Friday, February 1, 2013
How NOT To Be "Actorman In Actorland"
Perhaps that seems ridiculous to you. I know it does to me. And yet, this is how many actors seem to approach their work in rehearsals. They show up, ready to get on their feet and explore the world of the play. How? They'll get that instruction from their directors. Hmmm...so, then the director might say a few words, the group may have a conversation or two on the characters or what things stand out, and then they get onstage to work on their feet...and explore NOTHING to infinity and beyond!
Many actors balk at "overthinking" anything - or any kind of extensive discussion of the play, the story, the characters, their objectives (motivations), their journeys, etc. There seems to be a worry that these kinds of discussions inhibit the actor from exploring. And yet, these conversations are absolutely necessary if the actor is to be given any kind of freedom to play onstage - so that they have something to explore.
Unfortunately, very few actors bring any ideas to the table. Therefore, blocking (creating staged moments throughout a production) becomes a necessity. When afforded the opportunity to work organically, most actors don't know what to do. So, what ends up happening? They'll explore their ideas of the lines and the various attitudes they associate with the meanings they hear in their heads. Or they explore walking around and talking in the way they feel the character would walk and talk. And they love doing that. But it doesn't tend to result in any kind of story being told. You get a bunch of people, walking aimlessly around the stage, talking and gesturing. Maybe they'll get lucky and happen upon something, but maybe not. And why leave it up to luck? If our entire process as actors involves throwing ideas at a wall to see what sticks, then we are lost indeed.
So, what can we do about that? Well, as The Seeing Place has just begun rehearsals for A Lie of the Mind, we've met, discussed, and ultimately asked all of the actors to come in with a plan. That plan includes:
1.) Their character's story as they see it.
2.) Their character's journey of learning.
3.) Their objectives for every scene.
4.) A set of physical tasks to do onstage that make sense to what the character might be doing in every scene.
5.) And a set of imaginary elements to explore the circumstances and situations given by the playwright - and interpreted by the actors.
And then we get together and rehearse - using both the writer's lines and the actors' improvised thoughts. In that way, the actors can guide their work logically from moment to moment. And my job, as the director, is to make sure everyone is actually doing their work and exploring. Furthermore, I am there to make sure that those explorations are serviceable to the story. In that way, we can build the production together. It takes some doing to get used to, but it gets us back to what it was to play when we were kids. Working this way, many of us have been able to get past the need to be good or to be entertaining, and to simply live through something. In that way, we become accustomed to discovering the story.
In the final weeks of rehearsal, we'll shape the play that the audience actually sees. So, we'll only be saying the writer's words at a point, and the technical elements (lights, sound, set, sightlines) will create certain necessary staging. But we'll have all sorts of things to share that we discovered in rehearsals.
That's how we address it. It's possible to do most of this alone. Personally, I find it imperative to walk into any project, having an understanding of the story and an idea of what I can explore during rehearsals. Most directors welcome that kind of excitement. And either way, it's important that actors come in having something to say as artists. After all, that's what theatre is all about.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Don't be shy. Conversation is the best part of a community.