Posts Tagged ‘ acting ’

Acting like a duck

You keep paddling like the clappers,
Just keep paddling with your flappers,
While seeming to be dreaming and calm.
Just beneath the surface
You may struggle to get by.
But nothing can deter you
If you hold your head up high.

So sing a mother and son pair of ducks in Honk! as the ugly duckling learns to swim.  The image of a duck or swan gliding serenely across the water while its legs are working nineteen to the dozen beneath the surface is particularly apt for theatre.  No matter how polished a performance the audience may experience, you can guarantee that backstage is complete chaos, involving many people whose existence would surprise the paying punters in the audience.  Actors may be dashing about at breakneck speed, changing costumes and locating props.  Crew members all in black will be changing microphones, getting sets into position, acting as crowd control, clearing the stage of hazards, grappling with velcro, safety pins and gaffa tape.  There’ll be a deputy stage manager constantly whispering into his or her headpiece to communicate with cast, crew, lighting people, sound people and more.  Miles of electrical cable coil like snakes around the building, clothing rails are hidden in the strangest places, the sewing machine is very rarely turned off and at any given point, several people will be in the middle of a nervous breakdown.

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Respect your character?

I seem to have a problem.  I get cast in a role, large or small.  I begin rehearsals full of excitement and trepidation.  I learn the words and movements.  And before long, I realise just how much of an idiot my character is.  Once upon a time, I would defend my characters. I offered a sociological justification of Torvald Helmer’s actions in A Doll’s House, for instance, which absolved him of all blame for the play’s ending, and I even managed to find a motivation for most of the things that Roger got up to in Grease.  But no longer.   I simply can not remain blind to my characters’ shortcomings…

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How do you remember all those words?

Adventures in theatre are often a source of amazement, albeit of a limited kind which tends to run out as soon as people realise that the Singing Librarian isn’t, in fact, card-carrying Equity member.  In fact, has never been paid to perform and is therefore not very impressive after all.  For those people who are still slightly star-struck or intrigued, one of the most frequently asked questions is ‘how do you remember…?’ either words, notes, moves or dance steps.  Or perhaps all of the above.  Sadly, there’s no particular secret to be revealed in the answer, as different methods work for different people.

Some people record their lines to tape and listen to this endlessly in the car as they drive to and from work.  Some people create mnemonics for their more complicated speeches.  Some people associate words with particular props or gestures – in the case of songs, this can be particularly helpful as the lyrics and choreography start to reinforce each other.  But essentially, the secret comes down to one simple thing – repetition.  The more often you hear, read or say the words, the more you’ll remember them.  The more frequently you dance a dance, the easier it is to remember, and the less conscious you become of each step, turn, spin or hop.  I don’t have any particular method; I simply read the lines through over and over, then speak them over and over, muttering scenes to myself as I trot along to work, or shelve books, or try to get to sleep.  Dances tend to be reserved for the kitchen and rehearsed while the kettle boils, the oven heats up or the sink fills with water.  This can be achieved with or without the music on in the background, and no doubt looks particularly odd when done in silent concentration.

I make sure that I practice something every day while in the midst of rehearsals.  Whether muttering on my way to work, singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen, each repetition makes the words and movements more natural and more secure, ensuring that formal rehearsals are spent learning new things rather than trying to remember what we’ve done before.  By the time that everything has been set, I will perform my own potted version of the show in the lounge or the kitchen several times a week, comprising just those scenes and songs which I happen to be involved with.  Again, probably a very bizarre sight, as I rush around like a mad thing, trying to remember which entrance I use, which props I have in my hand, and how I react to everyone else’s lines and actions.

So you see, no secret.  Just the discipline of setting aside a few minutes every day and thus rehearsing outside of the rehearsals as it were.  For some people, the lines come more quickly or more slowly but it’s much the same for everyone – practice really does make perfect, and there’s no substitute for actually doing it.  And doing it again.  And again.  Ideally, you should be able to sing, speak or dance your pieces in your sleep by the time the show arrives.  I’m sure some people do.

What’s my motivation?

Generally, it’ll be the most pretentious person in the company who ends up uttering the immortal query ‘But what’s my motivation?’ when asked to move to the side of the stage, sit down or stand in a particular place in a grouping.  Generally the answer should be ‘because I said so’, or ‘because if you stay there, you’ll be in Fred’s way when he comes in’, but many directors will give in and supply a motivation, generally very spurious.  Personally, if I have to do something that doesn’t make all that much sense, I’ll just go with it unless I really, really think that my character wouldn’t do it.  Come up with any old reason, or at least make it look as though you (both actor and character) know why you’re now standing behind the chair, and everything will generally be fine.  There are more important things to worry about, and I have found that if the reason for your character’s actions is at all significant, you’ll already know what it is.

But that’s not the focus of this particular bit of rambling, which is about a different sort of motivation.  Recently I have been wondering what my motivation is for performing in the first place.  Continue reading

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