A Letter From Our CEO – Now, Community Matters More Than Ever (COVID – 19)

Read Here

Acting : The Difference Between GOOD Acting and BAD Acting by J.D. Coburn

J.D. Coburn

The Difference Between GOOD Acting and BAD Acting

My name is Joseph Dean Coburn and I teach acting. Once in a while, when meeting someone new, I am asked, "What kind of acting do you teach?" "Good acting." is my response. So, what's the difference between Good and Bad acting? Good acting is so simple. The late, Sanford Meisner would say, "Disabuse yourself of the horrible need to be good." In class, I will say, "Who you are, as a human being, is good enough." These are things that a teacher says in response to forcing, faking, indicating, posing, or trying to put on a performance -- BAD acting. It's your simple, truthful, human response that makes up good acting. When you see someone trying too hard it's a lot like being on a bad date, you just get uncomfortable and want it to end -- NOW. Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando, and Rod Steiger, were all asked the question, "What's the difference between great actors and good actors. All three gave the same answer, "For the great actor, it's really happening to him." Brando was asked that by Connie Chung in the 70's, Brando in the 80's during a print interview and Steiger was asked the same by Charlie Rose in the 90's. So, three GREAT actors, decades apart, and they all gave the same answer. It shouldn't need to be pointed out that they did not collaborate on their answer. So, you want to be a GREAT actor, do you not? Well, then train in a way that builds the same habits that all great actors share and have shared. Listen, take personally what you see and hear, allow those things to affect YOU (You cannot turn yourself into someone else, some character, you just look foolish). Finally, permit your truthful, instinctive, emotional response. So, good acting is a game of permission. Permit yourself to listen and watch your partner acutely (that's called "connected" or "chemistry" when you see it on the screen). Permit what you see and hear to affect and emotionalize you (contrary to "Don't take it so personally" that you were taught as a child). Permit your truthful, instinctive, emotional response (the one that happens TO YOU, not the one you MAKE happen). Those are the fundamentals shared by good actors and great actors alike. Make a habit of working that way and you will elevate your acting to "Good." You want to get GREAT? Do all that for 8 shows a week, every week, for about 6 years. Then you can start auditioning against world class players for the highest paychecks and greatest fame. Does it sound a little like competing in professional sports? It IS the same approach. Fundamentals, Discipline, and Respect for the game. That's old school and it works every time. Anyone who says differently is lying to you and trying to steal your money. You cannot be taught acting, you can only learn it. Learn good acting and you will become a good actor. Learn bad acting and the results are just as predictable. Okay.

Behzad Farahat

I enjoyed it very much,thanks

Noriko M Kambara

Nice post! Thanks!

Bhavnisha Parmar

Very nice post! I think we as actors feel we have to make a situation more complex than it is. It is usually the simplicity we crave as an audience. :)

Nathalie U Bloom

As a former student at The Neighborhood playhouse playhouse, I have to agree on Every Word you wrote. Thank you!

Bob Vance

I think actors should throw their hands around as much as possible. Warbling when you speak is good too.

Peter Holdway

yes, and making as many silly faces as you can in one line works too.

Mark Henry Sr.

J.D. Coburn, I LOVE not only the way you've worded your post but the critical truth of it as well. I call it acting vs. becoming but my meaning is the same. It's not until an actor really listens, really feels and really reacts that they even begin to understand the craft. Fantastic post!!!

Phillip Ramirez

Simple, & truthful ……be yourself in reacting !

Joseph J. Frustaci (Joe)

Thank you, J.D. Long after Meisner's passing, the sign on the wall in NYC still hangs and rings, oh so true - "Act before you think." As for the scum liar / acting "teachers" stealing money, may David Mamet's "Invent nothing, deny nothing... stay out of school.", (from his book,TRUE AND FALSE), help rid them from the planet. Let the good time roll...

Benjie Anderson

Cogent, sound, and absolutely honest advise and counsel, J.D.

Gloria Hass

Thank you for this. As a director, I have come across actors who think they're great and give a bad audition because they're acting. I have had some come to an audition and read the part as if they're reading a book. It's a bad audition and I feel for them. I know they have the passion to be an actor - I just want them to achieve their own greatness. I have had great auditions because the person has become the character.

