Acting is about action. We forget this sometimes. Playwrights can only provide the basic structure of the play: the plot and the dialogue. Don’t get me wrong – without the playwright, the actor has nothing to do, and the playwright’s contribution is paramount. Thank goodness we have some good playwrights!
But without the actor, they are just words on a page. To bring life to those words, we actors need to add not only the emotional life, but physical action. Saying our character’s lines is actually third in the list of responsibilities. After all, silent films were very successful for many years, and only the words that couldn’t be conveyed any other way ever showed up on the screencards.
Our job, whether we are in films or on stage, remains the same: add the emotions and the action. Hence, our logo:
This is tougher than it sounds. As both John and Nora have found, human beings are afraid of our emotions and distance ourselves from them as much as possible. Actors, on the other hand, need to plunge into them. That’s pretty terrifying.
That’s why we used the memory exercise. It’s a way of introducing yourself to your own emotions and to make friends with them. If you keep exploring your own feelings through distant, unimportant memories (because those are quite important enough, and much safer), you’ll become more comfortable with letting them show up on stage, too.
As for action – well, most actors focus on the words and resist moving. I’m not quite sure why that is, but it’s pretty universal. Only a minority of actors are inclined to move instinctively early in their careers. If no one has encouraged you to explore stage action in any depth, you can do twenty shows and still be confining yourself to a space the size of a telephone booth. (Remember those?)
But action is one of the most important and valuable tools an actor has. Action is inextricably linked to your emotions, but if you’re not accustomed to using it, the exercises we’ve been doing – by creating “business” with your activity and learning to use the space available to you on stage by walking on your “unimportant” lines – are designed to draw your attention to the role both business and movement play in your acting.
We’ve made some arbitrary choices in using them – but going to the extremes is a way of focusing on what you otherwise avoid. Once we get into actual scene work, you’ll find the link between action and emotion that make both easier to do.