Acting

Gotta Focus

Focus. We need to focus.

We hear this all the time in the theatre, a call for focus. What does that mean, exactly?

I can’t think of any better example than this performance by gymnast Ludmilla Tourischeva at the 1975 World Cup. The bars collapse at the very end of her uneven bar routine and she never looks – not once – at the bars after they collapse. She completes her dismount, does her salute, and walks away. She knows the bars fell, but seeing the collapsed bars is of no relevance to the task at hand.

Focus, to me, isn’t about shutting out the world, it’s about filtering the stream of information coming in and discarding everything that isn’t relevant to the task at hand. It’s important, especially with young performers, to reinforce this. Review what is important during the performance and what is not.

Here are some things that I think deserve focus:

  • Supporting your scene partners.
  • Getting the lines right.
  • Getting the blocking/choreography right.
  • Finding your light.
  • Vocal projection.
  • Safety. (unlike the gymnast video above, a failing set piece will usually need to be dealt with if it presents a safety risk)

Here are some things that don’t deserve focus. These are things that are completely out of your control, there’s nothing you can do to change them.

  • Where your friends/family are sitting.
  • What the judges think.
  • Bad audience behaviour (shifting in the seats, cellphone ringing, candy wrappers).
  • Outside events. (the cast party, relationship issues, etc.)

Lastly, focus only involves events in the present, never in the past. Let’s say you’re focusing on getting the lines right. You can only focus on getting lines right in the present. If you drop a line, that event is now in the past, and no longer deserves focus.

About the author

Craig Mason