Friday, August 27, 2010

ON ACTING: Whose Theme Are We Playing?

In writing a play or screenplay, the writer is trying to create a vision of the world that makes a statement; usually the writer's statement. Sometimes, in film, however, especially when writer's are paid up front for their writing efforts, that intent is that of the producers. The old adage applies: "The man pays the piper calls the tune."

Sometimes the theme is that of the director, especially one who is more famous than the producer. Other times it is the the star's theme, especially one who is "bank-able" (that is, a bank is willing to put up the money for the film because the star attached has the draw to put so many ticket-buying bottoms in the seats of theaters). In that case, the writer writes the script according to theme and point of view of of the star; $$$$ always calls the tune, remember.

The work-a-day actor (unless in the exceptional case of the demanding star) has nothing to do with manifesting directly the vision of the overall piece. Hired-in actors are mercenaries. The individual hired actor's job is to carry out the vision of the character; even if it is contradictory to the overall theme. In fact, often, in our playing of that very contradiction, the overall theme is often best served. For example: as the heavy in the piece, I am not hired to carry directly the banner of goodness, honor and decency; which are, let's say, the overall themes of the piece. My job is to carry the banner of evil, dishonor and indecency...with an exciting totality and vengeance, I might add. It is only when I am killed or otherwise defeated (which I, as the character, in no way want), the goodhearted theme of the piece is best moved forward in spite of me and my character's beliefs.

What I am getting to here is to warn actors not to openly and absolutely advocate in the performance-as-character the overall intent of the piece. Play the intent of the character, which, as I reiterate, may, or may not, align itself with the intent of the piece.

Sometimes our character's beliefs and themes will be in alignment with the piece's theme; sometimes they will not be. It is not our humble actor's lot to decide. Our lot is to be true to character... that is, of course, until the day we write our own screenplay or play; or produce one; or become a star! Then, all aligns itself according to our stars!


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