Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Find a switch

The Words of Wisdom this week are Find a Switch. A switch is a way by which you can go into character easily. If you play a part in rehearsal you will develop a feeling for the part you are playing, in which you simulate the mental and emotional state of the person, the way they speak and their physicality. This makes a whole imaginary persona which may be like or unlike your real self. Basically, acting is pretending to be a different person from yourself, a different person and a whole person.

You shouldn't be too precious about this, incidentally. I've heard of actors saying of a line in the script "But my character wouldn't say that." Well, if the writer wrote it, then, sorry, your character does say it and your task as an actor is to make what you have to say credible, however difficult that may be.

So what is the switch? The switch is a strong element of that characterisation which you can turn on at will and which will take you into the character. It may be a certain phrase or a way of speaking or a physical movement or a moment in the drama, anything that's striking and different that you can associate with the part. It's like the way that scents and smells can remind you of places and memories. One famous English actress always worked from the way she held her feet. Once she knew how she stood and walked she was there. That's not necessarily recommended but I think you'll get the idea. Think of the switch, feel it, and you'll get the character.

Try it and I think you'll find it works. But how does it work? Well, look up the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov. It was he who rang a bell whenever he fed his dog, with the effect that eventually the dog would salivate whenever he heard the bell ring, even if no food was offered. That is known as a conditioned reflex. By operating a switch you are developing a conditioned reflex that takes you from a strong feature of your part into the whole persona of the character. The more you do it the stronger it gets and the Words of Wisdom are Find a Switch.