Friday, August 31, 2007

ON ACTING: A 'Cool' Style

The student told me he wanted to act the scene with a muted style: soft spoken, with restricted body and facial gestures. "Understated", he said; "restrained". I said, "Fine. I love understatement."

He performed in his his desired/chosen manner. When we looked at the tape re-run of his performance, I said I thought it was majorly unremarkable. He agreed with my assessment.

"What went wrong?" he asked.

"You forgot the 'statement' in the under-statement. When seeking a restrained performance, the essential emotional reality within/under an understated style has to be a large. You can simply put a lid on your pressure cooker and expect a meal to be well-cooked without having heat underneath."

"Cool" is a style of handling something 'hot'.

There is a term that often used by directors (to actors) asking for an understated acting moment: they say " throw it away"; meaning: don't emphasize the line or the moment. However, in the subsequent performance translation, the actor has to remember is that he is throwing away the emotional equivalent of a thousand dollar bill and not a quarter coin.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

ON ACTING: Re-Visiting "Sub-text"

The term 'sub-text' is one of the most commonly used--and, unfortunately, at least from my perspective, most commonly abused--terms in the acting lexicon. Whenever I hear it, I am always reminded of term "junk-bonds", which referred to a financial instrument whose market chaos caused a great furor in the 1980's when purchasers became aghast when "junk bonds" turned out to be, at best, a problematic investment, and at worst, a fraudulent, criminal undertaking.

I kept thinking at the time: why us everyone so aghast and surprised? Where investors' ears closed when they bought them? Didn't they hear the modifying word 'junk'? What did they think they were buying: gild-edged annuities? If these purchasers had gone to the restaurant and ordered a "garbage burger", would they have expected Fillet Mignon between the roll halves?

Bad actors, when they use the term 'sub-text' all too often act like 'junk-bond' purchasers; they don't hear the term they are becoming involved with. 'Sub-text' is definition 'sub'; it refers to the emotional truth of a performance 'beneath' the text. It is the character's hidden emotional nature: the inner result of a character's genetic inheritance and life experience. It is the emotional 'under-girding' of a spoken word or any other action in the scene.

'Sub-text' is the 'buried mud' of a character's life...and it remains buried, hidden in performance until it (almost invariably, beyond the character's control) receives kinetic activation by the specific events--sensory stimulation--of the scene; at which point the buried 'sub-text' cannot be held in check by the character any longer and it surfaces; and becomes, by reason of it's very surfacing, text.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

ON ACTING: The Relucant Past

There is no past; there's just an ever expanding present.

The present is simply a re-ordering of the past (in the present) into what we call the future (see Newton's Conservation of Matter and Energy...where nothing in the universe is lost; just continually re-forming).

In an honest performance, before the 'swizzle stick' of the present stirs up the settled mud of the past, reforming it into what we can call the future, or, in truth, the 'new' present--an actor's emotions should remain potential, buried, dammed up--past--sub-cognitive, swimming at the muddy bottom of our character's psyches, hoping, if painful, never to be surfaced.

It is only at the scene progresses, when the events and 'stimuli' of the present conflict forcefully stir up the old mud, at first mildly, then gradually, and only most forcefully at the end of the scene, does a character's self-awareness of the past--who and what they 'really' are--become a matter of the character's inevitable (and generally unwilling) self-recognition, or self-discovery.

Self-awareness--on stage or off--is a long, arduous and generally meandering path, a tortured road from which most human beings stubbornly seek a detour (think of how much time and effort psychiatrists spend to 'open' up a patient to the truth of themselves--even when the patient is seemingly willing...and is paying a price of $150 an hour). Therefore an actor who 'plays' his character as if having--or worse, too willing to have--instantaneous and profound insights into their deepest muddy emotional past, and they offer this clear penetrating view of and through muddy waters from the very beginning of the scene; and--worse yet--are all-too-eager to feel, recognize and reveal/share these insights with other characters on stage (and through that mechanism, the audience, itself), is giving a starkly dishonest performance. Life doesn't happy that way; and therefore neither should a good actor's performance.

Monday, August 27, 2007

ON ACTING: Delivering a Long Speech

How should an actor prepare to deliver a long speech?

As in all good acting, the answer to that question--like the answer to all questions seeking performance excellence--lies in the understanding of basic human behavior.

If an actor is required by a script to deliver a long speech, the actor should first ask: How...and people in everyday life talk in an extended fashion? What is the psychological and emotional human dynamic behind a long speech?