Suzanne Ordonio

Thank you so much for sharing sir! I want to learn from you.

J.D. Coburn

Thank you for the positive responses, folks. It makes me feel good. I noticed a typographical error. It was Duvall in a print interview in the 80's, not Brando. With regard to bad auditions and bad acting generally, you have to be forgiving. It's not the fault of the actor who is badly trained when he or she delivers bad work. If you hire a carpenter who took one class a week for 6 whole weeks you can reasonably expect his work to fall apart. Anyway, very rewarding to read your comments. Thank you.

J.D. Coburn

Oh, @Cayden, most acting teachers don't want students to know the difference between good and bad work. If they learn the difference, they'll want their money back!

Bob Vance

Acting is less about becoming the character than making sure, through what you do and do not do, that your audience believes you are the character. There's a difference. It's important not to under-estimate the power that your audience has to transfer your actions or lack of actions into building character and emotion. If you are too committed to becoming the character, feeling like the character, and too detailed in how you develop/present that, you may exclude the audience or interrupt/disrupt their transferential process... how they make you the character. And that is their job. You cannot do it for them, only facilitate how they do it. In that way less is more. If you do too much they may no longer believe you in spite of how much you FEEL like the character.

Simon © Simon

In a word.... Credibility.

J.D. Coburn

Wow, Bob. You must have paid a lot for your education. Can you get your money back? Because there is no practical means by which you can employ those ideas. Said another way, you can't act that. It's just a lot of intellectual gobbledegook. Still, thank you for sharing.

Bob Vance

Why don't you pull it back a bit JD... you're not letting your audience do their job.

Spencer Scott

I have to agree with J.D. on this, that is, the post and the response to your comment Bob. Here's why: the only way to facilitate the audience's belief in you the actor as the character is to be truthful, honest, and emotionally present while you are "acting" for lack of a better term. It is not the job of the actor to perceive if the audience believes you or not, that is the job of the director. If you totally connect with the character and feel what they feel and the audience doesn't buy it, then it is one of two things: either you were miscast or the director did not lead you down the right path to a believable performance. Ultimately, there is no other way to get the audience to truly believe that you are the character than by actually feeling it truthfully without forcing it. That doesn't necessarily mean that by feeling and living it for real that you will always snare the audience though. As a side note, this seems sort of like the debate Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler had... interesting.

J.D. Coburn

Thank you, Spencer. You're right. If the actor is thinking about the audience at all we call it "being in your head." It's a terrible habit. Actors have to be retrained so that all of their attention goes on their partner, so that every response IS a response that happens to you, not one you MAKE happen, so that the audience, cameras, crew, etc. disappear. The idea of "performance" snags so many young people because it's something they're taught in High School and College plays. It was exactly what Stella Adler, Harold Clurman, Morris Carnovsky, Sanford Meisner and all the members of the Group Theater fought with Strasberg over. That and emotional recall (which psychiatrists call, ruminating or colloquially "crazy-making"). You can no more be aware of the audience when you act than you can when you go shopping for groceries or riding the bus. The tragedy is that this is what young actors have to learn when they get to Hollywood or New York, that all of their training and thinking about acting is wrong and amateurism. It's what happens when amateurs teach. They turn acting into an intellectual process instead of an emotional process. This is 19th century practice that is fundamentally fraudulent and unprincipled. The principle on which The Group Theater was founded, the principle that permanently changed and elevated acting in America, the principle that guides everything that I believe and impart, is that Art Expresses Human Experience. It's called Acting, it's not called Thinking. All that intellectual analysis has destroyed more talent. Imagining the admiration of the other passengers watching you ride the bus is self absorbed and sick. You'll never get a truthful response with all of your attention on yourself. Well, this becomes a lively discussion again. Thanks again, Spencer. You've done the right research for someone so young.

