Let’s say that I try the scene from The Rainmaker the way Nash wrote it. I try it with the alternatives that I’ve suggested, and at the end of the day, apart from the step File takes toward Lizzie, which I think makes no sense at all, I end up using Nash’s choices.
Doesn’t that justify just using Nash’s choices from the beginning? Should I waste time trying things that ultimately aren’t going to work, that are going to be tossed aside?
First off, I don’t know at the time that I am exploring my options in the scene that I’m going to end up using Nash’s choices. It’s just as possible that I will use my own. The only way that I can be confident that his choices are the right ones is if I explore and dispense with any other possibilities. The confidence I gain is worth the effort.
Second, I get a good deal out of exploring the options that I ultimately don’t use. It’s called exploring the subtext.
Because we are often unable or unwilling (often out of fear) to be honest with each other, creating the confusion and conflict of good drama, the unspoken thoughts and feelings which make up the subtext are important elements for an actor. To create a really rich performance, you have to know what the subtext is and play it accurately.
You don’t do that by saying “File and Lizzie have been in love forever, but File keeps resisting it.” You do it by immersing yourself in the longing you have for the other person, the desire to touch them. Once you’ve pumped up that desire to its max, you can now layer resistance on to it and the electricity in the scene skyrockets. Without the intimate understanding of what the love File and Lizzie have for each other really feels like, you can’t know what it is you are resisting. The audience needs to see not just the resisting, they need to see the love, too. If you don’t show the audience the love, then all they see is resistance, and they don’t know how to interpret it. Do they hate each other? Love each other? Or are they indifferent? If you aren’t actively resisting something, it’s apt to come out somewhere in the middle, and that looks a lot like indifference.
It’s the push me/pull you relationship of the love and the “I can’t give in to this” (File) or “I can’t let him know how much I care” (Lizzie) that is dramatically interesting. Play one without the other, and you’re missing half of the symphony.
So however you choose to stage this scene, you need to explore both elements, text and subtext. By experimenting with the levels (how much love, how much resistance), you discover the most interesting and powerful way to play the scene.
In other words, when there is clear subtext in a scene – when your feelings are not aligned with what you say – your performance will ALWAYS be best served if you take at least one rehearsal of the scene and play the subtext as clearly as possible (even if it appears to categorically contradict particular lines you speak).
Oh, and the negative “can’ts” up above? It’s okay to start with them as long as you translate them into positive verbs, as in “I must resist loving Lizzie” and “I must hide my love from File”.