Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Write Micro Plays

The Words of Wisdom this week are unusual because they are about an exercise I recommend to you which is as much about writiing as it is about acting. It's an exercise some of you will know because I've used it in class and the Words of Wisdom are Write Micro Plays.

A Micro Play is a five point play scenario devised very quickly by any number of people from one to five. It is very important that it should be done very quickly, against the clock, so there is no time for doubts or second thoughts. You don't have to write it down and, of course, it could be a screenplay, rather than a stage play.

The five points are:
1 Where and when is the play happening? Example 'Sweatshop in New York garment district 1957.'
2 Who are the main characters? Example 'Bette, beautiful daughter of boss: Ricardo, cool leather jacketed ne'erdowell type.'
3 First happening: what is the first thing that turns everyday events into a story? Example 'Ricardo delivers parcel to clothing factory and Bette and he are iinstantly attracted, but she plays hard to get.'
4 Second happening: after possibly giving an idea of how the story has continued, what is the point of decision at which the story is going to fall one way or the other? Example Bette's father has forbidden them to see each other; Bette is being sent away to her aunt in Vermont. The factory catches fire, the old man is trapped in the flames, Ricardo has to decide whether to run through the flames to rescue him.
5 Ending (most important because, for good or ill, it will contain the moral of the story): the very last thing the audience sees. Example The old man is led away by the cops (it was an attempted insurance fraud); he has handed the keys to the half burned out basement to the lovers. They walk through the smoking wreckage in the dawn light and but up a sign reading 'Business as usual.'

And why is this exercise so valuable? Because it teaches you so much about story structure, which is very important because an actor always needs to know where their characters arc stands in relation to the shape of the whole story. It also teaches you not to censor yourself unnecessarily when acting, rehearsing or improvising.

Write Micro Plays

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Always be ready to work with children or animals

This week's Words of Wisdom refer to morose American comedian W C Fields who said 'Never work with children or animals. But the Words turn this on its head and say 'Always be ready to work with children or animals.' Why? Well, if we examine W C Fields's maxim there are two possible reasons for not wanting to work with children or animals. Maybe it's because children and animals are notorious scene stealers or maybe it's because their behaviour is unpredictable. Now, don't worry about having scenes stolen from you: theatre is a team activity and an actor's job is to contribute to the success of the team as a whole. If an actor just wants to be in the spotlight all the time they're going to be a liability to work with and a pain in the neck, so don't worry about the audience's eyes not being on you all the time. And if you're used to improvising you'll welcome the unexpected and cope with whatever happens. So always be ready to work with children or animals - even if the children or animals are adult human ones. Which brings us to Rod Hull and Emu and Michael Parkinson - but that's another story.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Your voice is a musical instrument

The Words of Wisdom this week are Your Voice is a Musical Instrument. Think of all the attributes of music: pitch, tone, tempo, rhythm, is it staccato or legato, do the words run counter to the tune? You produce all of this when you speak and, by using them skilfully, you enhance the emotional effect of what you say. If you try and add to these elements artificially, you will sound unnatural and false, but if you work at them, you will gradually recruit them to the army of effects you have at your disposal. Your Voice is a Musical Instrument.