The most fundamental thing you can do each day is take Personal Inventory -- of your feelings, your body, and your voice, while noticing your inner images. Great actors know themselves well. As an actor, perhaps you change your mind, voice and body to “go to character,“ but you are still using yourself when you work. In acting, you are the instrument being played! Personal Inventory is basic to becoming an expert on your Instrument.
Personal Inventory is a spontaneous, moment-to-moment flow of feelings and responses to the world. This is the basic structure of Personal Inventory: Ask yourself out-loud, “How do I feel?“ And answer, “I feel...(whatever comes out of your mouth)“ Ask again, “How do I feel?“ and answer again. Do this over and over, expressing yourself in a stream-of-consciousness fashion. This means you express a flow of impulses, in a “blurting“ fashion. It’s a brilliant technique originally created by Master acting teacher Eric Morris.*
You do this exercise out-loud. This is because hearing yourself ask the question and answer it causes the exercise to go deeper. You also do it out-loud to work on physicalizing and vocalizing your impulses. As you do this exercise, you increasingly connect to your unconscious. Your unconscious is where 98% of your talent is. The more you answer from your unconscious, in this “blurting“ fashion, the more your impulses are spontaneous, surprising, filled with life and constantly evolving.
Here is an example of Personal Inventory: “How do I feel? I feel lonely. How do I feel? I feel tired. My arms are heavy. My jaw feels lazy. How do I feel? I feel sad, I miss my grandmother. I feel angry. How do I feel? I notice that person over there is chubby. That makes me giggle. I feel silly. I feel embarrassed. I feel ashamed of myself. How do I feel? I feel happy.“
Avoid long, intellectual answers. The reasons you feel what you feel are unimportant in this exercise. Here is a bad example of Personal Inventory: “How do I feel? Well I feel like I ought to be taking out the trash because the garbage smells bad and I should have taken out the trash this morning, but maybe no one will notice because no one is here.“
These are thoughts, not feelings. What we’re interested in are the feelings under the thoughts. So it might go like this: “How do I feel? I see the trashcan. I feel mad. I feel mad at myself. I feel lazy. I feel disgusted. I feel relieved.“ Those are possible feelings that underlie the thoughts about taking out the garbage.
Personal Inventory is about spontaneous, short expressions of feelings and images. Thoughts, especially long ones, are irrelevant and distracting to the point of Personal Inventory. Great acting comes from your imaginative and experiential world, not your intellect. Leave out the thoughts while doing Personal Inventory.
I suggest doing this exercise whenever you think about it throughout your day. The more you do it, the better. Notice how people, places and things make you feel. You will be amazed at how rapidly your state-of-being changes if you follow your inner stream of impulses. Your unconscious is racing with responses to the world, in feelings and images. This exercise begins to open the door again to that awesome, creative world -- a world that children have easy access to before they are socialized into conformity.
Personal Inventory is a shocking exercise for many aspiring actors, who have no idea how they feel about the world around them. You may discover your thoughts easily distract you, while you ignore your feelings. Or you may discover you have no idea how you feel. Or you may discover that certain feelings come up over and over, while others never seem to come up.
Saying the words of what you feel is a giant step for many aspiring actors. But it isn’t enough. What you also must do in Personal Inventory is encourage yourself to take responsibility for what you are saying -- to physicalize and vocalize your impulses. This means you allow your voice and body to change as your impulses change. You don’t *try* to do this, you don’t push anything out with any effort. You simply *allow* your voice and body to change as your impulses flow. There is a “feeling of ease“ in Personal Inventory.
After you ask yourself what you feel, then ask yourself, “Am I expressing how I feel?“ And try and find a way to let your voice and body increasingly reflect your moment-to-moment impulses. If you don’t, you cannot know whether you are anywhere near where the character is supposed to be. If you are shut down or emotionally unaware, your auditions will suffer and your acting will never be great.
Repetitive physical movements and tension in your body are a result of blocked feelings. Examples of repetitive movements are tapping your foot rapidly or biting your nails. If you let the tension go and stop the repetitive movements, more feelings will probably come up in Personal Inventory. I have seen actors release an avalanche of tears after simply relaxing an eyebrow, or erupt with rage after relaxing their jaw.
Be careful with this exercise. It is powerful. It can begin to open you up again to the vast, infinite universe of your imagination and feelings. It’s not a good idea to demonstrate this to strangers or at your office job. It probably won’t go over well. Protect your feelings and imaginative impulses by being discreet in the world as you do this exercise. And respect other people in the process, too.