For starters, let's accept that talking--even a word much less a long speech-- takes mental and physical energy. And...the human machine--like all entities in a long-evolving universe--is built for economy of function: it seeks to do as little as possible to achieve the desired goal.

So: people speak a long time not because they want to but because they have to; they go on and on because they can't convince the other person in a scene(or themselves in a monologue or soliloquy) in any shorter period of time. And believe me, human physics says they would if they could.

The reasons for extended speech are several: either the speaker can't sort through their own emotions cause by the prior event in an efficient fashion, or they can't sort through their own verbal facility to find the right words to express the depth of what they are feeling, or--and this is the most likely reason--the other person is resisting their verbal argument(s) so well...and thereby forcing the long-winded speaker to even become more long-winded.

An extended speech or monologue is one person (mono + logos, the Greek word for word) speaking, while the other person is spoken to; whether real or imaginary, whether offstage or on, whether self- or other, the other person is responding non-verbally. And the other character, the non-speaker, in spite of being perhaps offstage is refusing to be convinced! That is why the speaker of words has to continue a long harangue. A long speech is an extended 'dialogue'; that is, between two: one, the participant, the speaker-of-words, and the other, the perhaps non-verbal and antagonistic responder.

So: when an actor is preparing to speak a long speech, the actor must obey the logic of human behavior and prepare to speak one line at a time, each verbal utterance only in response to a non-verbal reaction of the adversary; each line motivated by the speaker's overall attempt to win the argument. The monologist offers each line of the long speech to be a 'convincer', the final (and winning) verbal attempt; each continuing dialogue of a speaker's long speech uttered only because of the unfortunate failure of the previous line to convince.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

ON ACTING: 'Hard-Boiled' Plot Meets Character

From an article (quoting biographer Tom Nolan) in the LA Times concerning Ross MacDonald, who created the hard-boiled detective, Lew Archer, and the series of books featuring him:

"MacDonald had tight control of storytelling, and the ability to spring a surprise ending that's also logical and consistent.

"In a lot of his books, as he's investigating the current crime, he becomes involved in investigating something from the past...So that plot is going forward but also backward. There's a point about two-thirds of the way through where they start to circle around each other, and they come together right at the end. It's almost a physical sensation where you're reading it."

In the emotional terms of acting, this idea would translate: 'in any scene, the present forward movement of the character toward his textual objective causes in the character an increasing activation of relevant character sub-text, or the emotional repository of the character's past, until both present plot and past character (formation) comes together in the explosion of the scene's climax and the resultant character's self-discovery.'

Friday, August 24, 2007

ON ACTING: An Honest Performace

An honest performace is one is which the actor-as-character, while pursuing her objective vis-a-vis the other character(s) in the scene, does not endow her character with any super-insight.

Like most of us n everyday life, characters are generally too busy engaging in the scene's conflict to have mush self-analytical overview. Tunnel-vision creates narrow focus, with little oveview of past, present or future 'meanng'.

An honestly performed character is too busy living, dealing and surviving the here and now to afford perspective on their situation. Good actors-as-characters are too focused surviving the subjectivity of their present life to have much of an objective perspective on it.

An honest performance is one in which the actor-as-character lives the life of an often unwilling patient and not the life of a wise, omniscient, all-knowing psychiatrist.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Threat to Acting Middle Class...Part II

To follow up yesterday's rant (SEE 'Revolution' below) concerning the possible producer attack on residuals and the ongoing destruction of an actors' middle class:

From Levine Breaking News:
***Agent Harry Gold said..."The big money in features doesn't seem to be there any more. They'll pay big money for one big star - and then it's hard to get money after them. There's no middle class [italics mine]."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ON ACTING: Revolution

Many studios and big producers in the Producers Association are thinking of entering the next round of Screen Actors Guild negotiations with a call for ending the actor's residual system (an ongoing flow of payments for repeated use/viewing of an actor's filmed/taped performance)!

Is the Producer's Association serious? Isn't it bad enough that acting is now a "rich-or-poor" profession: an actor's ability to maintain a middle class acting lifestyle is being wiped out by increasing "scale (minimum) + 10%" payments to most non-starring actors? Is producer's lack of respect for actors finally become so transparent? Have reality shows and animation emboldened them to the point of view where they adhere to a complete dismissal or the art and craft of acting: they are convinced anybody--or in the case of animation, nobody...can do it? Is acting no longer an ongoing profession in their eyes; a serious, long-term mainstream economic endeavor? Do producers wish to push acting back to medieval times, when performers were nothing but itinerant street performers and clowns, marginalized by society, considered akin to vagabonds and whores, performing for nothing but coins tossed by the viewers?

