Don't be a boring actor! Always make solid and unique choices in your work. A choice can be anything from the way you answer the phone in a scene to the way you deliver a certain line. Unique and unpredictable choices will give your work so much more substance and specificity. Having the freedom to choose how to play a scene is one of the most creative characteristics of acting. Choices are yours to make – relish them. If the director is constantly making choices for you then either he is a bad director or you are not doing your job.
Don’t rely on the script to tell you what to do and how to do it. Be careful of following every stage direction. When I am working with a script I usually cross out all of the stage directions immediately. Many times stage directions are simply notes about what a certain actor did in the original production. This does not mean you should do it as well. Make it yours by applying your own choices to the piece.
The greatest choices are never the obvious ones. If you are performing a scene in which you have an argument, an interesting choice might be to make a joke or share a loving gesture with your partner – something that’s not expected. If a scene involves heavy drama, an interesting choice might be to share a smile or be humorous. In Michael Shurtleff’s book Audition, he refers to this idea as “playing opposites.”
Entrances and exits provide endless opportunities for choices. How you enter a given space can communicate so much about your character and the story. You can simply walk through the door and proceed with your lines, or you can sneak in, barge in, jump in, knock first then enter, etc. Give your exits just as much thought and consideration. Explore every possibility, even the ones that seem ridiculous. That’s what rehearsal is for, exploring your choices. You need to exhaust the possibilities and push yourself.
Many times while I’m teaching I’ll hear students say things like, “…but my character would never do that,” or “that doesn’t make any sense, I’m supposed to be angry here.” Statements like that are completely destructive and limiting to the creative process. Ask yourself “what if?” and “why not?” before dismissing an idea or a choice. If a choice doesn’t work you can forget about it and move on, but it will be more harmful if you never explore it. Don’t be concerned with doing the scene right. There is no one right way to play a scene.
An actor who comes to rehearsal with unique and unpredictable choices is a great actor. Don’t be the actor who is constantly asking the director, “what do you want me to do?” The director doesn’t always know and more importantly, it’s not his job to make your choices. Bring choices to the table every rehearsal and give the director plenty of ideas to choose from.
When I was working at The Piven Theatre Workshop I remember a particular class I had with Joyce Piven. Two guys were working on a scene from Speed the Plow by David Mamet. The scene was not bad but there was very little happening between the two actors. They were simply going through the motions and doing the scene the way they thought it was supposed to be done. Essentially they were playing it safe. They took no risks and made no specific choices; the scene was very general. Joyce asked them to do it again. As an exercise she suggested that they behave irrationally throughout the scene.
The second time through the scene was amazing! The actors took the adjustment very well and couldn’t have been more relaxed and loose. Without realizing it they were both making brilliant choices because of this idea of irrational behavior. The way they sat, talked, moved, related to each other, et cetera was all so specific and spontaneous. Even though it was considered irrational behavior, most of their choices were extremely rational and meaningful. For example, the first time through, they were both sitting in chairs in the office talking. The second time through, applying this idea of irrational behavior, one of them sat on the desk throughout the scene. At another point one of the guys was crawling around the office on his hands and knees. Toward the end of the scene one of the guys was taking sheets of paper, one by one and tossing them around the office. All of these choices gave the scene so much more substance and specificity, not to mention humor and unpredictability.
If you are struggling to make unique choices I encourage you to work with this idea of irrational behavior. I use it all the time. It’s a fantastic tool to use and will always help you to stay loose and spontaneous.
Thanks for reading. Good luck and keep going. I wish you nothing but success in your acting career.
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