Thursday, 21 November 2013

Natural Timing

Many people suppose that acting for television is easy, that you just do what you would do anyway, if it were real life.

But the point is that it isn't real life.  So how do you make people believe that it is?

Three classic virtues are to maintain believability, listen to the other actors and share attention.

Another more subtle point relates to timing.  Never force an emotional response forward, your job is just to allow it to happen.  Likewise, never deliver a line before it has to be delivered.  If you wait it will be easy to recognise the right moment.

Friday, 16 August 2013

The rewards of nurturing talent

I have spent a large part of my life encouraging people to fulfill their potential.  Perhaps the most surprising instance was something that took place on 25th October 1998.

At that time I used to run in quite a lot of road races and I can't remember what took me to a venue near Heathrow that Sunday for the Bedfont Lakes Five Mile Run.  It was certainly some way off the beaten track for me.  Anyway, I found my way there and I remember that the course was wet and hilly, with a lot of twists and turns.  As I was jogging round, warming up, I fell in with two African looking guys aged about fifteen.  We chatted as we ran and I asked if they had  run on this course before - no, neither had I.  We got back to the start and wished each other luck in the race.  There were now quite a lot of competitors gathered there, the gun went off and we all went storming along the footpaths.

Although I'd started quite fast I still managed to overtake a couple of runners near the end and finished up 7th, so I was quite pleased.  I jogged back along the course, warming down, and caught up with the same two teenagers I'd seen before.  How did they get on?  "Oh, I won it" one of them replied.  "You must be a keen runner" I remarked.  "Yes" he said "I used to do football but now I'm doing running."  "Well" I said "you should keep up with it.  You could do really well.  What's your name?"  "Mohamed Farah" he replied.

And the moral of that story is that encouraging talent can bring unexpected rewards.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Good luck to Mo Farah this afternoon.  He has a very difficult task and winning is not a foregone conclusion

Statistical note: I was 7th of exactly 100 finishers in a time of 31:59.  Mo Farah's time was 28:58.  Today he'd be capable, on that course, of about 21 minutes

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Beware the sudden shout!

In recent weeks I've seen a number of showcases of people who have been taking acting courses.  Some of the performances have been good, some not so good, but I have noticed a feature common to some of the not so good ones: the sudden shout of anger.  Beware the sudden shout!

As a way of portraying anger it simply doesn't work.  It always seems artificial and stagey and that is because it isn't true to life.  When people are angered it takes time for the feeling to develop:anger feeds on itself.  In real life the first feeling is often surprise "I'm amazed that you could be so offensive ..." or threat "If you do that once more ..."  And it's only a little after that that shouting and a red face kick in.  Even that is not the only way to express anger, some people are very quiet and pale and that can seem more dangerous.  So if the script indicates anger, think very carefully about how your character expresses it.  Beware the sudden shout!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Five Words to Make You a Better Actor

The five words are: practice, experiment, learn, connect and observe.

Practice: repetition is the mother of skill and no-one ever became good at anything without spending a lot of time doing it.  This is true of sport, mathematics, learning a foreign language, anything you can think of, including acting.  So to get better at acting, do  a lot of acting.

Experiment: try different things, assess whether they work.  Remember that it can be as productive to find what doesn't work as what does work.  Always be ready to stretch your capabilities.

Learn from others: see what other actors do and absorb whatever you see that is effective.  You can learn from your fellow students every bit as much as from the giants of the silver screen.  Learn from writers, too, ancient and modern: study their scripts in all media..

Connect: aim to get to know as many other performers as possible.  The performing arts are a small village rather than a great conurbation and quite soon you will find you run across the same people again and again.  Aim to get involved and make friends.  You will help them and they will help you.

Observe: as an actor, the whole of the human species is your subject of study, so observe what people do in all sorts of different circumstances.  Observe yourself as well.  Wherever you are be alert to how people behave, act and react, their spoken language and their body language.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Explore the Complications of Accents

I’ve been too busy lately to produce any Words of Wisdom so it’s about time I remedied that.

This week it’s Explore the Complications of Accents. The basis of an accent is the tonal quality of the vowels and consonants in a person’s speech. This is largely determined by the way a speaker adjusts the geometry of their face and mouth, to make a different speech instrument to make sounds through, but is not the whole story..

Apart from the tone of a voice, nasal or open, for example, there is the tempo, that is the rate at which people speak – people from big cities tend to speak more quickly than those from the country (they also walk faster.) Similarly, big city speech tends to be more throaty, the throat being closed against the pollution and traffic fumes that fill the air.

Other considerations are: how much do the speakers use emphasis or do they deliver more smoothly? Are their consonants slurred or pricked out? To what extent do they tend to be dramatic or phlegmatic? These are individual characteristics but we do all tend to conform to cultural norms.

All individuals differ slightly (that’s how we recognise people from their voices,) but they do fall into broadly similar groups and we do tend to affiliate with people who sound the same as we do. In fact studies in the USA show that there are better race relations in cities where black and white people sound alike, compared with plsces where black and white have different accents..

Another interesting area of study is where accents have been influenced directly by other languages and cultures:: the various Scottsh accents, Welsh, Irish, Caribbean, African, Eastern European, South and East Asian, and last and by no means the many accents of the USA, to which we are all heavily exposed through the mass media. And as the planet has become a smaller and smaller place, through globalisation, accents are everywhere moderating and the young speak differently from the old.

It should always be remembered that the way we speak is a sensitive matter of class and identity and that not everyone is happy about the way they sound. And then there is the whole matter of RP English, but that must wait for another time.