Designed for Life

It has been a week already into the show. Three shows, with two more weeks left, and I my having the time of my life. I have loosened up as a person, and a performer, and it has affected me in such an incredible way.

Last year, Closer put me into some very confrontational situations such as domestic violence, physically intimate relationships, and somewhat exposed in-front of a live audience. Design has me playing a man with different sexual preferences than myself, yet with a similar outlook to relationships that has been slowly fermenting in my real-life mind, and the experience has been incredible.

Couple to that that the feedback I have been getting, both for myself and the play in general, has been some of the best I have heard, and the experience is simply unique and mind blowing.

When your agent tells you that “you made it look like the role was written for you”, well, that has to mean something right?

Acting has Taught Me – Another’s Shoes

#Acting #actinghastaughtme #lifelessons #anothersshoes

A post shared by Jeff Watkins (@_labrug_aus_) on

You’ve heard the saying, don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Truth be told, we don’t get a lot of opportunity to do that, do we? And even if we did, I don’t think we can every truly appreciate what another person is going through, because we can never realy know the full story for them.

As an actor however, I have had to create characters from the most vaguest of concepts into a living, breathing entity. It has taken many years, many plays, and even more characters, to really get a feel for walking in someone else’s shoes, literally. The process is not simple, and the more divergent the character from yourself, the harder the challenge.

The call of Nature

Following on from my most recent blog of a few days ago, I am reminded of a project I did back in my university days. My final year thesis was an investigation into the feasibility of teaching a subject on Creative Reasoning within scientific studies, and one of the points I discussed which was the value of right and wrong.

It is interesting how both my theatrical interests influenced some of my research, and how some of my research has influenced my theatre. This came into rather interesting clarity when, recently, I was discussing the complexities of character development with some nice young people, after one of my Quiz Night gigs.

The concepts of right and wrong are uniquely human. Echoing my previous blog, they are not natural. In fact, the concepts of right and wrong can actually be inhibitive to creative reasoning, which tends to work better when encouraged to break the rules. Creativity general works better with a measure of worth, rather than fixed points of success and failure.

One of the biggest struggles I have had to face as an actor is how to convincingly portray a character who is so completely opposite me in belief, and moral direction. Pantomime villains is one things, but real villains… that is hard. I don’t like paying simple lip service to a character, and hoping that will get me by. I need to make the character believable, and that means relate-able. I have to be able to understand the motivations if I am to convincingly portray them.

I believe it is the exceptionally rare individual who is able to see themselves as evil, and relish in that knowledge. Most would rather admit that they have done some pretty bad stuff, but that they are able to justify their actions somehow. How valid that justification may be to others is questionable, but to the character, it is enough.

You see, what is “right” and “good” is subjective. It is an opinion. When enough people believe in the same concepts of Right and Good, then it becomes a standard, or moral. Yet that does not make it ultimate Right or Good, because in reality, neither exist. Deeds that one may see as utterly evil, another may see as a necessary step towards an ultimate “good” according to their perceptions.

In nature, we see many examples of processes or actions that, under a moral code, would be deemed evil, nasty, or bad, but if you change the moral code, they can look very different. Humans, with the higher order brain matter, and the need for language and labelling, are the ones who create the codes, and therefore define what is evil.

But where do these perceptions come from?

This links back to early blog posts where I talk about choices and perceptions. The choices one makes in life construct the path that influences their future. Our choices are the decisions and reactions we make when faced with the effects of the world around us, and those we interact with. Sometimes, these choices can be subtle. Then again, they can be monumental.

In a world where there is no right or wrong, just one’s perception of it, anyone could be anyone. Had I not made certain choices in my life, I would be a different person. Maybe subtly different. Perhaps completely different.

As an actor, this is huge. I really could be anyone, if I could only understand the choices I would need to have made, and the justification I told myself to live with them. What would the moral code be like?