Spencer Scott

It all comes back to how we are taught. I was lucky enough to be taught by actors who thought simplicity and truth are always the goal. The complex, intellectual, and ultimately unplayable choices are just not as interesting as playing living, breathing desires, wants, and intentions. If the goal is to seem like a real person to the audience (which may or may not be your goal as an actor, but it may be the goal of the production) then the only way to really do that is to be a real person. Simple, short, and sweet. I don't think intellectualizing is all bad though, like I said, it just isn't what the actor should be doing. The director, however, definitely needs to be thinking about more than just the emotional truthfulness of each character's intentions. That's sort of the nature of directing, isn't it? But as actors, we can't lose our moment to moment life in order to make sure we are doing the "right" thing. There are no right or wrong choices. Only truthful or untruthful ones.

Mark Henry Sr.

JD and Spencer....EXCELLENT and accurate. Great stuff.

Bob Vance

Interesting enough, the assumptions JD has made about me and my background is proof enough of what I propose. Because they are a product of his own projection and have next to nothing to do with my background as an artist or my experience as an actor and/or director. He, as audience, has fleshed out a fictional character, but it's not me (or even close). There is probably little I can do to change that perception. I must work with it. Simplicity and truth are great. I cannot see how they are in conflict with what I have proposed. Becoming a fictional character through deep psycho-motor processing and doing it well enough for your audience to "believe" you is a bizarre proposal to me. The character is not real in the first place, it is a fantasy, and the audience's role in percieving any reality in the character is undeniable... forget the audience? Not possible, or advisable. Integration of the audience into the work so it feels to all concerned that there is a "oneness" may feel like a kind of forgetting, but it isn't the same.

Mark Henry Sr.

It's not about you. It's about great acting and the absolutely true statements made about honest emotions, the need to react, the need to listen and the differences between acting and becoming. Statements that all actors would do well to live by.

J.D. Coburn

Bob, and this is about you, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU!

Spencer Scott

interesting points about the audience Bob. I agree with you, the audience does have a huge role in perceiving who the character is, but it isn't the actor's job to dictate that. Again, it is the director's job to make sure the audience connects with the performance the way he/she wants them to in order to fully realize his/her vision of the piece. The actor has to let go of the audience and let them experience the character for themselves. If you busy yourself as an actor with how every individual audience member perceives your character that leaves no room to actually create the character. The audience may or may not see what you see in the character, but that is their right as an audience participant. It isn't a playable choice to say "the audience should feel this when I do this." That's all I'm saying. You said simplicity and truth don't conflict with what your saying, but the truth is, thinking about the audience perception of your character is over complicating things and untruthful because the simplest way to portray a living person is to be a living person and people don't live life in front of a crowd. There may be times where you cast the audience, but you as the character shouldn't really be aware that you are in a play with an audience paying to watch you. That mucks up the waters.

J.D. Coburn

Here, this is about the audience and perfomance: http://www.hulu.com/watch/549086?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=ExactTarget...

Molly Kerr

Wait a second! I do theatre for kids and I AM expected to throw my hands around and warble and make funny faces! Are you invalidating my performance? Are you calling me a BAD actor because I'm 'acting'? HAHAHAHA! The children get question time at the end and one of the questions is "How are you not ashamed?" So... I guess they answered one of my questions, there. :)

Molly Kerr

Oh gawd, just read all the comments. Why did it need to get personal guys? Debating acting theory is a beautiful and constructive thing. Saying, "IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU" to an actor is just harsh. And inaccurate. What you actually wanted to say is, 'Stuff the audience, if they don't get my emotional truth from my state of being in character then that's their problem." Which it is... but they'll make it your problem and then you won't get work and then... it really won't be about you. Totally on board with all this anti-intellectualising theory but the audience issue seems to be splitting hairs and creating a false dichotomy. I know I can count on you to shoot me in the face with boiling rage and indignation if I'm wrong.

Jennifer Lynn

Hello Mr. Coburn, love your comment. I have heard these words from my acting teachers also. Don't act they say. Just be. Forced acting is easy to spot, but sometimes hard to fix. I find myself drawn to those characters that are secretly hidden within me...and as my mom says, there's a lot of them.

Peter Holdway

Is that your final word..?

Sherry Davila

Pass the pop corn :)

Other topics in Acting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In