Monday, 24 September 2007

Create character continuously

The Words of Wisdom this week are about creativity. I am firmly of the belief that acting should be considered a creative art, rather than just interpretative. Of course, the writer is the prime creator, usually with a director acting as intermediary. But actors also create: and what they create is character. That is a convincing portrayal of a person that the audience is willing to believe in. While the audience believe in what they are seeing on the stage the play, which takes place in their minds, seems to have flesh and blood. If an actor goes out of character, or out of mood, the play collapses because no-one now believes in it. So the actors must create character continuously. It is quite impossible for a writer to give complete and detailed instructions about how a part is to be played. The words will be there is the script, but how are they to be delivered? There will be stage directions and some description, but how is the actor to stand, sit, walk, gesture, use their eyes? All this is the province of character and all these choices have to be made by the actor, not by him- or herself, because theatre is a collective activity, but working as part of a team. Create character continuously.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Take one step at a time, but go on taking steps

The Words of Wisdom this week have application far beyond the bounds of acting. They are: Take one step at a time, but go on taking steps. This is the idea of incremental improvement and it applies as much to athletics or mathematics as it does to acting. It runs counter to two damaging beliefs: one, that if you are not very good at something you can never get better at it, and the other, that it is possible to be instantly successful at something and that it only requires some hidden talent to be ‘discovered’ and that hard work is not involved. Always focus on the next step and make it a measurable and achievable target. That way you can monitor your progress and you will not be put off by the difficulty of what you are ultimately aiming for. And you have to take that first step: get involved and take that first step. No-one ever got anywhere by thinking how nice it would be if they got to where they would like to be. Then take the next step. And persist. One of the main reasons people don’t succeed at things is because they give up too easily. Make a plan, but don’t stick rigidly to it. Vary it in the light of experience: there is a military maxim ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy.’ And never consider yourself to be fully trained. You can go on educating yourself as an actor for your whole life. And remember that if you content yourself with standing still you will go backwards. Take one step at a time, but go on taking steps.

Monday, 10 September 2007


And that brief Word of Wisdom? It’s ‘Project.’ Meaning speak loudly and emphatically enough to reach your audience and also use gesture and facial expressions strongly enough to do the same thing. It’s mainly a requirement of stage acting, where you do not have a microphone and the back row of the audience may be a long way away. A loud enough voice is produced by breathing deeply, using the diaphragm, and not by forcing it in the throat. That’s why you should do all those breathing and voice exercises. Projection becomes difficult when you are playing an intimate scene, close to another actor. We automatically drop our voices when we are speaking to someone close to us and to overcome this tendency, you have to remember that although your character is speaking to the other character, as an actor you also need to be heard by the audience, so you have to keep that in mind too. Unnatural but necessary. Project.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Visualise - Part 2

The Word of Wisdom this week is a continuation of last week’s: visualise. Mental rehearsal of tasks and processes is a powerful way of improving performance, particularly in sport, the arts and situations like interviews or public speaking. It has even been proven to increase muscular strength without exercise! The key is to relax and adopt a positive frame of mind, then to run through the processes you are going to have to perform and imagine them being carried out by you as excellently as you can. Do this over and over again and your mind and body will adapt in line with your thoughts. The important thing is to visualise the processes you are going to perform, not just the successful outcome (that’s just daydreaming and it doesn’t work.) A valuable exercise for an actor, which can be carried out anywhere, anytime, is to visualise and put yourself into states with a different mood. Practice changing the place or time your mind is in, or your emotional state. Try feeling warm on a cold day or wide awake when you’re sleepy: it’s remarkable what you can do. Visualise.