Thursday, October 22, 2009

Acting Workshop Day...Who Knows?

I am a writer, obviously, and while I enjoy doing it most of the time, once in a while things are so convoluted and complicated that expressing them in the written word becomes somewhat tedious, if not impossible. The nature of the acting class as it stands now may be one of those things. I will try to explain things, and see how it goes.

To begin with, I want to say that each of the last three meetings have consisted of at least 30 minute sessions of trying to rework the schedule to everyone's satisfaction. There have been about 8 different schedules for the future of the class, and there have been 4 in the last 5 days. Tonight we must once again meet to discuss what the future of the class will be. One major problem is that there is a stretch, passed the original ending date of the class, during which almost nobody is available. In an effort to make sure we have all 8 classes, (and a 9th bonus class in order to "make up for all the confusion"), many attempts have been made to secure proper days and times. Most recently, this included extended this class, which started September, into mid December. To put is mildly, this did not work for me, nor does it work for a few other people. So the nightmare continues, and I am not sure it can be worked out to everyone's satisfaction. I would not burden readers with talk of schedules under normal circumstances, but in this case, it is so inextricably linked with the success and feel of the class that I included this brief synopsis of the problem.

As for my actual presentation of my monologue on Tuesday, (which I will be performing again tonight, since all scenes go twice), things get complicated as well.

Ideally I would describe here the nature of the character, what I was trying to do, and what I was instructed to do, etc. But as I look back over the entries covering this class, I realize that I have not really provided a great deal of detail about the nature of my performance, because I myself have spend so little time being sure of it myself. And I do not mean how I will do it, but WHAT I would be doing. Between unruly ex-scene partners, canceled classes, other obligations, and a plethora of circumstances out of my control, I have not had much time to truly delve as deeply in as I would for a production. So I don't know if it makes sense now to try to catch all of you up, loyal blog readers, with the intricacies of the character. (Which I kept broader than usual anyway, in order to prepare for the inevitable evisceration that would receive in class.)

But I must try to describe the nature of my first real performance in the class (!) in some way. So allow me to say that I approached the monologue in a certain way. Not with the assumption that it HAD to be that way, nor with the idea that they were anything more than broad strokes. Strokes on which I would have honed in more if I were actually in a production. But one thing I didn't understand was that my fellow classmates would be pretending to be characters observing me when I gave this monologue.

This was not clear until I was actually finished my first presentation of the speech. (A sermon being given.) At no other time in the class have those of us watching been instructed to be characters that interacted with the people performing. And though I knew my situation was unique, (having no partner) I misunderstood the nature of what I was to be doing. Had I known that the rest of the class would be silently portraying other characters within the play as I spoke, I perhaps would have been more prepared for this.

And yet, I do not think I would have presented the speech much differently, even if I had known this. I just would have liked to be aware of the dynamic. I still think my interpretation of the speech, given the character and the plot of the play, was a fair one. Buy my giving of the speech became an exercise in responding to an audience, and knowing how to give and take from them, and I was not prepared for that to be the focus of what I was doing that night.

You see, I am very much in tuned to and aware of the synergy between an audience and a performer. (See this article I wrote for recently.) And I am also aware that one must be ready to give and receive from other actors while on stage. But there is a distinction between the two. One generally knows who is the audience, and who is the cast mate. Yet in this case, my "audience" consisted of castmates, playing roles themselves. I took the script literally, and performed my piece as though I were speaking to the house of a theatre filled with paying customers.

What is the difference? A very significant one. At least from my perception. When addressing an audience, I am more free to interpret a speech, and present it, in the way that makes sense to me. I feel the audience should be moved by what I say, and if not I can adjust what I am doing. Adjust to cause "something". But that something is not always in my control, because the audience is not "in" the play.

Yet if I am to give a speech in character, to other people also in character, than the nature of the speech takes on a different sort of power. It may or may not be different in it's interpretation, but it will certainly be different it the subtleties of it's execution. Because when addressing other characters within the story, I have to take their story into account, whereas when address just the audience, I need only take myself, and my view of my own character into account. (At least in my school of acting that is true.)

In short, when I act, my character has specific agendas when dealing with other characters portrayed by other actors. But when it comes to the audience, my agenda is more broad. I want them to be sad, to laugh, to be uncomfortable, to applaud. The line is fine, but it is distinctive, and in class last time, that line was erased. Partly because of the nature of the instruction and how it differs from my views, and part because I misunderstood what my mission for the evening was.

