Actively listening in real life is a desired skill, even an art, in and of itself. In this age of “SQUIRREL!!!”: multi tasking, reading and watching little snippets on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, streaming shows, etc., I think many of us find ourselves realizing we miss some real content in our listening. It’s actually something we can practice for better personal and professional relationships.
The same thing can be said for our work onstage as performers. We all know it’s imperative to translate foreign language roles word for word so we not only understand every word but the entire phrases in a comprehensive and comfortable way, just as we do for languages in which we’re fluent. It is just as important to translate what is being said to you. (I know this may seem obvious to many or most of you, but you’d be surprised how often singers come to me not having done this!) Yes, it can be very time consuming, but from an acting standpoint, it’s imperative! In doing the same amount of work for what is being said to you and all that you are meant to hear or overhear, you are able to actively listen. From an acting point of view, this is what Uta Hagen calls, “Animated Listening”.
“Animated listening entails the interpretation of what is being said to us as it interacts with our own battery of psychological and mental actions” - Uta Hagen
I love this! Think about that for a moment. We better comprehend things said to us when we internalize them somehow: if we empathize - or not, if it’s what we expect - or not, if it changes our mind or affirms our opinion, if we have a mental picture of something…. we internalize them. We cannot fully do that if we don’t understand what the other person is saying to us.
The same thing happens on stage. You are not only singing from your character’s point of view, but you are listening from your character’s point of view. Take a moment and let that land a bit: you are listening from your character’s point of view. In order to honestly react, you have to know exactly what is being said to you. If you aren’t able to comprehend and take in what is being said to you, your actions will be fake, manipulated, fabricated. Ho hum. Generic. The audience knows this! Likewise, very importantly, so do the singers with whom you are working, who need you just as much as you need them.
As a performer, honestly listening to what is being said is as important as speaking (singing) honestly. This makes you so much more interesting as an artist and performer as you are empathetic, believable and sincere as your character - not only to the audience, but to your colleagues as well. They will know you are there for them and the chemistry is unmistakable to everyone! This is when it’s FUN!!! Along with being musically and vocally solid, this will help put you right “in the zone”. And there is nothing like that feeling!!
Toi toi toi!
& HAVE FUN!!