However, following this line of thought alone doesn’t create a character with depth. It would suggest that all characters were “satisfied” with their lot in life, and we all know that this is simply not true. We can all point to people, and maybe even ourselves, who are not “satisfied” with their lot. So there is something else at work here.

Our unique power for self-deception. It is our ability to lie, to others and to ourselves, that make for the tortured and emotional characters the populate our lives. Perhaps our past choices were based on lies, or half-truths. Perhaps it is our justifications that simply don’t have the ring of truth to them, no matter how hard we try and convince ourselves. Maybe we frequently gave away our one true strength, and let others choose for us, let them tells us their truth, and now live a life that contradicts that burning yearning inside.

The one thing that differentiates us from most other animals on this planet, is our ability to ignore instinct, and see choices. It is what gives us our ability to see things things that don’t exist, imagine fantasy worlds, or inventions. We are able to create explanations for the world around us by observing the world and perceiving meaning.

It is also one of our biggest weaknesses, because unchecked, it can run away from us and have us imagine things that can frighten, annoy, hurt, and enrage. Deception and creativity are very closely bonded, because they are both two sides of the same talent.

And this is the source of right and wrong. It is opposites, or extremes, but it us who have labelled these extremes as either right or wrong.

Maths is the only real subject within which Right and Wrong can have absolute meaning, and even that is human invention.

Taking the next step

It has been a month since my last blog. Things have been turning a corner with a lot happening. It has made it very hard for me to focus my thoughts on a blog post. So here I am now, trying to formulate my thoughts in to something that I can write about.

I have been directing/performing in a rather intensely funny piece of dinner theatre. The intention had been for me to only direct, and in the realm of theatre, initial intentions are often dismissed as circumstances change. (More details here “A Finger in the Dyke”)

Then I am offered an incredible opportunity. A career change that would see me moving away from the job that simply pays my bills to the job that is likely to reward my heart (as well as pay the bills.) It is a frightening thing to consider leaving a long-term, steady, and secure job, for one which pays based on performance. Some people can do brilliantly in these sorts of jobs. The challenge charges them with zeal. For me, these sales type roles have always filled me with dread, but then I was looking at sales roles in areas where I really didn’t have much of an interest. I had never before contemplated Selling Entertainment.

And that is the thing isn’t it? Doing what you love vs doing whatever because it pays. One is work, the other is … something else.

In physics, a force is said to do work when it acts on a body…

Work is something which acts on you, not for you or with you, and it often seems to be working against you. When I started around 2003, I had strong motivations for the job. After a while, I was able to find some measure of joy in the role, and for a while, there was no work, only progress. Then, after a while, two things evolved;

  1. the job was changing, moving away from the creative problem solving to a more maintenance and technical role;
  2. my external passions, that I had been enjoying as a hobby, had started to take a new and interesting direction.

My ability to focus on my job had been compromised. As a result, it became an effort to make myself do what was expected. The goals of the job were different to my desires. Truth be told, they had always been different, and now the gap between was a chasm. The job had become work because its needs, the needs of the job, were driving me, not me driving the job. The things that drive me from within, my dreams and passions, were not conducive to the job.

This is the reality that people are faced with everyday. This is conflict, or drama, at a very personal level. Movies like Falling Down experiment with this concept, making us wonder, what would it take for me to crack? We are a society of people doing work because… It is something we can all relate to, which is why it is a common theme in plays and films. Someone stuck in a dead-end job, punching cards, dreaming of a different life… And then the dream happens, for good or bad.

So while I am nervously excited about my new options and direction, I can also appreciate the drama that built up to it, and carries it.

A new approach

In developing character, I am constantly trying new things, even small things, to help me establish myself as my character. As a director, I get to see how other actors benefit (or not) by these same techniques. Unsurprisingly, I learn a lot about my process when working with other actors in this way. I also learn from these same actors, new ideas and concepts.

A Director’s Troubles – Directing Lady Windermere’s Fan

Recently, I have been directing a play, which I have previously appeared in, and due to a rather dreadful audition turnout, I am also having to replay my previous character. Director and Actor. While I am thrilled to be able to appear in a play that I am directing, and not as a cameo, but a major role, it does introduce some rather interesting obstacles.