This is cerebral stuff, I know. And I am paring it down without specific examples from my experience in class in order to make it as general an observation as possible. Yet despite my confusion as to my mission, and my disapproval of some of the the instructions I was given later in the class, (which I will get to), it makes for an important conversation, with myself, and with any of you. I hope that I have made the distinction clear to you. Even if you do not share it, understanding what I am saying will give you great insight into the way I approach the craft.

Now, to be a tad more specific.

Setting aside the idea that I gave the speech with the impression I was talking to an "objective" audience, I also assumed certain things about the circumstances of within the play. At this stage, (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN DOUBT ) Sister Aloysius have suggested that Father Flynn has done inappropriate things with a student. My speech is the Father's first sermon after her insinuations. I was approaching the speech from the perspective that the whole church was unaware of the allegations. But eventually I was told, as an exercise, to give the speech with the assumption that everyone I was talking to was not only aware of the allegations, but believed them. Obviously this required a drastic shift in the way I would present the monologue.

This threw me off a bit, and made me somewhat uncomfortable, at least at first. Not because of the interpretation, but because it was not what I had prepared myself for. If you read this blog you know that in a show I believe one must always be prepared for just about anything, so at first blush it would seem that this is hypocrisy on my part. But least in a show, there are norms that are established, and interpretations that are worked out and tried over time, so that by opening night, there is at least a working consistency within the play and the performances. It is that solid base that allows one to be prepared for unexpected shifts.

Yet with the class, it was an extreme shift not just of an expected circumstance as a performer, but a total 180 in regards to interpretation of the scene. Had this been a real scene, I would have known by then if my fellow actors were going to portray angry people, passive, people, or what have you. That night, it was all an arbitrary sort of decision.

Granted it was an exercise, and he said so. And for my part, I did it well. Not as well as I could have done it had I had some more concrete time with the character, but I did meet with success by and large. But I felt it was a long way to go to simply make a point that is honestly already clear to me. And what is that point?

That performing a role is a fluid activity which can and should be influenced, if only in subtle ways, by the actions of cast mates, the reaction of the audience, and changes that we cannot always anticipate. And that to optimize our ability to do this, we must remain open, flexible, and sensitive to the psychic and emotional energies that surround us when we perform. We must make sure we deliver those things to others, and make sure we are getting them from others ourselves.

Valid? Again, if you have read my blog over the years, you know that I fundamentally agree with this notion at the heart of acting. It is not that I find it to be an unworthy destination. (Though the degrees to which it is adopted is going to differ depending on the actor and the production. There is no one set degree at which this must work.) But as I have mentioned several times during this acting class experience, I just don't think I need to jump through the specific hoops of this class in order to understand that truth. As a result, I think sometimes I am trying to crack a specific secret code to these exercises. To try to master a secret riddle or game that once understood will allow me to complete this class successfully. But the problem is, there is no secret code. There is no great mystery that I need to be solving. I have simply found myself in an uncomfortable car, filled with strangers, traveling down a road that is bumpy, on my way to someplace I am already familiar with. I am not above learning new things. I just don't always like re-learning old things. I think that may be what this class has been in many ways to me.

I could go more into detail about the specifics of my monologue, but I won't. I could also go into the nature of the half hour hostile interview I had to go through in character, (which everyone in the class must face.) But I don't think I will get into that either. I seem to have interpreted the character, and answered the question in such a way that I am not, to the instructors satisfaction, coming to the conclusions that he thinks would be best for me to come to. I think one of the problems may be that I refuse to accept any other interpretation of the characters I play. Perhaps I don't. But that is not a rejection of someone else's interpretation. That is a rejection of the notion that it is MY interpretation. Sometimes I come at characters from a very different, unexpected angle, and more than once in my career that has confused and frustrated people, especially directors.

Yet I don't do it to be contrary. I do it to be true to an interpretation that speaks to me, obscure and off the wall as it may be. I do it because I feel it is my job, and I feel I am good at my job. (Though always hoping to improve.) I think that is what my class mates and the instructor want as well. I just think, once again, we may be dealing with square pegs.

But then again, sometimes one learns just as much from something that doesn't work, as they do from something that does. By that metric, I think, in the end, I will get something memorable out of this class.

Tonight I run my monologue again. I will be going over it shortly. More on that, of course, can be found here on the blog either tonight, or tomorrow.

No comments: