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.


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