Sunday, October 24, 2010

ON ACTING: Modify Your Behavior!

A young man or woman seeking to be an actor has been preparing a character or narrow range of characteristics all their lives. What we call their everyday character is the common personality behaviour; often referred to as "who they really are", their predictable and expected behavioural patterns under the exigencies of the everyday. It has become their predictable personalities when placed in a particular context of, say, home, work, dance floor or at a sporting event.

The pressures and pleasures of all those everyday venues give seemingly automatic rise to their fundamental characteristics.

However, the venue suddenly changes; the actor is plucked from the everyday and is now placed in the artistically created context called story. However, all too often, their initial tendency from reading a script is to see that life through the prism of their own lives; to chose to behave according to the character traits or personality characteristics that they themselves would exhibit or imagine they would exhibit in such circumstances.

However, sometimes, the director or the scripts calls for uncommon (at least uncommon for the actor) reactions to the events of the script circumstances. The script calls for the actor to be happy at home when in truth, in his everyday life he reacts abysmally to domestic constraints. Or, at his scripted work, she is expected to be confounded and inhibited by her work demands, when in her everyday role, she is precise, aware and extremely capable no matter the task. Similarly, in the scripted world of a dance film: she is expected to move licentiously and bawdily, when most or her life she has danced the staid fox trot and waltz; and at a sporting event he is expected to cheer mightily and wager on every goal, when is his everyday life he finds sports a bore and gambling a sin.

What to do then in such a acting quandary? Turn down the role? Defy the director; play the character according to one's own artistic and interpretive lights?

Or does one try to strecth one's response to such behavioral demands to a form and substance outside of our everyday experience? Becoming, at smooth self-dictate, a now on stage happy husband, a clunk head worker, a vamping dancer and a sports nut?

Is it that easy; that an actor could alter one's lifetime everyday behaviour that precisely, that starkly and that brilliantly, and at a moment's notice...throw off the captive shackles of our own life histories of pride, prejudices and personalities...and become pliable, mold able Gumby's of human shape and substance?

Maybe for you; but for me it sounds like a lifelong course in behaviour modification is called for; a lesson in character chameleon-ism.

Behavior modification...that is the true business of most of us actors. In training and practice, we must learn to modify our chosen and often preferred and comfprtable everyday behaviour (rather willy-nilly, to be perfectly candid, or at least with very quick fluidity) to the demands of the new script, the new character shape, the new emotions, and new demand for composite character excitingness.

Emotional and mental flexibility (and their proper fuel, a life of courage) lies at the heart--and in the talent--of every great actor who seeks a variety of roles. Rigidity of thought, emotion, conception, values and attitudes is the toxin that poisons that quest for variety.

You are as an actor-as-character what you choose to be; what you allow yourself to be. Personal propriety, ethics, morality and political correctness are no longer part of the acting model; only consistency (to script), emotional reality and excitement are relevent.

It must be why they call acting work.


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