Couple with this, we are working to a very tight deadline. I am very used to a rather lavish two to three months rehearsal period, consisting of 2 to 3 nights a week, and an afternoon on the weekend. Plenty of time to work on character, blocking, and so forth. This time around, I have three weeks. Only three weeks. We are half way through this already…

So I decided that I was going to use a very different directional approach to what I was used to. A gamble? Maybe.

When rehearsing for film, the rehearsal period can be incredibly short. Days, or even hours in some cases. As the production is broken up into small bite-size chunks, it means that rehearsals can be focused on specific scenes. The problem is in character development, which can become fractured as you hop from scene to scene.

Most often, actors Workshop their characters, not focusing on the lines or script too intensely, in order to build a personal story, or connection that helps them to relate and feel their character. This process can be very intensive asking the actor to delve deep in to themselves in order to find reasons for their choices. Reasons they can connect with.

So this was the approach I tried to use, focussing on the why. Asking the actors to find something that would connect them to their characters, even to believe that they could even be their character.

What has occurred so far is somewhat incredible. While the cast are not completely off-script at this time, they are so very close. More importantly, their characters are living, breathing entities. They feel natural. Through this process, my vision for the show has been challenged with some very interesting, and naturally made choices by the cast. That’s the key thing here, naturally.

Being able to react in character, to me, is very important. Probably more important than acting the character. It means that your character is always in motion, able to respond to things that are different, which makes them a little unpredictable. I just love unpredictable.

So do most audiences. I am not talking shock stuff. I’m talking about those little subtle moments that make an audience feel they should keep watch so that they don’t miss anything. The “Oh, I didn’t expect that” response that keeps an audience alert, and on the edge of their seat.

I have always tried directing a little differently each show I have done, experimenting with various methods. This time around, I am astounded at how well things are going, and I think I will be using this approach more in future.

That said, having an experienced and very talented cast helps a great deal, and I am incredibly fortunate to have just that. Four of some of the best talent Perth has to offer. I am blessed.

FITDThis is the show by the way. “A Finger in the Dyke.” A comedy about reality TV Cooking Shows. Click the image if you want to know more.

About the Why

What is the most profound and fundamental question that can be asked of anyone and anything? I would put my money on “Why?” This question is most probably both the simplest, and yet most complex question ever asked. It is both a request to know more, and a demand to delve deeper.

I am sure we all know of the stereotypical child who repeatedly asks “Why?”, never quite satisfied with the answer they get, or maybe they are just being a smart-arse. Adults, I find, tend to avoid asking this question of themselves, and do their best to dodge being asked by someone else. There is something frightening about finding the core truth to something it would seem.

Yet, I find that this is the very realm I need to dive in to when I am trying to create a character. In previous posts about Character, I have skimmed over a process around development. Here I get to the heart of the process, the engine if you please. In order to be these characters, I need to expose their deepest motivations. The secrets that they will deny even unto themselves.

Actors are often depicted as asking questions such as “What’s my motivation?” “What’s my goal?” “Where’s my emotional though line?”. They may even have a back-story developed for their character which could give them a perception of things experienced. These are all useful tools and some actors make great use of them. I have tried them too, and I do use them. I find however, that on their own that cannot provide a lot of depth to a character, meaning that the actors has to work harder to create that sense of depth. I have found that I still don’t connect with my characters using just these approaches. There was no Why.

I personally believe in the idea that the only thing I have any control over, are my choices. The choices I make create the paths I follow through life. These choices are the end of a process, not a process in themselves. They come from opportunity or crisis, which places me in a position where either a choice can or has to be made. Again, these scenarios are the beginning of the process that lead to a choice but they don’t make the choice.

The choice and the senario are linked by a reason, a “Why?” No matter what the scenario, there is always a choice to be made, even in a life-or-death scenario. The reasons for that choice are the heart and sole of the person. This is where truth lives, and this is the place where character is born.

