The Hard Road Part 8 – Perspectives

I was changing my view of the world. What I began to realise, and not just superficially, but innately, was just how much our world view is dependent on our individual perspectives. We aren’t just all different, we see the world differently. Yet the evidence is all around us.

I began to appreciate how much I lived my life with platitudes without meaning. I would say I believed in certain ideas and concepts, but my actions and choices often contradicted what I felt. More often I was acting in the way I thought I was expected to, which was in direct conflict with my desires. I was disconnected.

Suddenly certain phrases and bits of advice took on new and deeper meanings.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.”

This deceptively simple statement holds a lot more truth that I ever gave it credit for. The things we get worried about, when one looks at them from a distance, how much meaning do they really have? It is so easy being the observer in another person’s life to see them issues that often get the most stress, anxiety, or attention, are often the most meaningless.

That may sound a little harsh, and honestly, it is. The thing was, I could see that in other people, but I didn’t apply the same scrutiny to my own life. I had developed a reactive tendency to find the worst in any situation, and usually at my own expense. So a situation that I would see as trivial in another’s life, I would see as another testament to my own failures.

I began forcefully apply the same observations I made on others to myself, and discovered something; there is at least two sides to any situation. One is always “better” than the other, and I was CHOOSING the worst of the options.

I think that realisation itself was the biggest shock. I was actually choosing depression over any alternatives. That may need a bit more explaining.

I gave up control of my decisions by letting in the voices and expectations of others, and allowing them to influence my choices and decisions. I may not have known better. I may have been naive. I still allowed it, but accepting this fact was hard… and I wanted to know why.

It took stepping out of my emotional perspective, which was a lot harder than one might imagine, but once done, I could see what my actual flaws were, which were to actually believe that I was flawed. This belief fuelled my drive to not trust in myself, and rely on the advice of others. Even those who didn’t have much to do with my life any more. I had allowed my life to be driven mainly by emotions, guided by well-meaning yet misguided advice.

Balance Equals Harmony

When viewed rationally, things are usually far more trivial than they seem emotionally. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is a very rational piece of advice, because it is with a analytical approach that facts can be assessed. This is what we need to be telling our emotional sides, and I wasn’t.

Looking back over my life, my rational side had been rather beaten into submission by various circumstances and people, and I hadn’t done much to take it back. Now I had the opportunity to do just that. My experiences, both bad and good, now found a new use in reconstructing the spirit of myself. There was good to come from everything I had been through, I choose to see the good in every situation, and as I have described a few times already, when I made the choose, things got better.

In the end, my only real mistake was in not accepting responsibility for my own choices. I needed to find a balance between rationality and emotionality. I need to find the calm. I need to take back control over the only thing I had any right, or ability to control: me.


 

I am nearly finished with the series, and I invite you to read my other posts on my journey. The first series: A Darker Path. Series 2 – The Hard Road.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Knowing the Future

Don Adriano de Armado

Don Adriano de Armado
Photo by Linda Hewell Photography

Perhaps on of the biggest challenges I have had to face in any production is trying to make my characters spontaneous. I look at some of the performances I have seen and what I find has kept me most interested in a show (more often than not) is a performance which is unpredictable. I have mentioned this in a previous blog, A Sense of Control, where I talk more about the instability of characters in general. There is another aspect of a character’s unpredictability which as a green actor, I often overlooked.

As film has slowly evolved over the years, the need for realism has intensified. It is an expectation from both the audience and the production companies. I think it (realism) is a key element when trying to create a connection with an audience; the ability to relate. Theatre has been dragged along with this concept as audiences expect to see similar efforts towards realism. Gone is the stylised theatre of yesteryear. Well, not gone as such, just not as prolific. This is not a bad thing and I am not one to complain. Creating such characters is harder but so much more enjoyable.

Now, one key thing about realism, and the focus for this blog, puts the typical actor at conflict with themselves. They know the story, the lines, and more often than not, the lines of the other actors. Well, the story is scripted after all and an actor’s clues for their character development come from the journey they take. There have been the occasional attempts where parts of the script have remained secret even to the cast, and there is also a big Improvisational Theatre movement, which is incredibly fun I have to say.

Predominately however, the cast are reading for a fixed story line and they know what is coming. The problem is, in reality, they shouldn’t. The character should not have much of a clue until the last second (unless you are playing Sherlock Holmes or a similarly hyper-intelligent character) what the other person is going to say, or do, or even what environmental things may be going on. In an effort to create realism, an actor is therefore trying to forget what they know while trying to ensure they get the lines right. Talk about conflict.

How does on handle this? Everyone has their own technique and thankfully there are few wrong answers. For me, I follow a two fold process.

Reading LinesWhen learning my lines, I determine the importance of accuracy. If doing something like Shakespeare, then getting every word is somewhat important. I have found more often that it is not too important to get the words exactly right, and a certain degree of flexibility is permitted. I then learn my lines without any real emotional focus and by that I mean I try the lines in as many ways as I possibly can. Place a stress here, inflection there, emotional hiccup over here, then do it all again completely differently. This method is meant to allow me to respond to things that get said or happen around me rather than anticipate them, because I don’t really know HOW I’m going to say my line until the moment arrives. Introducing this aspect of uncertainty in my own performance is my way of dealing with “being in the moment”.

And that leads us to what I am reacting to. Obviously, as I know the story, I know technically what is coming, but I don’t know how. For that reason, I prefer to only know vaguely what might be coming, if possible, so that I may find I can react to they way a line is said, or the way something is done. This sounds a little hard to believe as one might think, “How can you not know how a line will be delivered when you rehearse the scene several times?” To that I say, it is about where your focus is. I focus on the message of the scene and lines at the moment of saying them, just like I do when not acting, because in the moment that is all you have to focus on.

When in a discussion with a person (not acting) I take bits of what they are saying (hopefully the important bits) to help me develop a general message or feel to what they are saying. This is something that annoys people whose memory works far better than mine, and have the mysterious (to me) ability to recall, in detail, a conversation as it occurred a week ago. I work in visual and emotive memory, and am not very linguistic.

So what is the point of all this? Modern day theatre and film draws its drama not from the technique or the style of the acting, but from the uncertainty and conflict of the story and the characters. An audience tend to lose interest in a character if they have little or no depth, which is actually a technique used to ensure the audience focus on the right characters. Flatten non-focal characters and the audience will not pay much attention, something you don’t want to happen for a major character. I have found that I need every tool I can learn and develop in order to ensure my characters have depth and layers to them. This is just one of them.

It is a tool that, like many others, has given me a new appreciation for real-life interactions and to accept the uncertainty. Unless you are really very smart, you cannot accurately predict how a conversation or activity is going to go, so you are better off learning how to be flexible. I guess this comes a little way back to an earlier blog about Expectations. As an Actor, I need to be prepared to adapt and react. As a person, I need to realise that I should expect anything. The easiest way to do that is to expect nothing.