The Romantic Role Model

Mansplaining: to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronising.

I am not about to, so don’t worry, but I am seeing this term, and the actions of the definition therein far too often. It is the Counter Wife/Women-is-always-right movement I suppose, which is a little understandable, but only a little. I mean a real little little little.

The problem is using an approach that is condescending and derogatory is counter productive which ever side of the fence you sit. I fighting fire with fire only works when you know what you’re doing. When you don’t you just get a bigger fire, and on the internet, wildfires can spread incredibly fast.

I want to focus on a particular brand of Mansplaining, more of a topic in itself, and that is the “You-make-me-do-it” fallacy argument. You know, the argument that goes along the lines of “When you didn’t dress that way, lean over like that, talk that way, post nice pics, etc, etc, etc then I wouldn’t be this way.” Those arguments.

If you have read any of my earlier posts about control, then you’ll already know what I think in this regards. If you haven’t, here’s a brief recap;

No-one makes you do anything. You choose your own thoughts and actions.

What really gets me is the contrast between the cultural icons that litter literature (both written and visual) which clearly show that a respectful and considerate outlook is a far more favourable trait in a man then the lustful self-righteousness we see off screen. How can we see this sort of role model in our everyday entertainment, and yet not be inspired to be like said examples?

And here is where I connect back to acting…

Mr Darcy

Let’s take a character that many consider to the penultimate depiction of the ideal romantic lead. He starts of aloof, even a little high-and-mighty, and gradually comes to realise his faults and works to change his ways, becoming more present, aware, and compassionate. He is a no time lustful, nor untoward the female characters in his story. He is certainly not one to rest the fault of thoughtless actions upon the shoulders of another. He accepts that he is the master of his own presence. When he is struck with feelings of love, they are from a place of respect and admiration, not a desire to grope. He is aware of his feelings yet chooses to remain in control of himself and act with self-respect.

This character appears in mainstream literature all the time, even in some of the present day superhero-movie franchises. Please consider that many of the heroes in our lives share similar qualities with Mr Darcy; they are flawed but work to overcome, they ultimately respect others even though they can be a little cheeky about it, they are ultimately honest and reliable, even though they may not start out that way.

Even our real-life heroes exhibit  similar qualities, and when they don’t meet these qualities, or it is revealed that they have somehow been otherwise, they experience a rapid fall from grace. For example, Tiger Woods, Golfing phenomena and with all the hallmarks of an honest family man, master golfer, honourable and respectful… then it crumbled. People and companies wanted nothing to do with him for a very long time after his indiscretions were revealed, and while he has accepted his mistakes and worked hard to regain some of his former standing, but the tarnish will never be completely removed. Admired when he fit the image of an ideal man, then shunned when that image was shattered.

Yet many men in general seem to stick to this fallacy that their actions are not their own, and thus expose themselves for the weak and fearful creatures they are. This is not the attitude of a courageous man, to deny responsibility for the words and actions committed by their own physical bodies.

Be the Romantic Lead

When you mansplain away the responsibility for your own actions, you are playing the role of the arrogant coward. You are the Wickham, rather than the Darcy. The one whom is either reprimanded, forced to conform, or left with nothing.

Do a Google search into the qualities that make for popular, interesting, and even romantic men, and you will find the consistent appearance of kindness, respect, and self-control. You will definitely NOT find selfishness, arrogance, conceitedness, and a willingness to blame others for your actions. Those are traits usually associated with the second in command of the bad guy, not the hero.

Nice guys don’t come first is something that was said to me a lot growing up. Usually by other boys. To me it evokes ideas of driven selfishness in order to achieve a goal, not matter the cost to others, and that being “nice”, which I take to mean considerate, paced, and cautious, means you may mist the prize. Well, that may be so, but what is so great about being first anyway? While the winner of a race is celebrated, the one that stopped to help his rival is often remembered longer, if not who they are, but what they did at the very least.

And if the prize is at the cost of the respect I get from others, then you can keep your prize.

The act of kindness, consideration, and respect is the act that moves people. Sacrificing the self-glory, which apparently is so incredibly important, in order to help another earns more respect I believe. It’s why people love such stories, even if they don’t personally behave as such themselves.

If you are a guy who is truly keen to get the attention of a loving and respectful woman, then you would do well to look at the types of male heroes they respect in literature, and maybe try to find some of those same qualities in yourself. I can promise that they are there, you just have to choose to use them, and not just for a little while.

Throw away your childish pride. Take the courageous step. Take control of yourself and be a man.


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.

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.

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

@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.

