‘In and Out’ – 3 Tips to Reconnect in Scene Work

tips for actors

03 Nov ‘In and Out’ – 3 Tips to Reconnect in Scene Work

Acting training demands a focus, attention and discipline on physical, mental and emotional levels. These are integral to remaining present in a scene and securing the freedom that brings. It is not uncommon, however, for actors to experience the feeling of going ‘in and out’ of the scene.

An ‘in-out’ scenario may feel like this:

You are physically and emotionally connected with the scene, the moment and the text, burgeoning on tears or anger or laughter, and then a few moments later in the same scene find yourself ‘out of the scene’, no longer connected, reaching for the truth instead of being it.

Perhaps you become aware of the audience or teachers or directors watching, perhaps the sound of your voice brings you out, or your line doesn’t sound or feel how it did at home or in rehearsal. For some it may be recurrent mind chatter about what’s coming next, pressure to reach a level or ‘outcome’, or simply being distracted or thrown by the unexpected.

There are a myriad of factors that can contribute to this end-point of being ‘out’ of the scene. For most actors this ‘in-out’ experience will happen at some point.  The following tips are tools to employ when it happens:

  • Accept the moment
  • Apply your training
  • Audit your experience


Accept the Moment

We lose connection with being ‘in the scene’, with the truth of the moment, when we are no longer available to it – no longer present. Whatever the reason for our lack of presence, we need to accept that this is where we find ourselves.

Don’t – reach back to the feeling of 10 seconds ago or to what you did in rehearsals. The truth of that moment was for ten seconds ago or in rehearsals, not for now. By reaching into the past for it we make ourselves even less available to the present and what is happening now. This can move us further into disconnect.

Don’t – berate yourself or panic or worry about why it’s happening, or how it’s affecting the scene, or what your teacher will say. This is projecting forward and outward and again does not make you available to the present moment.

DO – accept that at this moment you have come out of the scene and make yourself available to the present moment. This can be an uncomfortable moment of ambiguity but is only through being present that you can apply the next tip and return to the scene. Our acceptance of the moment opens the space to change it.

Apply Your Training

Accepting the moment has happened/ is happening allows you to respond to it and here is where training kicks in. Apply the instructions you receive regularly from your trainer as well as the acting tools you learn and practice in the classroom.

Don’t – flog a dead horse. If something isn’t working don’t force it. This is once again reaching for an outcome and can stifle both yourself and the scene. Your focus will become about the outcome and returning to the present will be more difficult.

DO– try something different, find another way. Great trainers often have a simple catch-cry that embodies this. They use it frequently in training for both challenging their actors and at the same time instructing them. NASA director Fern Nicholson charges her actors to ‘Change it’ and find ‘Another Way’. A colleague who recently trained with Carl Ford from NY related his catch-cry – ‘Choose again’. So, if it’s not working – Change It/ Find Another Way/ Choose Again

There are so many things that can be applied in this moment to do this. Below are three suggestions to consider for changing/ choosing differently.

Meisnerit’s about them: observe the other actor. Start with the physical, what do you notice? Where are his/her eyes looking? How is s/he sitting? Is your opinion that s/he looks embarrassed/ wary/ deceitful? You don’t necessarily have to call them on it; this process of observation alone will exercise your being present with the other actor in the moment, placing you more squarely ‘in’ the scene.

Guskinlet it go and trust the text: re-connect with the text and let go of what happened before. What is this moment, this line, eliciting? Does it create a thought, feeling, physical response? Apply the training you’ve had – breathe in, let the image or movement that the line/moment brings up come through and don’t judge it. Allow your thoughts, feelings, movements, responses to flow without judgement and then let them go to make room for the next line/moment.

Physical Stimuliphysical presence: placing yourself ‘in your body’ is a powerful path to presence. Notice your physicality and posture. How are you sitting standing moving? What is your breathing like? What information is this giving to you? Where in your body is the tension, the butterflies, the tiredness, the energy? What happens when you change your physicality?

These are three options to start with but many other avenues of applying your training to this moment will work.

The final tip is to be accountable  – audit and grow from the experience.

Audit your experience

There is no point to having the ‘in-out’ experience and not owning it or gaining from it – particularly if it is happening regularly and to the detriment of your scene work and training. These experiences can be instructive and an opening to deeper learning about your acting and yourself.

Don’tbrush it off: brushing it off is different to letting it go. Brushing it off is sweeping it under the carpet and missing the opportunity to develop skills. By brushing it off a valuable piece of insight is left lying unused on the floor instead of contributing another important page to your own book of training.

Don’tbeat yourself up: while not brushing it off it is also important not to punish yourself or hold on to it. This experience is common. Allow that it happens and it provides an opportunity to learn more, improve and move.

Don’tover prepare or over analyse: this experience is more likely to arise from over analysis than lack of preparation. We can put pressure on ourselves and how things should be, travel, evolve in the scene. We can become so stuck in our justifications and backgrounds that we close the doors to truthful moments, to offers from others and we can get knocked out of the scene when our plan is disrupted.

DO – be honest: take stock of yourself and know if and when you have come out of the scene. Know if you were accepting of the moment or resisted it. Know if you do or don’t have an idea as to why you came out of it and be honest with yourself and teacher about it. This will facilitate a faster process and help with more quickly determining your personal patters and challenges as an actor, what your prompts may be for disconnecting with a scene.

DO – listen and take notes: listen to the observations of the teacher, audience and fellow actors. This may offer more information about what happened and what did and didn’t work. Taking note of these as well as your own observations will offer you a chance to determine a pattern of what happens in scene work for you as well as what tools are effective for you in connecting back to the scene. Audit your own experiences and improvement.

DO – practice presence: The more experienced we become at being present the faster we can acquire this space under pressure. Meditation and relaxation are key tools to exercising and practicing presence. Knowing what works for you on an every day level can serve you well in the training or rehearsal environment.

Remember! Different actors will find different tools work more effectively for them than others. The aim is to work hard at these tools in training so that they may more effortlessly serve you in scenes and to learn what serves you best. And if something doesn’t connect – Change It, Find Another Way, Choose Again.


Author – Shanta-Maree Surendran

(NASA Teacher)

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