Saturday, July 11, 2009

ON ACTING: Bright in Life, Stupid on Stage

A major mistake that actors often make in defining their character's objective is: starting the search for an objective with what the character gets in the end of a scene and working backward; deciding that the ending achievement is precisely what the character wanted from the beginning.

I find that actors make that erroneous choice for one of the following wrong reasons: (1) the actor wants to protect herself in performance from the personal emotional shocks of surprises, discoveries, reversal of fortunes that can occur when she, as the character, unknowingly moves toward climax of the scene without protective foreknowledge (if she knows everything in advance, there are no negative emotional surprises possible); (2) the actor wants the audience to show how analytically smart the actor is: “I—my character—knew all the time what was going to happen; aren’t I appealingly bright, all-knowing and all-wise character (read: actor)?”; (3) the actor is insecure about his own everyday intelligence and doesn’t want to the audience to think she is stupid because she is playing a character stupid about his destiny in a scene.

I generally find that generally only an intelligently secure actor can best play a dumb character, a morally brave actor can best play an immoral character, etc. The greatest irony that often occurs in the lives of actors is that they live their offstage lives filled with drama: chaotic lives filled with surprise, shock, discovery and reversals; then, when they approach a role, they play the character as all wise and knowing.

I would advise actors: have a little foresight, foreknowledge and reasonableness in your everyday lives, and bring deep reservoirs of unknowing-ness, naivete and drama to your character lives! It will make your life happier, and your acting much more exciting!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

ON ACTING: The Actor's Obligation

The actor has in performance a fiduciary trust: to enact the character and the character only; it is a betrayal of fiduciary trust to proselytize judgments for himself (as actor) or, for that matter, to be the overt speech-maker/PR-person for the writer. The writer’s thematic intent is served best when the actor serves his internal character function as character. The actor’s job in performance is to live the life of the character within the play, unconscious of the ultimate truth or meaning of the whole play. The true discovery and judgment…the author’s intent…is left perhaps for the character and always for the audience at the end of the performance…and should arise independent of, and often in spite of, any actor-judgments falsely imposed during the performance.

Friday, July 03, 2009

ON ACTING: 'Reasonable' Choices

Actors: allow your characters the freedom to act irrationally, and more often than not, you will find you have acted properly, according to the script: after all, if they were rational, straight-thinking and logical characters, they probably would not be in comedy and tragedy in the first place!

Absolutely rational behavior should be left to the world of science and saints. Drama and comedy are the world of fools and sinners.

Exciting actors and fools rush in where angels fear to tread. There is nothing more endearing to an audience than a character that screws up time and time again, yet continues on.

My computer’s ‘spell check’ defines irrational as “foolish, crazy, ridiculous, absurd, silly and unfounded”; I would like to add fundamentally human.

Dramatic characters by definition make mistakes much more often than they make correct choices. Was Don Quixote rational is tilting with windmills? Was Prometheus rational in thinking he could steal fire from the Gods and get away with it? Was Hamlet rational in following a ghost’s demands?

If a character makes nothing but rational choices in a film or play, the film or play would last two minutes instead of two hours. Mental blind alleys are the emotional geography of comedy and drama. No one wants to sit for two hours--or pay $100 a ticket on Broadway--to watch highly reasonable people doing reasonable, intelligent, sanitized and rational activities.

We would find these characters (and actors) almost as boring as we do in everyday life. We go to the theatre to escape those people (ourselves)! Pease don't populate plays and films with them!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Of Goats and Tragedy

Tragedy comes from the Greek word for "goat song". The word derived from a choral outpouring of song (lamentation) to accompany the Spring-time sacrifice of a goat (tragedy originating as a "song for dying goats", as it were; probably to and for the God Dionysus for whom in honor of the Greek drama festivals were held). Hence tragedy's subject matter almost invariably focuses (today and in 5th Century Athens) on an individuals fall/defeat/death/sacrifice as a redemptive (albeit tragic) act of societal renewal; a tragic lesson learned and applied: a "human goat" sacrificed and sung about to "honor the Gods" and bring in the renewal of Spring: to fulfill society's perpetual need for renewed hope and possibility.