Back in 2001, I took acting classes at a well-regarded studio in Los Angeles.
The format of these classes was “scene study.” This meant we would work on scenes with acting partners (fellow students) on our own time outside of class, and then present them in class for critique and discussion.
The classes were held in the evening, twice a week, for four hours or longer at a stretch. The critiques could be exhaustive and intense. So many different aspects of the art and craft of acting would come to light via the dissection of our scenes and performances.
There was one standout lesson, though, that I took away from those classes above all else. It has stuck with me for over two decades, probably because of its applicability to so many aspects of life outside of the field of acting.
It was the idea of being an “artistic killer.”
An “artistic killer” is, essentially, someone who puts everything they have into their art.
For example, in the context of our class, students put varying degrees of effort and preparation into the scenes they would stage.
When someone went all out, it was obvious.
Maybe this meant they put together elaborate costumes and paid close attention to the physical details of the makeshift set they created on an otherwise bare stage.
Maybe it meant they had explored so many options of delivery and nuance that they were able to make effective choices about what worked best. Or they knew the scene so intimately that they were able to really be present to whatever their fellow actors gave them to work with, and could respond convincingly to that.
Maybe they fabricated from scratch a detailed history for their character. And even though most of those details would not surface in or even be relevant to the specific scene, this informed and fleshed out the character and made her that much more authentic.
Maybe they dug in deep to find the humanity in a character that was not all that likeable on the surface.
Maybe they did outside research to learn specifics about their character’s line of work.