Thursday, 26 May 2011

Stregths and Weaknesses

This week's Words of Wisdom are 'People have the strengths of their weaknesses and the weaknesses of their strengths.' This is a general truth and something for an actor to remember when developong a character. People are rarely all good or all bad or all strong or all weak and therefore, if a character shows something of both extremes, that is believable, because it's true to life, and interesting, because it's complicated.

Here are some examples of what I mean. A person who's determined may be stubborn and is very likely a mix of the two. Someone who's kind may also be weak; someone who's honest may also be blunt; someone who's analytical may also be nit-picking; someone who's attractive may also be vain. See if you can think of some more examples.

People have the strengths of their weaknesses and the weaknesses of their strengths. On related subjects, here is some more wisdom. From 18th century poet William Cowper: 'Variety's the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour' and from the ancient Greek Oracle at Delphi: 'Nothing to excess' and 'Know thyself.'

Good wisdom for acting and for life.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

It's what the audience believes that counts

Words of Wisdom: It's what the audience believes that counts. Here's an example of how an audience's belief can be broken. At one time I was co-director of Anna Scher Theatre, a theatre for young people in London. The members used to put on short plays and there were various stage properties that they could use in their performances. Among these was a large, thick, silver coloured plastic dagger, not an object that anyone could be hurt by, but, as teenagers' plays often feature a good deal of violence, one that was used quite a lot.

Then one day a group was down in the coffee bar, preparing for a play. Someone went behind the bar, where they shouldn't have been, opened a drawer and found a large, pointed knife that was used for cutting up food. They decided to use it in the play.

Well. the moment came in the play when the knife was produced and immediately a murmur ran through the audience. Some were thinking "Wow! That really is a big knife." Others were thinking "They shouldn't be using that" or "If someone gets stabbed they'll be hurt." The point is that if they had used the old dagger, the audience would happily have believed it was the real thing, but when they used the real thing, reality intruded and the audience became focused on the knife and stopped believing in the play.

The stage is a medium that works by using words and actions to make the audience feel as if they are watching something real. If the actors do something that reminds the audience that it isn't really real, then the performance fails. This is particularly true of things that are spectacular or 'scene-stealing' which may create a big effect but may also damage the production as a whole. It's what the audience believes that counts.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The audience is not stupid

It's hard to define what good acting is but we sll know what overacting is and recognise it when we see it. It's excessive emoting that isn't true to life. It doesn't allow for the audience's intelligence and this week's Words of Wisdom are The audience is not stupid.

In particular there is one aspect of intelligence in which an audience is more sensitive than an individual person and that is emotional intelligence, based on the ability to share and understand other people's emotions. As we are social creatures we are naturally equipped to feel the pain and joy of others. Someone feels a particular feeling, smeone else receives that feeling, shares it and transmits it again. It is obvious that in a large group of people the feeling will be that much more magnified. That is why a crowd will often behave much worse than any of its individual members would. That's why the larger a demonstration is the more likely it is to turn into a riot. If we are sitting at home watching a football match we can see the game perfectly, it's as if we are sitting in the best seat in the ground, but it's much more exciting to be at the match and experiencing the atmosphere, the shared emotion.

So the audience at a play also feel the shared emotion and are particularly sensitive to falsity. Often their unconscious mind will be telling them that something is not quite right. If the actors are overactiing and not believable the performance will not communicate true emotion. It may be superficially impressive but will lack honesty.

The audience is not stupid.