Tuesday, January 24, 2012

ON ACTING: Revealing Sub-Text

The initial surface of an enacted character rarely reveals the truth. People  lie...to themselves, to others. (And good writers, knowing that, write their dialogue and other actions accordingly).

How often in life (which drama must imitate) does one really know or understand the deepest emotional strands of their character?

Aristotle said the ultimate moment of life (and therefore of drama) is the character's moment of self-recognition and discovery. That means, if he is right, and I think he is, that all that all character-sought images prior to that final moment are like the character peering into foggy mirrors, distorting the true face of character from their own--and therefore the audience's--clear recognition.

The essential self of character is there from the beginning of the drama, but it has been obfuscated in the fog of self-denial and other-evasions.

It is only at the end of the learning process that the character (and the audience) discovers who and what the character REALLY is. Only--finally--does the true nature of the character--bubble (from the sub-text) to the surface (the text), only after the conflicts of life rub the character raw of self-evasions and lies.

So the good actor, when confronting the dialogue and other actions of the piece must realize that what he or she says and does prior to that ultimate self-revealing  point is often only the glittering and beguiling surface of their character. They must accept that in their performance, while beneath those earlier lines and evasions of their character, must simultaneously swim the tortured currents of desire, longing, fears and denials--the truths--appropriate to the character's past...BUT IT MUST REMAIN HIDDEN.

A properly enacted character enters the scene like a fully-formed but-only-beheld-from-the-surface geological strata--layered sediments of emotion, set down by the storms and winds of everyday reality--only to be revealed finally, ultimately, layer by layer, by the jackhammer of events during the scene. To repeat: in the beginning of the scene only the surface of the character (like the earth) is apparent to the audience. Then the problems and vicissitudes of the character's story rubs him raw, obly finally and slowly revealing the sediments of character.

All great drama, and great acting, is a mystery, a series of hidden plots and some-half-but-mostly-hidden character truths (sub-texts) to be solved and revealed over the course of the story.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

ON ACTING: Becoming "the Character."

How do I, the actor, become the character?

ANSWER: You don't....you are always you. What you do in acting is you transform yourself--become (and live out) a side of yourself that best approximates your and the director's interpretation of the writing (dialogue and other 'info' about the "character") that the scriptwriter has given you.

The script is your interior and exterior map, a set of guidelines and actions so you yourself can transform yourself into (performing) living and acting onstage or onset in a manner that is logical to the writing as interpreted by you and the director, consistent to human nature as the audience knows it, and is entertaining and exciting.

"What side of myself does the script ask me to be?" That is the legitimate question an actor must ask when confronting a script What would be most logical for me to feel and do if the facts of the script were to happen to me? What would be my feelings and intentions that would guide me into saying "my character's dialogue" (and doing) in response to what other character's say to me (and do to me)?

Just as I must fit the costume given to me by the costumer, and wear the make-up painted on me by the make-up person, I fit and wear the dialogue and actions of the script to my chosen feelings when performing. The feelings and actions in performance are mine; I am them. During the three to five minutes of a scene, I am "the character," there is no separation between us. When the scene is over, the producers can take the costume back, rub the make-up off my face, place the script back up on the shelf, but when I was performing, they were all mine and I was them: my dialogue, my make-up, my costume.

That transubstantiation is the magic and madness and megalomania of a good actor's performance. Good acting technique is studying and learning and finding the process that best enables the actor to metamorphosis ("morph")--IN REALITY--into living as the interpreted "character."

Is it possible? Of course. We, actors and non-actors alike--do it everyday. The soccer Mom morphs into a high powered lawyer at work, the cutthroat executive morphs into the tender, feeling lover at night, the President of the US morphs into the absent-minded husband and concerned story-reading father on the weekend.

We all play--and are expected to play--many roles--IN REALITY--every day. Why not--if we are profession actors--learn to be able to play one more in a play or film?

Friday, January 13, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: "My Week with Marilyn"

I saw "My Week With Marilyn" last night. A sweet, sweet, fun film. See it.

Included is an exemplary performance by Michelle Williams, as Marilyn Monroe, the great 20th Century film star/sex goddess. Largely a bio pic (a slice of it anyway) about  Monroe and her co-star, Lawrence Olivier, arguably the 20th Century's greatest classical actor in the English language, on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl.," a film they did together (with Olivier co-starring and also directing).

"My Week with Marilyn" is a great (albeit all too true) exploration of Monroe's emotional on-set chaos and Sir Olivier's frustrating experience trying to direct the hard -drinking, hard-drugging leading lady in the film.

But the film is more than a tragic/comedy of a star: it is also an endearing coming to age film about the narrator/leading young man, Colin Clark, who purportedly befriended Monroe during those difficult days; his part is played wonderfully by Eddie Redmayne.

Why does an actor drink, do drugs, add their personal emotional volatility to a beleaguered set? The film answers the question most emphatically: an actor's insecurity. Marilyn Monroe's oft-recorded personal and professional need for emotional balance and self-confidence was part of her sexual appeal: strong men wanted to protect her (while also being sexually turned on by her need for them). During her brief life (she died in her mid-thirties of a drug overdose) she married one of the greatest baseball players on hers or any era, Joe DiMaggio; married again, this time to probably the greatest American playwright of the 20th Century, Arthur Miller; and was subsequently mistress to a President (John F. Kennedy)' and maybe even his brother, Robert Kennedy, the US Attorney General. But probably even more telling to her popularity and enduring legend were her eye-riveting, mesmerizing screen performances, during which she became the imagined lover of millions and millions of male fans: in their fantasies they could play PRIMITIVE MAN while she curled up in their arms (and under them) as needy pussy cat.

She was not a great actress. She was a great star. Her appeal was beyond craft. It was pure serendipity. She knew it, and suffered under it.

She desperately wanted to be a serious, thinking actress, a professional who had a professionals understanding of what an how she worked. Even at the height of her career, she studied at the Actor's Studio in New York, with acting-teaching legend, Lee Strasberg; as well as under the personal tutelage of Paula Strasberg, his wife--who, as the film pointedly and comically notes, often accompanied Monroe as her personal acting coach to the set--much to this film's satiric delight.

It came too late in life. In spite of their teaching/instructing efforts, Monroe's inability to understand her great appeal as an actress, paralleled by her refusing to accept the fact that it was serendipitous and beyond her ability to replicate in any predictable fashion, led to her early insecurity-to-drug-escape demise.

All actors should see this film: (1) to see a wonderful, Award-worthy performance by Miss Williams; (2) to see a piece of Marilyn Monroe and her cinematic "stardom" history, and (3) to see themselves--their potential insecurities; and their need to fashion a craft to create a substantive floor of stability under their artistic efforts.

Monday, January 09, 2012

ON ACTING: Back from the Holidays with a Note of Sympathy to Regional Actors

When you feel a lack of respect for your work and persona from New York and Los Angeles, I want you to know it is not a new thing.

In a Jan. 9, 2112 New Yorker article entitled "Rome and Us," the author quotes Cicero (a Roman Senator from the 1st Century BC) from one of his speeches in defense of his friend Plancius:

'They say you and a bunch of young men raped a mime in the town of Atina-but such an act is an old right when it comes to actors, especially out in the sticks.'

See, regional actors...you are not alone. It's been going on for thousands of years!