Monica McCarthy


From Broadway to the Big Screen: How Actors Practice to Own the Stage

Key Takeaways

On being a strong speaker:

Obviously, there are things like perseverance, trying to develop a thick skin to handle rejection, all of those things, but I think the biggest thing that I’ve really learned is going back to what David Mamet, who’s a famous playwright – he’s got this book called True and False that I starting re-reading again.

It’s so brilliant because he reminds me of the fact that acting is really just telling the truth. That’s all it is. Bad acting is when you can see that there’s some sort of disengagement between the actor and the words, something that the audience can pick up on even if they don’t know why. This will relate to speaking as well.

To me, the biggest thing is really being able to – the more that you understand yourself and the more work you do in that, the better equipped you will be to say the words of other people on stage, the better you’ll be able to deal with the auditions, the better you’ll be able to deal with all of the emotional and even monetary. Everything that happens that comes with the pounding the pavement in the long haul will be strengthened by having a stronger sense of self and understanding and awareness of self.

On being your true self:

So one of the biggest things is that human nature, what we want to do and when it comes to having to be vulnerable, especially on stage is that we want to put up this wall. We try to make ourselves as indefensible, as separate from the audience and it’s actually the opposite is what makes for a really effective speaker or person, I think, in general, but especially speaking, especially if you’re trying to convey a message.

I think of it as the three P’s of presence – and presence I don’t just mean having a strong presence, but being present in the moment, so that’s another thing when you talk about that in practice so that you can let all of that stuff go and be truly in the moment just like an athlete would, just like anyone else would when the adrenaline pumps in.

Letting your true personality shine through. That’s another thing that people want. They feel like the purpose of sometimes going to a coach or studying this art of public speaking is about becoming a certain kind of public speaker and it’s actually, again, the opposite is true.

It’s not a term I would normally ever use, but if there are moments that you can let something come through whether it’s, again, you mess up and you go along with it, the audience will actually go nuts. It’s the same thing for acting. If somebody leaves a prop on accident, somebody’s hat falls off and somebody, another actor – well, first of all, everybody’s just staring at the hat until somebody figures out what to do with the hat.

But, the person who’s able to figure out what to do with that – the audience just goes crazy because we suddenly feel so connected and that’s one of the things I love the most about the power of public speaking, the power of real- time audience engagement and interaction. The barriers do come down in such a way that they don’t in any other way besides conversation.

On acting in the moment:

Just as a speaker, is generally we’re running our own talks. A lot of the memorization process, what people don’t realize, happens as you’re writing it. One of the things that I really encourage people to do is to talk it out loud when they’re first writing it because first of all, it needs to sound like it’s you.

A lot of people, if you’ve never done public speaking, you start to write copy just like you would copy on your website and it is totally different. I absolutely recommend saying it as you write it, first of all. Then you think of it – there’s something in acting called beats. You break your scripts down into beats.

You break it down into that scene or that chunk or that monologue. It’s the same thing with your talk. What will happen is as you practice it, as you’re saying it out loud, which definitely do, definitely the probably, again, the biggest mistake most people make is they don’t want to feel the anxiety that they know they’re going to feel when they go on stage, so they don’t want to practice it.

But, where you trip up is usually in the transitions. That’s a great place to look back and be like, “Why do I keep forgetting this one thing?” It’s probably because you haven’t written the transition strongly enough.

I really, really, really recommend – and I’m not saying this just because I coach, but I really, truly believe in hiring a coach. The best speakers I know – I remember Rene Brown saying she hired an acting coach to help her with her talks because there are things that you’re going to do that you have no idea that you’re doing, no idea.

A good coach will be able to not just be able to spot those things, but make it unique to you because every habit is unique to our own self. You won’t know. Again, until those nerves kick in, you won’t really know it. Anyway, I’m going off on a whole other tangent from the organization, but yeah.

It starts with the script process and then goes from there and then the last part of the memorization process is again, doing it in front of people, in front of a coach, standing on your feet and doing it because the adrenaline will affect your memory differently as well.

On the purpose of speaking:

It’s to leave an impact with the audience.

Those are the best speakers, the ones that you remember later, the ones that made you feel something, that made you want to take action. That’s what having an impact does.

