ACTOR’S FIRST STEP – “Bring Something to the Table”
This lesson focuses on the first step every actor must take
before beginning the rehearsal process:
BRING SOMETHING TO THE TABLE!
Read the work! Read it several times. Get to know the story. Then ask yourself. What is this playwright trying to say? We know that some playwrights write plays simply because they are interested in the subject matter, or they received inspiration from something they heard about or experienced directly. Some writers will say they had no “intent” at all. “It’s art for art’s sake!” They lie! Maybe not intentionally, but, they lie. Those of us who are students of the mind, understand this, and as an actor you absolutely MUST be a student of the mind. You must understand this phenomenal jewel the creator has endowed us with. So, as students of the mind, we know that the subconscious is the true creator on this plane. Whether or not the author sat down and consciously decided to write a play about a specific person or group of people, caught in a specific web of conflict, with specific choices of resolution, resulting in a specific theme, which translates to a specific message, is irrelevant. The writer has, perhaps unwittingly, but she/he most definitely has submitted to the power of the subconscious, and as the subconscious is the true creator, it does not create in the void. Trust me, there is, inherent within the work, an intent. Find it! Bring it to the table! The intent of the story is the road map to the lifeblood of each character. Each character exists to help fulfill the intent of the story.
Is it possible for two different actors to walk away with two different notions of the playwright’s intent? Absolutely! The difference is a matter of perspective, for you each bring to the reading your own biology and biography, i.e., heritage, culture, gender, experiences, ideologies, philosophies, etc. How then is this rectified? How can all determine to end up on the same page? I suggest two things.
First, all who are engaged in this process together must agree to individual analysis of the script and not just wait for the director, or even the dramaturg, to empty your heads and fill it with information. This analysis of the script, the initial reads, must include research. Research the playwright’s life and other works she/he has written. Research the time period; yes, even the present day. Step out of your circle, or box, and see the world you live in with open eyes, but more importantly, an open mind. Don’t judge it; just observe it! Research the lifestyles presented in the writing. In other words, approach the work as if you are approaching a world you have never seen before. Emptying yourself of preconceptions and opening yourself to a new way of seeing the world of the playwright’s work will allow you formulate the ultimate perception that you must bring to the table, your perception of the playwright’s intent. If all agree to this process, and follow it, there will be greater similarity in those perceptions and fewer differences.
Secondly, I, as an actress, stay with my own perception of the playwright’s intent as I endeavor to internalize the work, until the final table read. It is at the final table read where it becomes my purpose to grasp the director’s perception and vision, to find that place where our spirits meet. I know this sounds a bit ethereal, but I am of the opinion that acting is quite ethereal. Think about it. You are, as I often explain to high school theatre students, leaving 85% of who you are somewhere back in the dressing room, entering the stage with 15% of yourself and 85% of this person created in the playwright’s mind. AND! Of that 15% of yourself coming onstage with you,
5%is your “actor” self, the part that must remember lines and blocking, and pretend that the 4th wall hasn’t been removed. The other 10% is that part of you that exists within the character also. (Keep in mind, no character is purely original, only various combinations of many characters.) Truly, acting is an out of body experience! You can’t get more ethereal than that; I don’t think.
So, character development becomes the offspring of a marriage between perceptions of the playwright’s intent, the actor’s and the director’s. Let me state at this point; a marriage must have more than one willing participant. Therefore, the actor does not come to the table, then relinquish his/her perception, nor does he/she force said perception upon everybody else. As aforementioned, if all have agreed to the process, there will be more similarities than differences anyway. Still, a good actor seeks marriage, and a good director consents to a more perfect union.
However, the union cannot take place, if you, the actor, do not “bring something to the table”. That “something” is your perception of the playwright’s intent, based on several solitary reads of the work and purposeful research. Then, and only then, SHOULD you attempt to translate through acting what has happened in the created world of the playwright and the message it sends to the other created world, the one in which we live.
Norma J. Thomas