Acting as Storytelling: Picking Your Fights

Sword Fight Sir Toby and AntoniaStorytelling, for an actor, is the intentional choice of how you present what you are doing in order to maximize its dramatic effect.  This is the first of don’t know how many parts.  I’ll write about specific ways to think in terms of story presentation when it seems appropriate.

If drama is conflict and conflict is a fight, you need to understand what kind of battle you’re in.  Is it a boxing match or a chess match?  A swordfight or arm wrestling?  Ping pong or tennis?

The nature of each of these battles is going to be slightly different.  Ping pong is very quick; tennis is slower and involves more slight of hand.  Arm wrestling is continuous energy trying to force your will on your opponent and resisting his; a chess game allows you to reconsider your strategy at any point.  A swordfight can be a swashbuckling Three Musketeers’ event, or it can be Olympic fencing, where a touch in the right spot wins you a point.

The kind of battle you’re fighting determines the sort of strategies you can use.  In tennis, for instance, you can slice the ball at the last minute, so your opponent doesn’t see it coming.  You can lob it over his head.  You can gently drop the ball just over the net or smash it down on your opponent’s side of the court so that it jumps so high it is impossible for him to touch it.

Can you see how you might use this analogy in a play?  Let’s say you’re playing a scene where you have discovered something about your “enemy”, but he doesn’t know you know it until the end of the scene.  You might choose a drop shot as your way of delivering the “Oh, and by the way, I know this about you” line, or you might play it as an overhead smash exit line.

tennisIf the smash seems to be the obvious choice, that’s exactly why you should still try the drop shot.  When the unexpected happens on stage and it works, you have some exciting theater going on.  Don’t assume that you know what works until you’ve tried it.

Who’s getting the points in the battle you are waging in a scene?  Or in the entire play, for that matter?  The score matters in theater, as much as it does in sports.  The audience doesn’t have a scoreboard to follow, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t scoring points, or being scored against.

You’ve got to be aware of when you are attacking and when you are retreating.  When you feel stymied or trapped, and when you feel sure you are about to win.  When you’ve scored points and when points are scored against you.

Why do you need to know this?  Well, I think I’ll save that for next time . . .

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