The wealthy nobility's cry "Let them eat cake" led once to one of the great defining revolutions in the history of modern Western civilization. It must happen again in the acting profession. An actors' revolutionary posture is necessary.

ON ACTING: My Space!!

I suggest the following attitude for any actor in any scene:

"When I am in a scene, whatever space or set or piece of the stage: IT IS MY SPACE. When you (the other actor or actors) enter MY SPACE you will share my space on MY TERMS. Even if your character requires you--the other character--to be positive and forceful and my character requires me to be depressed or insecure and it is MY SPACE and I will be as depressed and insecure as I want! You will agree with me; It is my space; I am automatically allowed to be insecure and depressed. Listen to my dialogue and watch my actions; I have good reason to be depressed and insecure...and after all, IT IS MY SPACE. And I am always right in my space...EVEN AND PERHAPS MOST ESPECIALLY WHEN I AM WRONG!!! My space is MY CASTLE! I am King and you are a mere vassal!!"

When all the actors in a scene believe in the foregoing manner, the audience will invariably view a powerful scene. It s like the old Westerns...'Gunfight at OK Corral'..."This town ain't big enough for the two (or more) of us, pardner." So let the bullets (dialogue, actions and reactions) fly!"

Sunday, August 19, 2007

ON ACTING: 'Choices'...Fixed or Fluid?

Actors are always talking about 'making choices': that is, 'choosing how' they-as-the-character are going to play a coming-up scene. And in such 'choosing' future acting behavior they are deciding--in advance of their actually playing the scene-- the expected emotional coloration of a future incipient moment; the best way they should (they feel) eventually to do a whole scene; or, in many cases, even a small moment in a scene.

When 'choosing' in this manner, actors are preparing themselves to best enact those scenes (preparing to act character behavior within these scenes) in a manner that is both logical to life (consistent with reality...because a good performance must be real) and exciting (consistent with exciting reality). The dual need for both reality AND excitement is why casting directors often ask actors in an audition to make "bold choices" , "risky choices"; they are asking actors to accept the danger of exciting reality--to make choices which are while always real more dramatically compelling to an audience. Emotional bravery and courage are the performer's coin, both literally and figuratively.

But, whatever the actor's 'choices' are for the scene...bold, risky OR safe...they are, in the final analysis hypoththetical; they ramain suggested choices of future and unpredictable behavior.

After all, how we possibly KNOW that we, as the actor-as-the-character, will definitively react to the other actors in the scene when the scene finally happens.

Planned-for ('chosen') reactions in a scene can never be precisely predicted in a final performance ("You can NEVER practice the upcoming game; you can only practice FOR the upcoming game; the game has yet to happen"). True reality required us--however minutely, to be open to a final modification of our rehearsal 'choices' by the spontaneous reality of our characters' and the other characters' moment-to-moment stimulation of us in the actual playing of scene itself; when--inevitably if we are really playing the scene--our emotional system's other choices, ones that our deepest unconscious emotional system will make for us in the heat of the moment, can occur.

Only reality subject to science is predictable in advance; art which is worthy of being called creative is always fresh and new.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

ON ACTING: "Thinking and Feeling"

All analysis, intellectual effort, is really emotional preparation. 'Thinking' about a scene or character takes inner-body effort, a joint experience of mind and feeling....and that’s why we get tired when we emotionally prepare for a scene. It is similar to when we enact the scene itself. To stimulate the mind and outer actions in any meaningful, non-superficial way, one has to be in deep contact with our personal emotions which are allied and precede our thought and actions. Thinking--when it is deep and probing--is exhausting emotional inner work--and physical work; because where else do our human emotions reside but in the body. Little wonder actors need a vacation after performing a role.

Monday, August 06, 2007

ON ACTING: "The Filter"

Actor consciousness (of performance during performance) is sometimes referred to as "The Filter"; where the actor 'filters' their performance through the utilization of their self-awareness.

The filter is a bad thing. It removes the actor one step from their performance reality, and thereby lessens the impact of their performance.

It should be avoided at all costs. 'Filtering' is either a manifestation of performance insecurity, where the actor is afraid they will make a mistake if they give up conscious control/awareness, or a prelude to performance 'preening'...the use of consciousness to heighten effects of the performance through actor's application of verbal, physical or emotional pyrotechnics. In either case, performance manipulation rather than honesty is the result...and few are attracted to a manipulator, on stage or off.