Thursday, July 20, 2006

Response to reader's (Skip's) comment

In respnse to my blurb RE "The Fiction of Character" (SEE IMMEDIATELY BELOW), Skip wrote: "It's true and I accept it, but I often worry that the side of me called for is boring."

Skip: Remember: no one is intrinsically boring, or dull. People--you--are intrinsically (potentially) exciting. Dull/boring people are people who have simply dulled themselves as tactical choices in dealing with everyday life. It often makes sense: too much unconstrained emotion can be exhausting at best, dangerous at worst. The chore as an actor is to erase the dulling armor we have surrounded ourselves with in everyday life--once again, for often logical-to-life reasons--and move courageously on stage and on screen with the freed-up emotional excitement that is at the core of our intrinsic selves. Un-boring is as un-boring allows.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Fiction of Character

Actors often say "the character on the page...". That statement is false. There is no character on the page. There is only the actor's interpretation of the dialogue and writer's instructions RE his or her desired actor's performance. The true statement when analyzing a script is: "Given my sense of human behavior which might might logically produce those kind of scripted words and actions in that kind of a scripted situation, I believe (I will interpret the script in such a way) that requires me-as-the-actor/character to behave in stage or on set in such and such real, living manner; especially if I am going to convincingly move an audience...i.e., it will be MY behavior that will make logical/exciting the script, not some fictional character. Character is simply and merely a substitute and fictional word for ME in performance. The proper, get-to-the-point and honest question when reading a script is: "What side of ME does the script require?" And the good actor always accepts that from the very beginning to the very end of the acting process, "I AM THE CHARACTER...and MY INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPT'S WORDS are my instructions and suggestions to myself how best to be this or that aspect of ME in performance."

Friday, July 07, 2006

ON ACTING: "Taking a Moment"

Some acting teachers and directors often tell an actor to 'take a moment' to consciously cease any outward, overt activity in a scene, to 'pause', as it were before moving on in the order to (generally) indicate to the audience that a meaningful moment is occurring to the character.

There are several dangers in this instruction. (1) No good actor should ever 'indicate' anything. 'To indicate" is false acting. To "indicate" is actor-consciousness-of-character-meaningfulness that most people (and thus most characters) rarely have. It is an attempt to "show" the audience how bright the actor bookending the moment in the scene to underscore the importance of the moment in the scene...Irrespective of the purposes, design, logic and intent of the character. (2) "'Taking a moment', or deciding to pause , is false to life, and hence it is bad, unreal acting. Rarely in life do people in take a moment. Moments, pauses, cessation of purposeful activity is thrust upon them. No one wants to pause. People would rather move expeditiously to success.

So when a director or teachers asks an actor-as-character to stop and think, to 'take a moment'--to pause before moving onto the next physical activity or piece of dialogue, the actor must--as in all other directorial requests--seek to emotionally 'motivate' or 'justify' the request. The good actor does NOT take the moment; they EARN the moment. The good actor puts themselves into such an increased sensitized internal/emotional condition that the prior stimulus forces them to pause, to ponder, consider, evaluate and sort through options before commencing the next overt action. They are forced to pause as a tactical necessity in their goal quest. Pauses are short term prices paid; and only to generate long term benefits.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"Still waters run deep."

There is an old saying about quiet people: "still waters run deep". It points out the following truth: Just because a person is quiet and relatively monosyllabic does not mean they have nothing going on inside. In fact, the exact opposite may be true: beneath the surface calm and smoothness a large river of emotion may be running; which is generally the case if the old saying has any enduring truth.

Actors often asked to creatively confront scenes like that: with no exciting action happening on the surface. There are no gunfights, no screaming matches, no ER room, no death penalty phase of a trial. They are what I call "still water" scenes.

Does that mean there are no possibilities for exciting drama here? Just the opposite: the actor's chore is to make it exciting; make sure that the still waters of character run deep--in effect, validating the old saying, making sure that small talk is a way of avoiding big talk!. A favorite actor's word for characterizing the process of making sure the water under scripted calm outer actions is running deep is "to create sub text". (The "Method" itself was invented for just that purpose: to enable the director Stanislavski's to help his actors activate the deep emotions necessary to create the great drama implicit in the surface calm of many Chekhov characters they were playing.) The actor's chore in 'still water' scenes is to make sure that he enters and moves through the scene with a ready-to-erupt volcano of feeling swimming about beneath the surface calm; his actions akin to a world of nitroglycerine being carried quietly and calmly across the scene.

Monday, July 03, 2006

"Thinking is a form of feeling; feeling is a form of thinking." Susan Sontag

All script analysis, intellectual effort, is really emotional preparation. Thinking is an emotional endeavor as well as a cerebral one. To stimulate the mind, one has to be in contact with the emotions which are allied and precede thought. That is why thinking is often physically (read: emotional) exhausting work.

So when an actor is trying to "understand" the script in their analysis and rehearsal, the effort is not a purely intellectual activity. They are trying to emotionally identify with the work. Proof in point: when an actor refuses to emotionally connect with a character--or a character moment, or the whole script, for that matter--they generally say: "I don't understand it!" Sometimes: "It's a stupid script!" Meaning: I refuse to stretch my emotional acceptance of reality in such a way to embrace any personal identification with the character or scripted action. Playing Hitler, rapists, Bin Laden, child molesters, etc. with honesty, depth and authenticity comes to mind.

A fine actor is one who is able to stretch their emotional acceptances of themselves, and through themselves, others. One who refuses, either out of laziness or fear, to do that will be limited in their role playing possibilities. To "understand" a script is to understand and accpt oneself, and see and embrace the emotional undercurrents that run similarly through the character and you.