Even today, I walked into a room looking for something. No sooner than I walked through the door did I forget what it was I was looking for. Similarly, I’ve entered a room to talk to someone and have forgotten what it was I wanted to say. In these situations, I feel aimless; I might as well go back to where I came from. You probably know the feeling yourself.
This phenomenon has actually been studied. It’s called the Boundary Effect. University of Notre Dame Professor Gabriel Radvansky explains, “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away.”
The prescribed way to overcome the Boundary Effect, then, is to speak your purpose as you walk through the door. Let me say it a different way:
Actively remind yourself why you are entering.
That bridges the gap between the separate rooms’ events and allows you to quickly act on your objective.
We’ve arrived at an application for the actor, haven’t we…?
How often have you seen an actor just… enter the scene? Why did he enter? Because that’s where [HE ENTERS] is written in the script, and he heard the cue. There’s no real purpose after the entrance, and there’s no real evidence that he was anywhere prior to the entrance. He looks like he doesn’t even know why he entered. He’s aimless.
When you enter a scene, you have a scene objective. That objective must play in your mind before you enter! If you came into the room wanting something (“Corey! I’ve been looking all over for you!”), remind yourself what you want and why you want it as you enter. If you came into the room to escape something (“That was the worst day of my life…”), remind yourself what you are trying to escape from, and actively find a solution inside.
The Moment Before
Acting coaches call this the Moment Before, or Prior Moment, and it’s another indispensable tool to make second nature. Use it in performance, in rehearsal, and at auditions. Giving a moment to pause and ask yourself “Where did you come from?” will kickstart your scene with purpose and a corresponding emotional state. It may also get “Cotton-Eyed Joe” stuck in your head.
Since the moment before is the launching point for the entire scene ahead, it is a powerful variable with which you can experiment in rehearsals or multiple takes. Consider a few different scenarios that you could have experienced prior to your scene. Maybe the script says exactly what happened to you prior to the scene, but how are some different ways you might react to it?
The more details you can explore, the more vivid the Moment Before, and the more realistic you scene and character will be. Consider these details that aren’t necessarily related to your objective or plot:
- What was the temperature?
- Was it loud or quiet?
- Did you walk or run?
- Did you take the stairs and are out of breath?
- Did you have trouble finding this place?
- What time of day is it, and how much energy do you have?
- Do the other characters expect yours to enter right now?
- What or who do you expect to find when you enter?
- How long do you expect to stay?
Pick an answer to these, and see how they affect your interpretation of the lines in the scene that follows. Next time, try new answers and see what changes. There’s no pressure to “choose” or find the “right” moment before. It’s all part of the exploration process. You’ll end up knowing what is effective and what is not. And when that time comes… you still might have Cotton-Eyed Joe stuck in your head…