Now, let’s be a little realistic here. We make choices every second of every day. There is no way I can recreate such a character if I focus on all the choices they have made. The thing here is that while we make hundred of little chocies everyday, these are quickly lost to memory as insignificant. The truth of character however resides in all reasons, so the truth that reside in the little choices made everyday is the same as the truth that resides in key choices, choices that change lives and ideals.

So as an actor, I only need to focus on those moments that we call “Character Defining” and find the reasons Why.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it is. The benefit is that when you can understand Why your character is the way they are, you no longer need to act. You now can react. Reactions are what make a person. How you handle a situation be it good or bad reveals key things about your true nature.

Now I have had the opportunity to work with some very talented people, and I have learnt a lot from them. I have also worked with people learning the trade. I have directed and coached actors, learning even more as I did so, and though all this, I know very well that there was a time when I was a walking piece of ply-wood. I used some of the techniques I mentioned before like a blunt instrument, always looking forward trying to push my character through the story.

why_so_serious-wideWhat I have learnt, and only in the past few years, is that with the right preparation, the character’s reasons, their Why’s, will actually do the pushing for you. You don’t need to drag your performance from point to point, you can instead feel your way through as you are propelled forward on self-powered momentum.

Be warned however. Going through a process such as this also has the potential to expose your own truths. So if you are adverse to admitting your own poor choices and embaressments then don’t try this in public.

But seriously, when was the last time you asked youself why?

And why is that?

Why?

Method or Madness

I have always believed in the philosophy that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Not that I would ever skin a cat mind you, not really. There is always more than one way to do a thing, which is a concept that can be applied to all things in life. As an actor, there is more than one way to develop a character. As a director, there is always more than one way a play/show can be done.

I was recently asked the following question;

Do you believe in “The Method”, or do you just “pretend”? I know what I used to do, but how about Mr Watkins?

Do I believe in “The Method?” Look, I’ll be completely honest with you all here and now. I cannot, in all truth, claim to even know what “Method” truly means, so I did a little reading and found what are to me rather vague techniques for character development which I think most actors I know employ to one degree or another. There are variations on the core themes, and even Stanislavski gradually adapted and changed his “Method” over time. To my point of view, there is no real “Method.” Just a range of methods to help an actor “connect” with their character.

WalkenLinesChristopher Walken has his own method which focuses on connecting with his lines, and that works for him. Other actors are able to completely conform themselves in to a character of incredible contrast to themselves through physical props, visualisation and any number of other tricks. Regardless, what it all comes down to is the actor finding a way to connect with a character that works within the context of the show. Notice I said “A” character, not the. There is more than one way to portray a character.

I suppose, from a certain point of view, I do have a method, one born organically over many years of trying ideas and practice, but I didn’t always have a method as such. Once upon a time, I did pretend. Then I acted, which is not so different from pretending, only a little more convincing. Then I performed through the development of skills in presentation and showmanship. Finally, I learnt that all that was simply getting experience. Through those phases, I wasn’t really connecting with the character I was trying to be. I was a mere walking piece of card using techniques and styles without actually feeling.

From one role to another. Some would call this dedication Method Acting.

Up until today, I thought of Method Actors as being restricted, immersed, even consumed by their character. What I’ve learnt couldn’t be further from the truth. That is just one type of Method Actor. So if we consider goal of a Method Actor is to create emotional truth, rather than having a “Method” to acting, this sort of defines every actor, with a few exceptions. Now I find myself rethinking my organically developed approach as just another method for finding emotional truth, one that works for me.

