Friday, November 30, 2007

ON ACTING: "Back Story"; or "Prior History"

The Actor's term "Back Story", or "Prior History", is the actors way of dealing with amalgam of impacting emotional experiences that has happened to a character prior to the events of the plot. This theoretically could include time spent in the womb, since one's pre-natal care can effect one's subsequent behavior! (However, art being selective, the actor cannot include everything; only the most relevant.)

These selected emotionally relevant experiences include both those mentioned in the script: facts of the story, plot and dialogue (in this way the writer highlights some of those relevant facts for us); OR, when those scripted historical facts are sketchy, actors often create his/her imagined experiences to facilitate his/her personal connection to the character; that is, to round out and deepen the character's emotional proclivities: such as "The character was raised in a single parent home", "The character went to an Ivy League home; dated rarely in college; The character tends to put career ahead of relationships", etc...none of which may be true or highlighted in the script...but which through imagining enable the actor to create and stimulate within him/her the emotional life of the character.

The suggested search for--and the utilization of--"Back Story" or "Prior History" is predicated on the fact that humans--which characters are--emotionally respond to present events based on their past experiences. For example, having spent time in jail effects our present attitude to the law; having been raped at fifteen affects our present dating experiences; having love or hate for one's parents for twenty years trickles down to how we deal with our own children today.

To know the specifics of one' personal history is to know one's personal reactive tendencies. The same is true for characters. A good actor cannot enter a scene without a past: without a past, there can be no true (in actor's terms, real performance) present; without a true and real present, there can be no true potential a character...or as an actor.


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