While there are many, many different models with all kinds of variables that really smart dudes (yes that’s sarcasm in text form) have spent countless hours coming up with, you can really boil it down to just 4 things.
I’ll cover those in just a moment.
When an actor performs, their top priority is to allow the audience to suspend belief and enter a frame of mind that makes their performance real in the mind of the viewer. In other words, you are charged with telling a story (believably).
Where most actors fail is in delivering a flat, one dimensional performance.
This happens when:
- No “character rooting” has occurred and the actor doesn’t have the depth of emotion necessary to make a character real.
- The actor is performing using the conscious mind. This is what makes it seem as though you are just reading from a script.
- The actor relies on the director to guide the performance. Counter intuitive? Yes!...more on that in a bit…
When one of these factors is present, your performance will suffer big time!...Sadly, I have found that all 3 of these factors are typically present, even in highly seasoned actors.
One of the reasons for this, probably the biggest reason, is that we tend to think in terms of the character arc that we have been taught all along. While this is a useful tool and you should definitely be well versed in mapping out your character arc, the truth is that you should be guided not by your character but by the story.
See, your character only exists within the story. It is the story that pushes the character along on the arc, not the other way around. When you approach a scene with the character centric model, you are prone to overacting, and your performance is likely to be unnatural.
In order to move from being character centric to story centric you have to do something that seems paradoxical on the surface. That’s where the Johari window comes in to play.
The Johari window is a simple model that allows you to plot your actions (or in this case your characters actions) in such a way that you will immediately know how to program that action in your subconscious mind in order to make your delivery much more believable.
Here's an example:
Let’s say you are playing a character that is an alcoholic. It’s easy to make character choices for an alcoholic and deliver an OK, one dimensional performance.
Alcohol stimulates blood flow and increases body temperature so your sleeves are likely to be rolled up. You might have balance issues and trip over stuff as you walk across the room. You might even scrunch your eyes from blurred vision.
What happens in character rooting is that you plot your character choices on the Johari Window (seen above). By working your character choices through the Johari Window model, you instantly add depth.
Back to the example.
Is your character’s alcoholism known only to himself? Delivering a performance of an alcoholic that is self aware is very different than delivering a performance for one that is in denial. If you’re character is in denial (the trait would be plotted in the “Not known to self” box) they wouldn’t be worried about monitoring their behavior.
If the character is self aware of, does anyone else know? You will look to the storyline to find that answer of course. Here’s how your performance might be impacted.
Let’s say your character is self aware but the trait (alcoholism) is not known to others. A one dimensional performance would just have you delivering your lines normally, maybe with a shade of apprehension: like you’re holding a secret.
Once you run this through the model a whole new world opens up to you. Since your character is aware but no one else is, would you be chewing gum constantly to hide the beer-breather? Would your character be seemingly uncharacteristically able to keep their balance? Wouldn’t your sleeves always be neatly unrolled? Would you perhaps powder your neck instead, to absorb moisture from the increased body temperature?
If your character is actively keeping the secret, would they even drink in front of others, knowing their secret would come out? Would you have some kind of tick from abstaining throughout the day?
These are the character choices that fill out a performance and cause it to transcend the fourth wall and become real in the mind of the audience.
You can use this model anytime you feel that your performance is shaky. Dissect your actions within the scene and run it through the model.
Ask yourself, why does my character feel this way? Is that factor known or unknown to them? Is it known to the others in the scene, is it known to the audience at large. This will immediately layer your performance.
Lastly, you have to root the character within you. I’ll cover that in detail in a later release. As you know, I like to keep my releases quick and full of actionable information instead of sending you off in multiple directions.
Simply stated, character rooting is what happens when Meryl Streep becomes Miranda Priestly or Jamie Foxx becomes Ray Charles. The easiest and most convenient way to do this is to enter alpha, as described previously.
Relax, close your eyes and tilt your eyeballs slightly upward. Count down from 50 to 1 as you picture yourself descending a ladder. At the bottom you will find yourself in a perfectly lit bright white room, call forward your character by name and imagine yourself entering the characters body.
Now simply act out the scene. No one is watching and only you know what’s happening. This allows your subconscious mind to take over. Act the scene over and over again until you feel satisfied with it and then count from 1 to 5, open your eyes and say AWAKE.
Next time you’re on set, your conscious mind will seek the information from your subconscious mind and bring forward the way you created the character at alpha. There is no better acting class anywhere in the world.
Go forth grasshopper and use this to add dimension to your performance. Use the Johari Window model to prepare for your next audition. If you don’t have any auditions coming up, check this out.
You can be the greatest actor of our generation, and armed with what you have learned today, you are certainly on your way. This doesn’t matter if you don’t have a platform to share your talent with the world. In order to do that you need to have a great industry reputation and attention.
Here’s a quick fix for both of those. See, when you know that you will nail the audition, and you have a great industry reputation, plus you have attention to leverage…you will be unstoppable.
Just remember. Use the force for good, grasshopper.
See you at the top,