Friday, September 22, 2006

reflections on acting

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my latest theater venture. Since then I haven't given many updates, in part because there are so many other things I wanted to share, and in part because I've been in rehearsals a lot, which limits the amount of time available for blogging. But now we're exactly one week from opening night. Woo hoo! And that means we're getting into "hell week," so I figure I'd better share some thoughts with you about it, before I totally disappear into the rehearsal death march that is looming.

This acting business is really, really interesting. You've got lots of different personalities trying to pull together to put on a story that stretches across a couple of hours. We all probably have different perspectives on what the production should turn out like, but of course the director is the one who gets to determine that. Even a director who is open to input, as is ours, will need to veto and guide and even hector us to get what he wants out of us. I might want to play a scene softly, and he might want me to play it pointedly and firmly. He's the boss; that's how it gets played. Let that little creative urge go, let it die somewhere quietly. It really is like a little death. Nobody ever said I wasn't strong-willed. Even when I'm willing to submit, it's not without a little "ouch."

(Let's don't talk about what happens when I'm not willing. Thank goodness it hasn't happened in this context. That would not be a pretty sight!)

What's so interesting and absorbing, though, is that the script really only gives you the bare bones of what's going to go on, up there on the stage. There are very few places where the playwright gives you a hint of what the character might be feeling or how they might say something. Most of the time, you have a lot of leeway to decide how to say a line. So, for instance, here's a line: "I don't want that."

Is it said with quiet conviction? Fury? Incredulity? Wheedlingly? Fearfully?

Is it, "I don't want that."

"I don't want that."

"I don't want that."

"I don't want that."

You get the idea.

Now add the question of what you're doing with hands, face, body, and you can see how many combinations you can come up with. Multiply by the number of other characters on stage and how you're interacting with them. I believe that probably makes the combinations exponential, but don't make me go back to my high school math book to confirm that I'm remembering the word correctly, please.

Now, most of the time you can tell from the context of the situation and conversations (and there's loads of conversations in Neil Simon, not many long, meaningful silences!) how a line should be said, and you can add whatever of your own natural expressions and movements that make sense and that hopefully add to the audience's understanding of what's going on, what sort of person your character is, etc.

But, more often than you might think, your director will ask you to change how you say the line. That's called directing. :o) So the next time you do that line, you need to override your own instincts and substitute his. It can be challenging, but it also allows you to increase your range of expression and stretches you in your skills. And for someone like myself, with very little experience, that's a huge, huge bonus. I am loving it!

I'm so totally absorbed in the process. At night, in particular, I mull over my character, and how she might do certain things. There is an interesting time when I have to sit off to the side and not say anything as others carry on a longish, contentious conversation, so I have to think about how she would act at that point. Just this moment, I had an idea and drifted away from writing this! Especially at night, as I fall asleep, if I'm awake in the night, when I wake up in the morning, my thoughts turn to the play. I consider what she would wear (pinks and purples, totally not me), how she would carry herself, what sorts of gestures she would make. I think about how the actors playing opposite me are saying and doing certain things, and how I might like to ask them to adjust that if they are in agreement with me about a certain series of lines.

Yep, absorbed is a very good word for it. I'm being absorbed, as if by a sponge. The usual me is disappearing into the theater sponge. Anyone who asks me how I'm doing hears about the play. I recently had to introduce myself to a group of women and I ended with "and I'm into theater." The Huz hears all about the rehearsals and my thinking. I'm just absorbed.

So anyway, if you're in the area, I hope you'll stop by and see the play. It's just a small community theater, so there's really no need for advance reservations, although they do like to know you're coming. It's only $8 per person. Here are show times and directions, and even a restaurant recommendation. And if you're coming, I'd love to know it ... but don't tell me when! I think I'll do better if I think everyone in the audience is a stranger.


Paz said...

Have fun!


p.s. I love your new "comment" comment below!

Cyndi said...

I wish I could come see your play, but I'm a bit too far away. You sound like you're having fun! I remember being in the 8th grade play, a lifetime ago, but that was it. Break a leg!