Saturday, April 28, 2012

ON ACTING: The Preparation Technique of "Prior History"

To encourage and facilitate more emotional openness and complexity in an actor-as-character, actors sometimes are asked in their rehearsal to create a fictional ‘prior history’ of the character. They are asked to imaginatively ‘fill in the gaps’ of a character’s past life left open by the script. For example: “My character got married (this was in the script) because she was pregnant and a week after the marriage her husband talked her into an abortion (this was not in the script) .” Or: “My character was born wealthy (in the script) but secretly hates him her father because he was arrested for stock fraud, and spent six months in jail and she has always felt betrayed (not in the script).” Or: “My character is a college graduate (in the script), got straight A’s but cheated on finals (not in the script).”
Imagined prior history works very well as an emotional exercise because it forces the actor to stir up their own complex and often contradictory emotions and experiences and to thereby make those emotions available to the actor-as-character in performance. (Not surprisingly, the imagined histories almost invariably reflect the actor’s personal and often complex histories! After all: who is doing the 'back- story' fictional imagining but the actor?!) The exercise then becomes a highly effective method for the actor to tap into and grant himself permission to feel what they are already capable of feeling, to emotionally open up and emotionally‘identify’ with the character through the fictional use of such character invented history. At core it is a trick to end-run one's own emotional reluctance: tricking-oneself into activating and using deep, often hidden (denied?) experiences and feelings one already has for subsequent use by the actor-as-character in performance.


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