Monday, October 09, 2006

On Keeping Secrets Secret

I remember an acting teacher who would advise actors to find the "secret spine of the scene" and then instruct the actors to play 'the secret'. I always assume by 'secret' he meant the actor should discern the character's 'sub-text', the hidden emotional agenda that characters (like fellow human beings they represent) carry in our own drama, the feelings and needs that swim beneath the surface events of our lives, the truth beneath the truth, as it were, the visceral gunpowder which threatens to ignite our daily lives into explosive drama....and play that in performance.

I believed his advise to be partially true: because I believe in 'sub-text, hidden agenda...BUT... where I differed with that teacher is that I believe the actor cannot play it. The "secret spine of the scene" is just that: the deep emotional truth kept SECRET by the character; so if the actor-as-character PLAYS is no longer can be a secret! To play something is to maneuver it, to cause it to happen, to consciously make it arise. It's like gossips who say, "I want to tell you a secret." I always think: WHAT SECRET?? You're telling me! How can it be a secret?!

It behooves a good actor to have a 'secret spine to their scene', a 'sub-text--in acting terms, the 'hidden truth'...but then should try everything in their power NOT to reveal it. The scene, the other characters, the very construct of the conflictual drama only and reluctantly FORCES them to reveal it...and only at the end of the drama, against their will.

During the scene, the audience functions like a psychiatrist. Trust their instincts They will see and know truth from the quantity and qualities of the patient's (character's) obfuscations and denials. Shakespeare said it best, about a character who said she couln't stand a certain man: "Methinks the Lady doth protest too much," thereby revealing how much she (secretly...even perhaps to herself) she cared for him!

So : feel 'the secret spine of the scene', but don't play it; rather have its swimming about deep within your character resevoir, and let the scene's other action and dialogue FORCE its secrets to be revealed INDIRECTLY AND INADVERTENTLY by your lies and evasions...and perhaps, at the end of a scene, when the dialogue indicates, let the 'secrets' be a final means of survival/conquering.


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