My “Method” reflects my appreciation and respect for the diversity we find in Humanity. I believe that we all have the potential to be anything. Evil, Passionate, Depressed, Loving, Criminal, Honourable, Aggressive, Timid, and we can be all these things at once.  What makes me different from anyone else, or any character I have played is the choices I have made. These choices hinge concepts such as circumstances, environment, opportunities, tragedy, fortunes, and so forth. For me, it isn’t about the lines or the character as they are now. It is the Why behind the character? Once I develop an understanding for the choices my character may have made, I find I can relate. I can believe that I could be that person, and if I could be that person, then I am that person. I believe that through this approach I gain and emotional truth to my performance, and is therefore my Method.

Emotional Engagement

In days long gone now, I was a member of a Youth Theatre group, operating in association with a community theatre company. It was this group that really helped me get over my bad-tasting, childhood experiences of theatre. Working with like minded people and learning basic theatrical techniques was the first step. There was one time in particular that I often recall, where I feel I was tested more than at any other time in anything I have done.

We had an improvised scene. I was given the role of a young man coming out of court after having been acquitted in the death of a young child, killed in a motor vehicle accident. I had my “attorney” and a “friend” with me as I was confronted by the rest of the group playing family and friends of the deceased. There was no direction at all apart from “what would you do?”

What would you do? A hypothetical question which is incredibly easy to imagine, when you are not in the situation. Actually trying to portray a scene rather that hypothesise is altogether different. How would you feel? How would you react? How would you handle an angry mob? Truth is, you can’t imagine. You can plan, yet you can’t expect to anticipate what might happen and as such, how you would deal with it. With only a few minutes to prepare for this only-for-us scene, it quickly dawned on me that I could only do one thing; feel the role.

In life, we all have intentions about what we should do and how we should react, or interact. When confronted by a situation, we often need to adjust, compromise, and make it up along the way. You can’t script something like this. By that I mean having words written for you only gives you a fraction of what is required. There is so much more that actor needs to find and draw on, and when you don’t have something similar, you find something close enough and appropriate it.

I have seen some dark places in my life, something I may go in to one day, where emotion and isolation dominated me. Feelings like that can swamp your rational mind making it hard to think straight, leaving your emotions in charge. I have long learnt that leaving either your emotions or your rational singularly in charge is actually a dangerous arrangement. Having a reasonable balance of both I believe is far more harmonious, reduces stress, and keeps you focused. Drama, however, comes from conflict, and one of the base sources of conflict is the classic emotions vs rational, self-conflict scenario. I felt this young man would not be thinking clearly. He would be upset yet trying to hide it. He was glad he was acquitted and fearful of the mob he was to meet. I imagined his heart being a place of great pain, torn between thoughts and feelings.

The scene began with me and my support crew “emerging” from the court house to be faced by a mob consisting of people taking the role seriously, others uncertain how they should be, and others that in hindsight, were looking forward to a bit of agro. I only wanted to get past them and away. I abhor conflict at the best of times, and as an actor, I regularly have to confront it in various forms. Very quickly it became obvious who were the stronger characters as two in particular came out very strong and keen to pass on their “feelings-of-loss” on to my character and me. My initial attempts to get away from the crowd were thwarted as I was quickly surrounded, accusations and demands being thrown around. I offered meek apologies and requests to let me through. Their goal was to let me know how they felt and not let go so easily.

Truth is, I didn’t need to know how they felt. I could imagine, but that is what people can be like. Their pain is immediate and expressive. I felt for them as both the actor and the character, yet I began to feel that they were demanding to much, too aggressively. I recall trying to hide my face, look away, what ever. Nothing worked. I realised at some point I had been separated from my support crew. I was on my own.

It was frightening, like a loud white noise right near your ears. Aggression is bad enough when you watch it on TV. To be in the middle of a mob, even a pretend mob, was something else. As I write this, I recall a time previous when I was the centre of a mob, when I as at primary school and had effectively been placed in to a fight with another boy. I was regularly picked on as a child, for various reasons, and this was just another one of those times. I was scared on this day, yet this school-yard mob were nothing on the group of actors around me trying to make me crack.

