Monday, January 02, 2006

ON ACTING: Memorized Dialogue and Real Acting

A student wrote to me: "How can an actor give a "real" performance when the words he/she says are not there own words but dialogue written by someone else?"

My answer: All human speech is memorized. No one, even those of us born in England, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States, was born speaking English as part of their genetic inheritance. We learned English from others; and only after learning English did those English words become part of our daily interaction with other English speaking people.

Human beings were born with a speech instinct, but not for particular words or a particular language; all words are learned. So when actors are required to speak specific words, they are really being required to do nothing more than what we non-acting human beings do every day: learn a particlar vocabulary with which to expess our inner feelings. Except: actors have to be more precise in the selection of those words (i.e., they have to stick to the script).

In my everyday life, I am often called upon to restrict my language (choice of words) to what is emotionally and linguistically appropriate: I must carefully choose my words when visiting someone ill in a hospital, or at home with my parents, or at work at an important business meeting. It just so happens that as an actor, I am required to restrict it further. I must not only learn how to feel specifically the appropriate feeling delineated in the script, but also restrict the words to those written in the script to express those specific feelings. I must not only speak at a hospital, home or place of business on a stage or set in English, but I must speak just these particular English words to express those feelings. No problem, says the good actor. I have been learning English dialogue/language all my life; as a good professional actor on stage or on set I will learn to live comfortably and real-ly within the most narrow restricted verbal parameters. I will learn how to live emotionally and spontaneously within the most rigid language confines.


Blogger Ashlley Elias said...

Just recently I wrote a post on the value of actors rehearsing to boredom.

One of my arguments was that although the character is supposed to be saying things as they come to them, they are in fact working from a limited vocabulary.

Most people indeed use the same stock phrases over and over with slight variations and certainly only use a limited selection of works.

So you need to know these works really well and have them at the ready and if you were to listen as if you hadn't heard before the feelings the words bring about will near automatically spit out the words from the script: via memorization and character.

It's worked like that for me, at least.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Old Man said...

Ashley: Thanks for the wonderful input. I will respond on Jan. 2, 2009. I am on Xmas vacation!!! Cliff

6:42 PM  

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