When you use a tool, you are putting down a layer of your character. Tools need not be things you carry into your performance. They usually aren’t. I wouldn’t, for instance, suggest using the Open Door Reading tool in front of an audience. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a very useful way of exploring the character at certain points in rehearsals. (I’ll talk about when to use these tools another time.)
This is a very different way of looking at rehearsals than you may be accustomed to. Many actors I encounter in community theater see rehearsals as a means of reaching a finished performance. Nailing down choices as soon as possible is the order of the day.
That’s natural. We want to give a good performance, and we’d like to believe that it’s like putting together a barbecue grill. You take the parts out of the box and lay them out, so you can be sure you have them all. You follow the instructions, step by step. And voilà, you have a barbecue grill that looks like the one in the store!
Acting isn’t like that. You aren’t painting by numbers here. You’re creating a characterization that is unique to you. And every time you do a new play, you start from scratch. You may develop skills to do this better and faster over time, but even when you become a technically proficient actor, you are still starting from scratch with a new play: a character you know nothing about in a circumstance which is entirely new to you.
Acting is always a learning process.
Tools are ways to explore the character in all its diversity. If used properly, they don’t require you to think excessively. As with any new activity, you have to employ your conscious brain a bit more as you learn the technique, but the better you get at the technique, the less you’ll need to think about it. So please don’t look at the tools as handcuffs that will bind your creativity. They actually free your creativity.
You don’t have to use all the tools I give you. I suggest you try them with a certain amount of conscientiousness, simply so that you can understand what they are addressing and decide for yourself if they have anything to offer you. You may not use them consistently over the course of your acting life; I don’t. And you may find ways to achieve what they give you that are more effective for you as an individual. However, doing them as I explain them and repeating them until you’re sure you understand them is a good way to understand the issues involved.
As Davina noted in class, it’s hard to speed up a scene when you’re still focusing on playing your verbs. It’s hard to focus on playing your verbs when you are trying to receive emotional content from your partner. It’s hard to do any of them when you are trying to remember your lines.
That’s okay. That’s how it works. Remember, your conscious brain doesn’t multi-task well enough to handle this, and in any case, trying to do them all at once means you don’t do any of them particularly well – at this early stage in rehearsals. And by early stage, I’m talking about the first half of the rehearsal period. Maybe even the first two-thirds.
“But I know this line should be said this way!” No, you don’t. You think you do. But you’re forcing something on it. Even if it IS the right choice, you shouldn’t force it.
If you are a very instinctive actor, as I am, it is easy to “know” early on what is right for your character, but the truth is you are only in the ballpark, not on base yet. It is also true that you will not be correct 100% of the time. Even if you have fabulous instincts, a good 10-20% of the time there is a much better choice out there waiting for you to discover it. But if you stick with your “but I know this is right!” ego attitude, you’ll never discover it.
You can always come back to your “right” choice. But if you’ve explored your other options, you’ll be sure it really is “right”!
To read Layering a Character, go here.