Movement, communication, authenticity, all of these things, knowing what take away you want to leave with the audience, trying to have something – I try to basically create a formula that was like with every person that I would coach would know that by the end of working together you would feel a vast improvement in your ability to make an impact on your audience.

Speaking as a sport:

Again, I’ve been thinking a lot about how acting and speaking are in many ways like athletic performance, which I never thought of before because I wasn’t an athlete, but it really is. The more aware you are of your body and the more connected you feel to your body, the more you’re able to express because when you’re on stage we see everything.

If I’m delivering this really motivational, powerful message, but I’m kind of talking to you like this it betrays that, but then I see people going to these coaches and they’re like, “Be a lion.” I’m like, “Now I’m distracted because now I’m thinking about being a lion,” and that’s not you, especially I see a lot of females going – not that you have to go to a female coach if you’re a female, but people trying to be things, again, in their body that they’re not.

It’s the same thing with acting. When you’re performing a scene you have to be on your feet and seeing how things feel in your body. Sometimes things are more powerful when they’re delivered standing still, not moving, making your direct point. Sometimes with transitions – this s actually another way to help transitions.

If you’re somebody who gets really nervous is that you know that you’re going to move on each transition. You know that you’re going to say this part stage right. You’re going to say this part stage left. Again, those are things that you only feel control in your body and feel movement if you are practicing them.

Again, it is like a sport where you can train yourself out of certain bad habits and into good habits. The movement – movement’s also very interesting because it’s something that some people are just going to be more – some people are more graceful than others, but again, it’s not about trying to adopt a right way or a wrong way.

If you’re somebody who is a little bit quirky or a little bit faster pace or if you’re somebody who tends to be more chill – all of that should come through, again, according to whatever your personality really is.

On authenticity and vulnerability:

Just being as authentic and knowing there is a certain sense of vulnerability. That’s what makes me laugh because it is like – on the one hand you feel like this rock star. You’re on stage and everybody’s watching you and on the other hand you’re like that kid that’s having those nightmares before class and you’re up there in your underwear or whatever.

Most of the techniques that are out there are all about having you somehow mask your insecurities and it never works. It’s the same thing with acting because then all you’re doing is thinking about these other things. If you’re thinking about the audience in their underwear – I don’t know where that came up s something to be helpful – then you’re so distracted about trying to think about these people in their underwear that now you’re not even thinking about the message that you’re delivering.

People keep trying to put these things on top of it when it’s really about taking the layers away, like I said, and getting to the heart of the matter. The speakers I know – I’ll use Brene Brown as an example because I know that she’s – a lot of people have seen her talks and she talks about vulnerability and it would be really awkward if she talked about vulnerability from this very stoic place. Not that there isn’t a place and time for – we want our leaders to be a certain way, all that stuff, but yeah, being authentic to who you are and to your message.

What does it mean to speak like a pro?

I would say what it means to speak like a pro is to speak like a person and that you learn the tips and tricks so that you can be fully you when the time comes to be in the spotlight.

Top Tips:

I really recommend improv classes.There are so many things you’ll learn from that, not just about – they talk about not blocking things and taking the energy that’s given to you, not trying to be anything, not trying to be funny, not trying to deliver the zingers. For me, what I really found is I had a certain go-to Monica personality that I kept doing where anytime there was a scene I would be the really excited, “Oh my God,” or play dumb or whatever.

That’s the same thing that would happen on stage is those nerves come in, so it’s about being able to also understand your own go-to’s and quirks. Improve for presence I think is really great. I think that having a coach, taking a class, is really important because like a sport, like an art, you cannot just learn it from an online course.

You can’t just learn it from a book. It’s so personal, being able to understand your own strengths as a speaker, what you have to offer, to have somebody to be able to do that with you one-on-one I think is huge. Even if that’s not a coach, even if it’s a friend, whatever it is, but yeah, being able to practice it from your own understanding, your own uniquity, as our friend Michelle Ward, would say.

Being very aware of your purpose, of what is the main thing. What is the main purpose? What is it that I’m really trying to say and practicing it out loud. Would you feel comfortable saying that at a bar if you’re describing what it is? Would you feel comfortable saying that to your friends, your family? I feel like you can’t really go wrong if you have those things.

Saying it out loud, practicing it on your feet. I do this all the time with auditions and I mess up so many auditions because I was just like, “I know it. I know my lines here.” You get in there and that’s where the movement thing and everything else comes in.

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