Saturday, June 30, 2007

ON ACTING: Forming the Layers of Character

The layers of our personality are the sediment of our living. 'Who and what we are' are our geological character strata laid down by the streams of our life. The older we are, the more and faster rivers and streams we have traversed, on which we have floated down and have left their imprint on us, the deeper and more rich is that strata-of-self which has been formed and which is our overall personality depth at any given point in time.

In the present, life's continuing experiences--or, for actors, the next moment in a scene's confrontation--chip away at, drill deeply into, level by level, this past-formed personality's/character's strata, revealing ever-increasing layers (emotional residues) of personality formed during that past...until by a scene's (or whole work's) end, our most fundamental self, the rock/sediment foundations of our essential self--the core layer below all other geological layers--is laid bare, available now to us as actors and characters to view, and through us for the audience to experience and to face...and to learn from.

Friday, June 29, 2007

ON ACTING: And the Loss of Innocence

The price of a complex performance is the loss of innocence. To understand a character requires you to understand yourself on the deepest levels first. All knowledge-of others or a character--proceeds from self-knowledge. To 'understand' others or characters is to acknowledge your 'simpatico' with them; to tacitly acknowledge "There but for the grace of God--or circumstance--go I!"

That loss of innocence--or the disabling of self-denial--is probably the greatest cost of becoming an actor/artist. And, as a reqard for that singular act of courage, to be willing to stare into the mirror--which is what a scripted character is--and say, "That is me", respect, applause, money and high esteem most likely will follow.

Sorry for my absence; I have returned.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

ON ACTING: Don't Play 'Attitude'

I watched a scene in class. The two actors involved were exhibiting only one vocal quality each throughout the scene. I accused them of playing "ATTITUDE; that is....presenting pre-determined and pre-set emotional or positions vis-a-vis one another throughout the scene. Not trying to convince one another with their dialogue and their emotions; but rather content with their chosen static (and I would argue, safe) emotional pre-determinations..with the result that because of that lack of interdependent focus and involvement, there were no changing tactics, no changing voices (not to mention of the other physical apparatus such as bodies and faces). There was no variety. And no variety equals less audience interest.

(I must admit to a prejudice: ne note played throughout anything gets quickly, repetitiously boring. Even the great Yo-Yo Ma would disappoint me if he played one note over and over again for three minutes!)

The movement of our outer bodies (which include our external apparatus of arms, legs, faces and voices) reflect the movement (neural circuiting) of our inner bodies. (This inner activity we often call 'feelings', or emotions.) If we limit our inner feelings during a scene to one pre-determined thing (or attitude), our outer bodies, including voice, mono-chromatically manifest that singular emotional impulse. As a corollary, if we wish to create a wide ranging, and I would argue a more interesting, series of vocal patterns in a scene, the actor must allow himself to be made to feel a more wide ranging set of emotional impulses throughout the scene. And this will only happen in a good acting (real) fashion, if the actor is truly engaged in scene-conflict with the other actor, actively attempting to change that other actor's/character's position in the scene...and be thereby receiving the varied stimuli that that interdependent engagement will invariably throw off from both actors. They will both be automatically feeling different things, and will be altering their outer mechanisms of body and voice to reflect those inner changes. Inner tactics will change; resultant outer tactics will change; the voices and bodies of the actors will manifest those changes. The performance will become more varied and more interesting.

After receiving input, the two actors in class did the scene again... absent their pre-set "attitudes". This time through they engaged in real, ongoing, moment-to-moment scene negotiation vis-a-vis one another, thereby received a series of multi-varied stimuli from one another, were thereby stimulated emotionally in more wide ranging ways. And their bodies and voices replicated those varied changes...much to the audiences' and their own (and their teacher's) delight.

