Good vs Bad Acting

Topic Progress:
Skills DevelopedThe difference between Acting, Indicating, Emoting
Written ByKeary McCutchen

Acting Principles

  1. Acting is behaving as if the given circumstances of the script are actually happening to you.
  2. Truthful acting is identical to natural reactions in that it is effortless and not something we can control consciously.
  3. All behavior, movement, expression performed by the actor must mimic the cycle of natural behavior in order for it to be effective.
  4. The focus of the actor must be on using imagination and suspension of disbelief to perceive the appropriate stimulus which leads to micro expression and audience empathy. Focusing on the result, emotional expression and physical behavior, leads to indicating and emoting, which does not produce an emotional response in the audience.


Human beings have empathy, which means we can experience the pain, joy, fear, anger of others. This transference of emotion happens because of a physical phenomenon called microexpressions. Microexpressions are involuntary muscle contractions that occur when we are experiencing an emotion. When you are sad or angry or afraid your face will contort, your voice will change, and your behavior will as well. When other people perceive these involuntary muscle contractions, their subconscious responds accordingly. Actors are able to move an audience because they are moved. Actors are able to help an audience suspend disbelief because they suspended it first. When the audience observes the microexpressions caused by the actor experiencing real emotions they respond accordingly.

Acting cannot be done using the conscious part of the brain. If you try to show you are sad by doing your best to make your face look sad and your voice sounds sad it will not work because human beings are able to detect deception. Whenever we are around other people we are constantly checking to see if everything is in alignment i.e. their voice, microexpressions, behavior, and words all lineup. If you’ve ever felt like something wasn’t right about someone, this is because your subconscious detected an inconsistency but your conscious mind couldn’t articulate. You may have also noticed that sometimes you take a picture where you force a smile and it looks terrible but other photographs with you smiling look great. That is because in the bad photos you are trying to look happy and in the good photos you actually were happy.

Sanford Meisner defined acting as living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. What that means is the reasons why we are sad, angry, aroused, afraid, or happy are fake but the emotions are real. Actors have one problem they need to solve. How do I make what I know isn’t real affect me as though it is real. We do this by using several exercises that are designed to build Empathy, feeling what others feel, Sensitivity, experiencing a huge reaction from a small stimulus, Concentration, being able to focus our mind on what we want as opposed to our mind constantly wandering, Vulnerability, willingness to experience negative emotions and reveal the ugly parts of ourselves, and Imagination, altering our actual reality with one that serves us.

Good acting is simply I believe I’m watching a person live their life and not an actor pretending and I can’t think of a more compelling choice. As you watch these videos which do you believe? Who looks like someone pretending and who looks like a person living?


Understanding the difference between good and bad acting will help us focus on what area we need to strengthen and which exercises we need to practice more.


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