Thursday, December 18, 2008

Harmonious Harvest 12 /18/08

Be true to your characters and they'll be true to you,

Laurell Hamilton

This is advice to the author, but it can be equally applied to the actor.

One day I performed a scene for a directing class at a well know theatre school in New York. The teacher of the class was ill equipped to teach. He knew next to nothing about directing and, apparently, nothing at all about acting. He wanted the character I was playing to "do nothing." Actors do not go out on the stage and do nothing, that's not what acting is about.

Twice in my career I played men I did not like. Playing heroes and villains is fun for an actor. If the play is good the author has given you the tools to express your own inner heroism, or to dig down and find the potential villainy in yourself. But to play characters that are neither good nor bad but appear on the surface to be inane is a real challenge.

The first time I faced this problem was on a soap opera. I played a doctor who was treating a baby girl. He had absolutely no compassion for the little girl's parents. He was cold, clinical, professional and uncommunicative. It was important to the plot that he be that way and so that's the way I had to play him, truthfully. But it wasn't "nothing."

The other time it was a play in which one character was written with many clever and funny lines and the opposite character was not. I felt that the part was underwritten. But he was a man of few words and had his own strength. I didn't like the guy but I played him truly. I know that because the playwright came to see it and went out of his way to thank me for my performance. He had, after all, been true to his character and so had I. I never did really like that character but I must have played him well because I was hired to play him three times at three different theatres.

The theatre is allegorical, yes, and part of the story is that life is action, ever changing and usually not what it appears to be. But the only way to safely rudder through it is to be active and alert and shun its inanities. Being true to our own characters is essential, even though it means looking behind the masquerades we have written for ourselves and facing them without fear.

As Shakespeare put it:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Vagabond Journeys
(Ease into winter, if you can.)


Linda's World said...

First of all I don't want winter~I want summer back. It seems like the life of an actor is much like real life. Does that make sense ? Linda in cold & snowy Washington

Ben said...

There's a great irony in the fact that playing characters that are just there without being good or bad is hard; it's the way so many people around us seem until their own stories really become known to us.

Happy Holidays, DB!

Big Mark 243 said...

The 'nothing' is always something. Everything is 'being', so even in the appearance of inactivity, you are happening.

I think actors are able to harness this, and of course the best actors do so seamlessly. It took until I was in my twenties, before I understood what was meant by 'being lost in a role'.

Sometimes, I see myself as playing a role, and bringing a character to life ...

a corgi said...

its kinda of like life, isn't it, with the roles we play? sometimes we get to be the heroes and that's always fun to do and be, sometimes we are the villians when we hurt people by our words and actions and while its "fun" for awhile, we look at the hurt and sadness we caused and in most cases we ask for forgiveness and try to change our ways, but most of our life is just mundane living, same routine every day, but that's the part God wants us to play the best, don't you think? When we are living day to day doing the best with what is given us. And I think that's when we really have to be true to ourselves because its so much more fun to be the hero all the time but life just doesn't work that way in my humble opinion. Good entry DB!

LOL easing into winter; so cold here in Southern California and snow in the foothills! us "natives" just don't like this cold weather, although the Montanan in me says "bring it on" but just for a few days just the whole season

take care of yourself


Beth said...

Isn't there a saying about how inaction is also an action? I'm with Mark...there's never "nothing," everything is always something!


Breezy said...

I think Shakespeare says it all!!! I've tried it the other way and it doesn't work!!!!!!