And I did. With no place to run, no options left, flight was no longer on the table. I had to fight. It wasn’t even a conscious thought, and I can look back on it now as if I were someone else. I changed physically. My shoulders squared, I stood taller, I turned to face the strongest of the mob, and I let rip. I barely recall what it was I said now. I know it was something along the lines of they would never truly know what it would be like to live with the knowledge of what I had done. To see it in my mind on permanent repeat, no matter if I was asleep or awake. That I was more sorry than I could ever express and that their words would never hurt me more that I hurt already.

It was a momentary stunned silence, and suddenly I was able to pass between them all to the other side unhindered. They almost parted for me. A few were able to recover a little and start with the accusations and insults again, but there was less passion in it now. Less motivation. I left them behind as the workshop coordinator called an end to the scene. I was shaking, filled with conflicting emotions, and utterly exhausted. It took me sometime to come back to some measure of calm.

I’m not sure exactly what was learnt from this, a lot of things really. It is a memory I am particularly proud of however. I had tapped in to something raw, natural, and powerful. I have not always been able to reach that connection since then, yet just the knowledge that I did that once, and so completely, only shows me I can.

Learning Lines

In a private conversation, I was recently asked an interesting question; what is the best way to learn your lines?

Cary-Grant-DogIt is not something I really think much about these days. After many years of plays and filming, I have sort of had a technique evolve organically. I took bits and pieces from all over the place. Some worked, some didn’t, until I finally found I was learning my lines without much effort. Yet I can recall times where I asked the very same question of others.

So now that I have a technique, what is it, and can others use it?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe there is a definitive way to learn your lines. People learn differently. Our brains work in different ways. My wife can recall people’s names, dates, factual details about this and that, and when she rattles of a series of genealogical connections in her or someone else’s family tree, I get lost at the first branch.

I, on the other hand, can tell within a few seconds if I have seen a movie or TV show before. The visual clues stick out to me like neon lights, and the emotional intensity of the scene strikes familiar chords in me. Within the first minute, I will not only be able to recall that I have already seen the show, I usually am able to recall the basic story and outcomes also.

Learning lines is a personal thing, and developing a technique is a personal journey. You need to work out how your mind works, and then how you can use that knowledge to improve your memory recall. An approach used by one may not necessarily work for another.

Some of the typical approaches I have seen used include;

  • Rote Memorisation – Simply committing the lines to memory through constant repetition.
  • Playback – Recording your lines, and sometimes those of the other characters, and playing them back to yourself over and over.
  • Re-writing the script – I have seen some actors completely rewrite their lines to help with their recall.
  • Understand the meaning – Some of the most common bits of advice is to understand the meaning of the story; the characters purpose and goals.
  • Physical Recall – Associated certain movements with certain lines and create a choreography for the script. Your physical location within a scene can stimulate recall.
  • And more…

I have used, and to some degree still do use, these techniques, and I struggled to get beyond the learning of the lines to the next phase, bringing the character to life. In a previous post, I discuss being able to bring a character to life. I have found getting lines locked in can often restrict characterisation, and this is because I have become so focussed on the lines, I forget the character. Thing about real life people, we don’t have scripts. We don’t know what is going to be said next. It is in that sense of the uncertain where life exists.

To take a photographic example, how often have you seen a photo where people have been asked to pose and the smiles appear to be stiff, uncertain and fake? I am sure nearly everyone knows exactly what I am talking about. In these instances, the subjects have been allowed to smile for too long. A smile that is being posed is only genuine for a second, maybe less. Then it becomes a chore to maintain. The expression drains from the face and eyes, which is where a real smile rests. Learning lines mechanically is like holding on to the smile for too long. It goes flat.

A trick used by models and some photographers is to keep the subject(s) moving, or to have them relaxed before the shot and then having them pose on call. I wanted to bring the same level of spontaneity to my acting and the techniques I had learnt simply were not giving me that.