The capacity of a grudge

I recall a TV show (Forgiving Dr. Mengele) about an elderly Jewish lady (Eva Mozes Kor) who went on a journey through her own childhood and her time in Nazi concentration camps. As a child, she witnessed the horrors of the genocide of her people, and the death of her parents. She returned to the camps where brutal and sickening experiments had been carried out by sadistic Nazi doctors. She heard to tales of so many other survivors. She even met with ex-Nazi officers who had been stationed at the camp she had been held. An incredible tale of survival, chance and death.

Two things about this show stood out to me. Firstly, she forgave the officers she met. She even forgave the officers that had long since died. She even forgave those that had been responsible. Her reasoning was simple; she didn’t need the pain any more. She explained that in forgiving these men, she was not letting them off the hook. Those that were dead would feel nothing regardless, and the ones she met already had more than enough grief of their own. She saw her act of forgiveness as giving herself permission to let go of the grief she had and to open to door to find happiness again.

The second thing that stood out for me was the reaction of many of her Jewish peers. They were outraged that she would do such a thing. They would not be forgiving any German, alive or dead, for what had been done to their ancestors. I am not sure if any of these indignants interviewed in the show were actual survivors, just descendants. Such was their shock that this sweet and unassuming lady could forgive was rather surprising. Both these points got me thinking of holding a grudge and the act of forgiveness.

I have played a few characters that hold a bias, or grudge. One in particular was the psychopathic German swordsman, Zastrozzi. While the play is a comedy, coming to grips with a character that has basically accepted the fact that he is an agent of evil, and the incredible grudge he has for his day-dreaming, delusional nemesis, was challenging.Zastrozzi

I like being the nice guy. Even when playing computers games where you can choose actions that are good, neutral or nasty, I feel compelled to play the good guy every time. Playing nasty just doesn’t feel right. So playing a nasty guy was a rather enlightening process. There is a saying that everyone has a dark side. After Zastrozzi, I would rephrase this as everyone has the potential to do bad things.

In coming up with a character, I try to conceive a life story that would give foundation for their current beliefs and goals. In the case of Zastrozzi, how does one acknowledge that they are evil, and that this is ok? His grudge was less challenging, but more on that later.

I envisioned a number of various scenarios ranging through his life where he was basically left to fend for himself. A serious of unfortunate experiences which taught him that quick and violent action was they way to avoid unnecessary emotional pain, and interesting contradiction as violent action is in itself emotional pain. A case of fighting fire with fire. He lost important people in his life at the hands of cruel and merciless people. From these experiences, he developed a growing hatred for people in general and took it upon himself to rid the world of evil, but the more he looked, the more he saw it in everyone he met.

He learnt to use the sword and mastered it. He became notorious and others sought him out to challenge or kill him. His reputation grew. Then the father and brother of a man he killed went to seek revenge. They found only his mother, the only good person left in Zastrozzi’s life. In a rage or out of frustration, they killed her. Upon hearing this, Zastrozzi began a singular quest to find and kill them both.

Many years later, the son is still on the run in the charge of his carer, after the father had died naturally. Zastrozzi is close behind and has become obsessed with finding to one man left to kill. This is where the play takes up from. All this has been the story I built to help me fill to role. My character has a rapidly deteriorating sanity as his extreme intellect is gradually being eroded by his overwhelming need for vengeance. Basically another case of emotions over powering reason.

I have said before, there is drama in conflict, and conflict is frequently driven by emotional persuasions. In this posting, I have reviewed a lovely lady overcoming deep pain by applying rational when in contrast, her peers are still feeling the emotional trauma. I have also played a man who’s mind has become twisted and unstable through extreme emotional trauma. The character of Zastrozzi is certainly more dramatic than the lady, but who is happier?

In life we seek peace and happiness. In fiction we seek drama. Bit of a contrast. Occasionally we seek happiness in the drama of others, which I feel my to be a healthy approach. I think I have found a path to peace and contentment at the very least through my experiences playing these emotional parts. The lesson would seem to be that allowing emotions to govern your actions, is harmful.

Yet allowing your intellect to govern instead seems equally unhealthy. No compassion. No empathy. We have all known someone like this, and is the spirit of not making this blog too long, I may save the emotionally dead intellectual for another day. After all, this one is about grudges right?

To wrap this one up, I have learnt that a grudge can actually do more harm to the beholder rather then the beholden. Most of the time, the subject is completely unaware of any animosity until something brings it to light. Seems to be an awful waste of energy.

