Specificity (Read/Watch First)

Topic Progress:
Skills DevelopedThe Difference Between Acting, Indicating, and Emoting / Avoid Being One Note
Written ByKeary McCutchen

Acting Principles

  • There are 1 of 3 things we (the audience) see when watching an actor: 1. Acting, 2. Emoting, or 3. Indicating.
  • Acting is behaving as if the given circumstances of the script are actually happening to you (Clip 2 in example video below).
  • Emoting is having real, authentic emotions, but it’s hollow because no one is trying to affect or change the other person (Clip 1 in example video below).
  • Indicating is trying to show your emotion but not actually having a real one. Example: Troll 2 Kid
  • Acting is identical to natural reactions in that it is effortless and not something we can control consciously.
  • Acting means all behavior, movement, expression performed by the actor must mimic the cycle of natural behavior in order for it to be effective.
  • Acting focuses on using imagination and suspension of disbelief to perceive the appropriate stimulus
  • Acting leads to micro expressions and audience connectedness and empathy.
  • Emoting can looks and feels hollow to an audience, and the behavior and expressions don’t line up with the emotion.
  • Emoting is better than Indicating, but still not Acting.
  • Acting (not indicating or emoting) is being able to live truthfully through imaginary circumstances.
  • Focusing on the end result, emotional expression, and physical behavior leads to Indicating and Emoting, which does not produce an emotional response in the audience like Acting does.


As you watch these two clips, notice the difference between emoting vs acting. Both scenes have two people in a relationship that is ending. If you pause any frame during the first clip, you can see that the actors are having truthful emotional responses, however, their performance is not as effective as the performances in the second clip.

The happens because the actors are not working moment to moment and, as a result, are one-note (meaning that they have the same emotion throughout the entire scene). This happens when an actor looks at the scene and concludes, “I’m losing a fight/relationship, so I’m just going to focus on being sad the whole time,” They already know they’re going to lose (because the script told them), so they focus on feeling sad about the outcome rather than focus on fighting for the outcome they want (staying together) and using whatever tactic that might work (like we do in REAL life).

As you watch the second clip, you can see that each actor is fighting for what they want and being affected by what the other actor is doing. It is alive and dynamic.

In the first clip, the actors are not working off each other at all; they know they are going to have a fight, they have decided that they will be mad/upset, and then they just are. They aren’t working off each other. Rather than honor the truth of what they want, they’re just trying to have big emotions so the scene “looks good” and they “look good.” As a result, we (the audience) aren’t affected. Even though their micro-expressions are there and they have genuine emotions, their behavior does not line up. Something reads false, and whether we can articulate it or not, we feel it.

It is said that a good actor can make a 3 act play out of one line. What this means is that we understand that each scene has an arc, and that happens because we want an objective, we have a point of view, and we decide on a tactic. If the tactic doesn’t work, we change it (just like in real life). There is no change, just escalation. In the second clip, you can see the actors trying all sorts of different ways (tactics) to get what they want.

Learn to act moment to moment. Meisner is a fantastic technique for being in the moment, working off of your scene partner, being affected by them and your environment, staying grounded, truthful, and understanding how to use every tactic in the book to get what you want.

Acting is reacting. Be clear and specific as to what your character wants from the other character, your relationship with them, your tactic, and how you will get them to do it. If an attempt doesn’t work, you should react and change just like you would in real life.

For example, if you wanted to hang out with your friend, you would ask, then beg, then bribe, then guilt.

“Let’s hang out” (tactic: ASK)

“Please! I miss you so much” (tactic: BEG)

“if you hang out with me, I’ll never ask for anything again” (tactic: BRIBE)

“Pffftttt…some friend you are, you never wanna hang out with me.” (tactic: GUILT)


Understanding the difference between acting, indicating, and emoting will help us focus on what area we need to strengthen and which exercises we need to practice.


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