Tuesday, February 05, 2008

ON ACTING: The Tip of an Iceberg

The student actor said she wanted to be the kind of actress who could make the pen she was using in the scene exciting and meaningful, so that the audience would be mesmerized by it. How does one make the seeming insignificant--a pen is a pen is a pen--significant?! That, she said, was her measure of great acting.

A prop is the physical extension of a human being; as such it can be considered the tip of the human iceberg. If the human being is exciting, the pencil's use will be exciting; it will be a precice and exciting physical statement, an outward expression of the actor-as-character's inner feelings: similar in expressive emotional potentiality to the momentarily unremarkable sound of an actor's voice, her body movement, the fleeting expressions on her face that might otherwise be deemed insignificant.

The tip (prop use) of an iceberg is only as exciting (that is, frought with ominous significance) as the size and depth of the iceberg hidden beneath the water.

In actor's terms, the significance of a prop use (or, for that matter, the sound of an actor's voice, her body movement, her facial expressions; all of which can be considered the surface textual expression of an actor-as-character's life) will only be an exciting and meaningful--as a direct or indirect reflection of the actor's inner subtextual life--in direct proportion to that vast enmotional ocean swimming inside the actor at the moment of prop-use.

Several applied criteria might aid the actor in making sure the pen's will have potential for meaningful excitement: (1) make sure the prop-choice has outer significance to the plot (for example, the character may be writing a suicide note, a 'Dear John' letter, etc.), and (2) has logic and significance to the character as character (for example, writers always carry pens), and (3) there is great depth and profundity of the feelings within the actor-as-character at the moment of the pen's use. (Moreover, that excitement factor in prop-use obtains in performance whether the pen is overtly hurled across the room, or fidgeted with, covertly and absentminedly, and thereby revaling inadvertantly some deeply felt emotion.)


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