Friday, November 23, 2012
From the Rehearsal Room: Javan Nelson as "Bill"
LOVE SONG opens November 23 and runs through December 9 - Wed-Sat at 8pm and Sat-Sun at 2pm. For tickets and information, click here.
Introducing: Javan Nelson, who's playing Bill in LOVE SONG. Here is his first-hand account of the rehearsal process.
A good friend of mine and a fellow actor holds as his personal career motto: "speak it into existence." I've heard the phrase over and over for months, as he pummels along in his journey toward stardom. Sage words, I always think, considering them mildly as another of those upbeat, motivational catchphrases to be stored in some mental knapsack and brought out occasionally for particularly blue days. The other day it was finally brought out, leading me to an incredible breakthrough in my acting process--but in a way I never expected.
Several days ago the director of our current production, LOVE SONG asked her actors to prepare for a scene. She charged us to speak out our feelings, motivations, and objectives out loud as our characters. She explained by doing so we were helping to make our characters' circumstances real to us in our minds. We were speaking the fictions of the play into a truthful existence. Now, many actors may have learned this simple technique when they first began studying their craft. It may even sound rather, well, "duh!" to some of you readers. But if any of you actors out there are like me (I imagine there must be some of you), speaking into existence is a procedure you have probably overlooked.
Certainly I have come across this concept many times throughout my artistic development, even utilized it continually in my work, whether it be through in-character conversing with my scene partners during rehearsal or reminding myself of my objectives backstage before a show. My oversight, however, has been to take advantage of speaking into existence, thinking of it as a mental exercise that can be accomplished in one's head. I have been thinking into existence rather than actually saying the words out loud. To my great surprise, the two are not nearly the same and both are necessary in creating strong work.
Physically verbalizing my character's thoughts--his feelings, his desires, his fears--has proven incredibly helpful in convincing my mind the thoughts it is manufacturing for a character are actually true. Particularly for the character I play in "Love Song," the technique has deeply advanced my preparation for a performance. Bill is a lowly waiter dealing with a heavy sadness at the time of the play. He has decided, however, today is the day he moves on, finding happiness once again, whether he's ready or not. I began practicing speaking into existence during rehearsal a few days ago, talking out loud as Bill. I confessed to myself that I was sad and coached myself on all the things I was going to do to make myself happy again. While I was not particularly down that day, this silly act of saying out loud that I was sad completely changed my mood. I was able to reach an emotional depth I simply could not achieve if all the work had stayed in my head. And because Bill (like Javan) was trying to convince himself he could feel something he wasn't feeling right now, every time I confessed sadness felt like a new stab of torture. It heightened the sadness, hence heightening the obstacle and the desire to overcome the obstacle. Of course, none of this work would have been effective if I had not prepared my creative work and done a substantial amount of mental work; but by putting the work into the air rather than keeping it trapped in my crowded head, I was acting out in real space rather than my own theoretical headspace.
For those of you who may be like I have been in the past, I know what you're thinking: this seems deceptive. You can really convince yourself of something by saying it out loud? The scary answer is "yes" (and I'm just as surprised myself). It's truly astounding how we can manipulate our minds with the proper nudges. I must reiterate, none of the verbalization would have been helpful if I had not first been implanting conscious mental thoughts--before you can speak into existence it's crucial to try thinking into existence first. But by ignoring one technique in favor of the other, it's very possible you're robbing your acting of its full effect. And if you need further proof, I urge you to try it yourself. If anything, it's incredibly simple and entirely worth the shot.
Now, I realize the "speaking into existence" that my actor friend regards as a personal motto is a bit different than what I have talked about. His speaking into existence refers more to sayings like, "I will book a gig this month," in order to motivate the psyche and encourage your self-esteem so that you have the confidence to accomplish your career goals. In the course of writing this blog, however, I discovered a powerful link between the phrase my friend holds dear and the one my director asks of her actors. Verbalizing your career-oriented goals and verbalizing your character's thoughts go hand in hand. Speaking your character's thoughts into existence may very well improve your work, and when you feel your work is strong it becomes much easier to convince yourself you can reach your career goals. Personally, I always feel encouraged about making my dreams come true by knowing those dreams depend on the reality of my own strengths as an actor. I'm a big proponent of giving yourself hope--our futures are in our own hands, we have only to apply ourselves to the greatest parts of our own abilities. So, don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Speak out!
Javan Nelson is an alumni of the University of Arizona Fine Arts Acting Program. His work in the NYC area extends through Stageplays Theatre Company (Narrator, Someone Should Kill That Bastard Bran Bentley *staged reading), Random Access Theatre (Orsino/Antonio, Twelfth Night), Columbia University School of the Arts (Archibald Higbie, Spoon River Anthology), and Rescue Agreement (Nikola Tesla, Electric Eden). He has also worked regionally with Arizona Theatre Company (Tom u/s, The Glass Menagerie), Arizona Repertory Theatre (Adam, The Shape of Things; Peter, The Diary of Anne Frank; Costard, Love's Labour's Lost), the Rogue Theatre (Improvisor, BoMA Improv Troupe), and the Now Theatre (Ali, The Retreating World). He is thrilled to be a new member of The Seeing Place, bringing vital theater to a hungry audience. Web: www.javannelson.com