Monday, June 11, 2007

ON ACTING: Auditioning; and the Power of Positive Thinking

Casting directors are hired by producers and directors to find actors. So When an actor is called into an audition, it should be assumed that the casting director wants the actors to do and be good. They are on the actors side. Even if the casting director seems bored, tired, rushed, distant or vague, that is the casting director's problem. Even (and maybe especially) casting directors have bad days. Imagine seeing fifty or more needy actors all day! The smart actor thinks: "Their less than adequate auditioning attitude is because they have been seeing less than adequate actors all day, actors who have not been helping them do his/her job. Whereas...once they see me, their problems are solved: in my audition I am going to assist the hired casting director do his/her job expertly and efficiently. I will be brilliant. I will not look at an audition as ME versus THEM. It's me HELPING them. They are in luck. I'm just what they are looking for! Their day (at least in casting MY role) is over!

An actor's confidence breeds confidence in the casting director toward the actor.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

ON ACTING: Issuing Expletives and Exclamations

The script reads: "Wow!" Or: "My God!" Or: "Yep!" Or: "Damn!" "Or: "Great!" Or: "Shit!" These singular words of dialogue, monosyllabic in form, are all sudden bursts of feelings, brief explosions of emotion. And they are some of the most difficult lines of dialogue to act honestly and really, and avoid fake or bad acting.

Such brief, generally isolated pieces of dialogue require almost instantaneous deep real feeling from the actor, without a rolling performance start; their expression bursts into the moment of the scene, like an athlete performing a standing vertical leap, or a drag car going from zero to sixty in a fraction of a second. How does an actor achieve this requirement of acting pyrotechnics and still obey the dictates of honest acting?

One: the actor is emotionally wonderfully (emphasis on the 'fully') prepared before the scene and especially the required moment, to be a bubbling cauldron of feeling, capable of being stimulated by the previous line of dialogue or physical action of the moment into manifesting a burst of feeling commensurate with the essential nature of the required exclamation or expletive.

Or, two (a brief trick, or performance adjustment, if you will): if the actor is not that sufficiently emotionally volatile to proclaim those expletives or exclamations with great full honest real feeling, may I suggest the actor add an element of stunned or shocked or confused to the other more specific emotion underlying the required expletive or exclamation. By adding those additional (and softening) elements, it will take the edge off the burst-requirement, ease the resultant expression--and most importantly, keep the expletive or exclamation honestly withing the realm of true and real feeling. Such an adjustment is like advising the actor to walk into a darkened room more carefully and slowly; it aids the actor in avoiding bumping too severely into the furniture of bad- and over-acting.

Friday, June 01, 2007

ON ACTING: 'Relationships' Past and Present

We often hear that the actor's considering and playing of 'relationships' is extremely important in any scene. That is, the actor, as the character, must be aware of, and be prepared to enact, a set of feelings and behaviors logical to past experience with the other characters in the scene: be it sisters, brothers, friends or lovers. Acting is 'real life' and therefore the actor must respond emotionally differently and specifically, to people based on the relationship we have had with those other people in their story lives; in Shakespeare's terms, good acting is a "mirror" held up the "nature. Characters in drama must behave accordingly.

For example: I fight differently with a brother as opposed to a stranger; I love a man that I've known for sixteen years differently than someone I've just met; I disagree with a boss differently than I disagree with an old friend. The quality and quantity of the emotional life of a character is dependent to the past experienced 'relationship'. In that sense, present feelings and attitudes that arise in a scene are reflections of the past.

However, their is a 'present relationship' that is often distinct from (albeit interwoven with) the past relationship: it is based on what I want NOW from someone in the scene. The character 'relates' to the other person in the scene because he need something from that person. For example: I may in general hate my father because of what he did to me in the past, but my present attitudes in the scene NOW will also reflect the fact that, in the scene, I've come to borrow ten thousands dollars from him to feed my kids; and when the old man pulls out a checkbook, writes the number one followed by four zeros and hands it to me, gratitude, not to mention perhaps bewilderment, confusion and even love, may trump hate.

A good actor must not consider and restrict himself exclusively to old 'relationship' patterns or emotions in a scene. He must be prepared for and allow for new feelings to arise, present and often unexpected feelings, due to the working out of the 'present relationship', which fundamentally is: "What do I want NOW from the other person in the scene; and how do I feel toward them based not only on our past relationship but also on the 'present relationship' (primarily what I am seeking from the other person).

There are in any scene two relationships between characters, one past and one present, co-mingling and woven together. And the good actor must always factor both in to the emotional rendering of a scene.