Multiple Personality Disorder

In response to osullivankate

Quite often, an actor will be confronted with an interesting choice; to take on several roles or look for something else. They have found someone else for the lead and supporting roles, and have had a hard time filling their smaller roles. In films, this is often what happens to an extra and they are usually only in the background, barely getting any screen time and more than likely going to end up on the cutting room floor.

Who Am I

Who Am I

In theatre it is more common. Interestingly enough, while there is a wealth of people auditioning for film, TV and Web productions, theatre often gets left in the cold, especially by male performers. So often the idea of having an actor play more than one role can save them some casting time. It also may be of benefit to the actor who has more stage time even if it as different characters.

Theatre is also the genre where you will find more of the touring style theatre where a small cast will take on every role, including leads. This is often done with Shakespeare  (and similar) productions, cabaret comedies and pantomimes. Often the bread and butter of smaller new groups, it is an interesting way for an actor to really challenge their versatility.

A not so frequent variation on this theme, is when an actor is to play twins. A good example of this would be the comedy The Venetian Twins. The tale of twin brothers, separated at birth and unaware of each others existence, who cross paths (but never meet) causing much confusion and disruption.

Right, enough of the prologue. What is the relevance? Well first I want to talk about preparing for a multiple role performance and the machinations one actor (me) might go through. Then we’ll talk about relevance. It has got to come back to what it has taught me about life after all.

In film, there is a lot of stopping, setting sets, positioning cameras, placement of lights, etc, etc that playing multiple roles becomes somewhat easier as you have time to focus your thoughts and “get-into-character” so to speak. Well I think so anyway. Theatre, you do not have this freedom. Sometimes you may be lucky enough to have a few minutes between appearances, enough time to change your costume, make-up, have a sip of a drink… Frequently, you have only enough time to change your clothes. In the play mentioned above, there is one scene where one brother walks off one side of the stage and appears on the other a second later. Fortunately, they are actually wearing similar clothing.

Preparing for one character is hard enough, how do you prepare several? I have been fortunate that the only times I have played multiple roles has been as an extra or chorus member, except that once where I played three quite different characters, with different accents, different goals and completely different attire.

And this was back in the days before I had develop a solid technique. It was still forming, a work in progress, but there was one thing that helped me through it; the little things.

cropped-merged1024.jpgWhen working on an accent, vocal coaches may often suggest a little phrase or collection of words that will trigger your muscle memory and help you get the right accent. This same idea can be applied to character creation by introducing a quirk to your character, something they do or say which is unique to them. This was one of my earliest techniques as some of my earliest characters all had strange accents, lisp, nervous habits and so forth, and these little things helped my zone in.

So you develop your characters in exactly the same way as you would any other and then figure out the best trigger device to use to get in to that character. Hone this transition with the same rehearsal process you apply to your characters, and the familiarity of that trigger will ignite your muscle and emotional memory, giving you a short-cut path to your character.

In one production I did, I had a character that had a habit of getting out a pocket watch, clicking it open, checking the time, closing it and putting it away. I practised this until it became a smooth, single movement. Before going on stage, I would do just that and on I went. What happened next however was rather interesting. Just before the interval, something happened in the story that left all the characters somewhat rattled. So we all needed to somehow to regain that nervous energy once the curtains were raised after a 20 minute break.

During a rehearsal, I discovered that I had a driving need to get out the watch and simply click it open and shut repeatedly. I hadn’t planned on doing it before hand, but it felt right in that instance. Using this trigger in a more desperate way, as I did, actually helped me feel more anxious. I kept it for the season and it was a crucial part in having my character completely change his emotional state. The trigger had become the character’s security blanket in some weird way.

ManuIn a way, we all have multiple roles to play in real life. We are one thing when we are at home, another at work, and something else yet again when with our friends. Well, I know I am. I find myself adjusting my personality subtly to each encounter. Even on the phone, my wife can usually tell who I am talking to by the way I sound. Quite often, the transition from one to the other is very quick, triggered by a thought or a familiar feeling. This is something I did not realise until long after I started doing it for characters.

To expand on that further, this realisation gave me further insight in to what is required to create a character. A character is not just a singular emotion for motivation. They are a collection of often mutually exclusive emotions, goals and actions. They change when in the company of different people depending on their goals and feeling for that company. In a way, when playing a single character, you are actually still playing different characters.

Sure, these are not extremely different characters, but the concept is the same. Little things can trigger different feelings and attitudes. Knowing this has made me much more aware of what little triggers set me off and to recognise them, sometimes before they happen. Humans are indeed fascinating creatures full of depth, conflict and contradictions. There is something beautiful in that.