The other day, I was working with a young student on a role she was up for in a play. The scene required her to show empathy toward her sick grandfather and she was struggling with the scene—she couldn’t relate to the situation or identify with the character since she had never experienced the illness of someone close to her.
“Point of view,” or having an opinion, attitude, or judgment about a subject, is very important for an actor. It’s that opinion that makes every actor unique as it’s what informs the choices they make for their character.
But since young actors often don’t have as much life experience to draw from, developing one can be challenging. But before embodying a character’s opinion or attitude, they must have one of their own. They need to practice feeling things so that when they step into a character’s shoes, they can do the same for the character.
As my colleague Larry Silverberg points out in his book “The 7 Simple Truths of Acting for the Teen Actor,” it’s the actor’s job “to come to grips with the character’s point of view towards the other characters in the play, toward the circumstances he or she is involved in, and toward the world in which he or she lives. If getting onto intimate terms with our character’s point of view is our job, it is important that we first get onto intimate terms with our own point of view.”
Developing a personal point of view is a valuable skill that will not only help kids relate to the characters they play but also learn to be themselves. Many auditions start with an interview—from young children auditioning for roles to high schoolers auditioning for college programs—and having a clear point of view always helps child actors stand out.
When I work with students who struggle to find that point of view, I make it a point to ask questions about how they’re feeling about specific people, places, and events. I have them do journaling exercises to write about how they feel about things that bring them joy or sadness, the things that scare them, the things that make them mad. Anything to draw an opinion.
I also recommend free association exercises where I ask them to riff on a person, place, or thing. They usually start slow, but it’s remarkable to see them talk and talk and eventually, start to feel something. In these exercises, there’s no right or wrong but there is a choice being made. When acting, you can’t just read the lines—you have to have an opinion, make a choice, and make it your own.
Young actors are just starting to discover themselves and the world around them, and the knowledge that life is both difficult and joyous will enrich their minds, strengthen their acting, and set them up for greater success down the road.