Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Week 3: Entry 1: Why is acting so hard?

At a recent conference in the UK entitled 'Acting with Facts', the film actress Sylvia Sims reiterated the old adage that acting is just about 'learning the lines and not bumping into the furniture'. Gosh...if only it were. Maybe that's why she has a resume as long as my arm, and I have one as long as her hand...

For me, acting is an unearthly and strange activity. How can we have at our command a whole range of emotions and sensations and actions at the flick of a wrist? How can we plunge deeply into our hearts, explore our imaginations, mould our bodies into all manner of expressions and experiences in the blink of an eye?

Last night's rehearsal was particularly difficult. It was a 'mechanical' rehearsal, in that I specifically requested looking at some scenes which had very precise staging or very rhythmic language. Tilly No-Body is something of a rollercoaster of a piece - highs and lows follow on from each other at great rapidity, and I realised in the course of the evening that there were certain moments into which I'd fallen with a specific rhythm. I had actually stopped really listening to what I was saying.

Miles is a wonderful director - chiefly because he's such a wonderful actor. He hears patterns, he see cliches, he understands the potency of language, as well as the ease with which we fall into routines as actors. And yet if we don't really listen to the words that our character is speaking - and I mean listen with the most impeccable honesty, verity and openness - then we're never really telling the true story of our characters' thought processes. And then we just utter 'words, words, words'.

There's a moment in the script where Tilly appeals to the spirit of Frank with the words, 'MUST I BE DEAD TO PROVE THAT YOU MEAN ALL TO ME?' As the writer, I'd written it in capitals, as it struck me as such an overwhelming thing for one person to say to another. It's a direct quotation from Tilly, but as I found myself honouring the capital letters by shouting the lines, I felt myself falling into the abyss of generalisation.

'Stop!' said Miles. 'What happens if you say these lines very quietly and earnestly?' Mmm, I thought, I'm not sure that will work.

'Okay,' I said... and gave it a go.

The minute I stopped playing the effect of the shout, and heard the enormity of the words, I could barely say them. The reality of feeling so abandoned by someone that you feel that they'll only realise your presence if you actually disappear (i.e. kill yourself) was just too awful. I suddenly felt the vibration of the words through my body in a way that had utterly eluded me when I yelled the words with dramatic effect.

Listening as an actor is so supremely hard. Partly because it's so hard in everyday life. So often while one person is speaking to us, we've got our own inner monologue going on inside, just waiting for the appropriate moment to interrupt and come on in with our own expression. If only acting were just about learning the lines. As for not bumping into the furniture, one of my props is a large acrylic walking globe with a life of its own, so sometimes the furniture bumps into me.

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