The Actor: The Playwright’s Co-Creator

Last week Paul identified the actor as a “co-creator” with the playwright.  I’d like to take that a step further and say that the playwright tells a story with words, while the actors tell that same story with emotions.  The actors illuminate the playwright’s story by attaching emotions to what are otherwise two-dimensional sentences, and thereby give real meaning to the play.  The job of the director is to edit the options the actors present him with so that the choices they make create the strongest, most interesting story possible.

In other words, it’s not just about saying the words.  Anyone can do that.

As long as you make choices that don’t violate the script’s text, the choices are valid and fairly represent what you have to bring to the work as a creative artist.  You and I will give entirely different performances as the same character simply because we each have our own unique perspective, and that perspective tends to guide our choices.

However, we also have to recognize that our perspective is just one of many billions of perspectives, and that our characters may not share them.  What we think we know about our character isn’t necessarily right.  We are inclined to make many decisions about our characters within the first few readings of the play, but those are always made within the context of our unique perspective.  When we do, we usually shut the door on the more interesting and creative choices.

I’ve lived with my husband for 19 years.  He continues to surprise me, no matter how well I think I know him.  How can I possibly think I can understand a character I just met, about whom I only have 70 pages of dialogue as clues, in less than a week?

That’s why I won’t tell you what play your monologue is from yet.  If I do, you’ll start making assumptions about your characters.  As long as you know nothing about the play – including your character’s name – it’s easier to be open-minded.  And so I can use this early time – I think you’ll start working with scenes from full plays that I will let you read in Week 5 – to demonstrate how many more interesting options you have when you suspend judgment, as well as to introduce ways of using space and time to unleash the power of your subconscious.  My guess is that none of you use your subconscious as much as you can, and that is where true creativity lies.

I hope these tools will prove to be very helpful when you start working on 5 minute scenes (standard length for scene study).  The rest of the tools I hope to share with you, I’ll introduce within the context of those scenes.

For those of you who were at tonight’s class (9/17), here’s the assignment for next week.  If you weren’t with us tonight, you can prepare the second part of the assignment below if you have the time, but you don’t have to prepare it, either.  If you only do the homework from the 9/10 class the next time you come, that’s just fine.

I realize that we didn’t do anything with your “memory” homework tonight, due to time.  We may get to them next week.  Or maybe not.  However, you’ll find that if you keep practicing with finding new memories, you’ll become more familiar with what it feels like to search for memories, the right words, things that are difficult to say, etc.  If you know what it feels like for YOU to search for them, you can transfer that experience to your character.  When the same sensations come up for you as the character searching for the details of a memory as come up for you when you do the exercise, you know you’ve hit paydirt.

So, it’s a two part assignment:

  1. Work on your monologue in light of the experiments we did with it in class.  Feel free to try as many different approaches as you can imagine, just to see what the effect is.  Remember, you’ve got no way of knowing what the “right” choice is, so just examine your options.  Try the options that seem to be completely wrong, and see if you find anything good in there.  Finally, choose an activity that supports whatever choices you do end up making, and do both at the same time.  Run it at least three times to see what happens depending on how much attention you give to your activity.  Bring the props for your activity with you to the next class.
  2. Identify the “important” lines in your monologue vs. the “unimportant” ones.  By “important”, I mean plot points, big emotional moments, when your character makes an unsignaled left turn, etc.  By unimportant, I mean the lines that if the audience doesn’t hear, it’ll be okay.  Do this with pencil initially, until you’re happy with your choices.  Then you can highlight them if you like.  This will give you a monologue that looks like a tiger standing on its head.
    Once you’ve made your choices, practice walking around the stage on your unimportant lines, and standing still on your important ones.  You’ll do this in class as well.

And then it’s on to an active monologue (not a memory monologue).  From there, we’ll progress to really clever two person scenes that will hopefully change how you listen on stage.  Which is probably the hardest acting technique issue there is!

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