HowToStopActingThen I found a book. Not just any book, and not a book about acting. It was a book about not acting. This book changed my ideas about acting completely. Within, it described a process, or approach, to learning lines that no-one had every told me before. Essentially, one combined the development of character with the learning of the line. Using an approach Harold calls “Taking it off the page” an actor slowly goes through a script, phrase by phrase (not line by line) and reacts to it. Read a phrase and use whatever emotion you feel upon reading to the look up and speak the phrase.

This approach is different for a few reasons;

  • It is about reactions, not portrayal. Other techniques involve you having your character preformed almost entirely and you, the actor, are then to drive the emotion. Here the actor is actually reacting to the line and reflecting that back into their performance. Even the lack of a feeling or reaction is a valid choice.
  • It is “in-the-moment.” It’s a buzz phrase to be “in-the-moment” and the question has always been how. By breaking the script in to moment sized chunks, you are developing an understanding of the moments in the play.
  • It blends the lines with the character. I takes away the feeling that I need to remember my lines. By integrating the character and the lines, when you get into character, the lines seem to flow naturally, which means more room to focus on the relationships, and situations.

Learning Lines is actually quite an unnatural process. Life is basically ad-lib, so to organise and pre-plan every little detail is something only humans do, with our high cognitive abilities. We seek order in disorder, yet find entertainment in the unexpected. Plays that have been done many times before are often ridiculed for replaying a previously successful performance, and not bringing something new. Keeping a script alive and unexpected is a difficult challenge, and one that all actors must face.

For me at least, learning lines is not the problem. Learning to live those lines is the true goal of any actor. To live the lines as much as I live my life.

Realism – Portraying with conviction

Debs_Dwelling
@labrug How to make a character so convincing your audience believes you are going through what you are portraying? 😉
25/02/2014 7:26 pm

This is a hard one to answer. Ultimately, it is a very personal choice as to how far an actor is prepared to go in portraying your character. You see, when you get in to character, really get in to character, it affects you. It sort of blurs I guess with your own self. So there is a real risk with something I am going to term Emotional Bleed.

Sometimes, as an actor, we can be asked to play something deep, dark and dangerous. Our job as an actor is to portray this in a manner that the audience will understand, or connect with. The darker the emotion, the deeper one must dig. Yet as real people, we may not have experienced anything like what the character is supposed to be going through. Part of character development is to find that feeling and experience.

There are tales of what some professional actors have done in order to be able to create their characters; spend time with real life people living the life similar to the one they are to portray, or put themselves through physically and emotionally challenging trials. Basically, they do extreme research.

Ultimately, it is about developing some way to actually be in that experience, be that character. It becomes not about acting, but about being. The actor IS that person. They have gone through a lifetime of events that have brought them to this point in time, to be the person they are, in this moment, and to be able to be in that moment as many times as it takes.

In theatre, you repeat the whole story from beginning to end, night after night, for weeks on end. In film, you may need to repeat your performance in pieces, several times over. Either way, being able to easily return to this dark place is essential.

It means knowing your character like they were you.

For me, it is about finding the reasons and motivations that you make me, who I am today, be the person I need to portray. This means that the back-story I develop for my character is not just a character guide, it is a program, or a software, that I load. It helps me to connect to my character.

It is something that I only, really appreciated some years after doing a lot of theatre. When I was cast as Mercutio (Romeo and Juliet), my director really had me get dirty with my character, both figuratively and literally. I really felt like I was Mercutio. The there was his famous monologue, “Then I see that queen Mab…”

Up until I did this play, I had always seen this character as light-hearted, almost arrogant clown. He was skilled and a charmer. As my director worked and reworked this particular piece, I learnt far more about the man Mercutio. I found an appreciation for why he played the arrogant clown, and I began to connect with him. I realised that had I gone through his life experiences, I may very well have had his same outlook on life. In going through this process, I and Mercutio became one and the same.

In my earlier post, The Capacity of a Grudge, I do discuss this process in a little more detail. Simply put, if I cannot find reason in me to do the things that my characters do, then I am not being real and honest to the role. Realism is the ability to deliver the lines, the emotion, the motivation, and the heart-felt truth in everything.