Sunday, April 19, 2009

Obligatory Observation 4/19/09

The actor should be able to create the universe in the palm of his hand.

Lawrence Olivier
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A big greeting to you.
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After many years as a theatre actor, I finally got cast in my first film. Doing that job was a learning experience for me in a lot of ways.

Almost all film actors, even if they have spent their entire professional careers working in front of a camera, will tell you that they really enjoy working on the stage with a live audience, and some of them often take a big cut in salary to do it. From the 7th Century BCE until the 20th Century CE the stage is where actors worked. Film acting is an unusual and difficult process. The principles are the same but the circumstances are different. From the audience seats in a theatre you can see the entire playing area at once. If an actor needs to get your attention he can do that with a gesture or a movement. It's called "taking focus" (some nasty actors do it when they're not supposed to, that's called "stealing focus"). Since the director decides what is going to be shown on the screen, focus is not an issue to an actor in a film. There is a different kind of focus involved.

In my first film I had one scene. It was with the leading actor only and during it my character had to perform an intricate task sitting at a table.

The first lesson I learned was that while in theatre the playing area stays the same, in film it keeps changing. The "stage" can be as large as a desert or as small as the eye of a needle. In performing my table top task I was surrounded by equipment. The camera was focused on my fingers, the microphone was suspended in front of my face, there were hot, bright lights all around me. Neither my face, nor the rest of my body were involved in the scene, only my fingers. My stage was very small.

The other lesson I learned was that, while in theatre the actor has his body, his face and his own voice to communicate his intent, the reason he is doing something. In this case I had only my fingers to tell the story. Which meant that even though nothing else was involved, it was necessary for me to know, as my character the what and why of the scene. It was my fingers really doing the intricate task, not pretending to do it. And something more than simple task making was being communicated, if only in the subtlest, almost invisible, manner. As I have said before it's the thinking behind every action that gives it its life, on stage or off. Will, desire, objective, love are all in every detail the actor does on stage, but especially in a film where the action is so specific,

It is imagination that leads us to art and invention. It is possible through thought, imagination and careful attention to details to create the universe in the hand, on a table or anywhere it's needed.

DB Vagabond Journeys
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Put some spring in someone's life today.
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Happy birthday J.B. wherever you are.
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5 comments:

Rose~* said...

Well said, DB - I've been known to let my imagination "run wild" and quite enjoyed the results. We had a wonderful Spring day over here, so nice to finally say "Goodbye" to the snow.

Gerry said...

I read Laurence Olivier's story of his life in theater, and I thought what an incredibly lucky man this was to be healthy enough, good looking enough, smart enough to be able to keep pace with other brilliant actors and actresses and go from role to role creating great theater, and I thought well, since I was put down somewhere else also with a craving to do theater in my heart I am going to have to invent a new way of doing things out of the confines of my environment, not by following great traditions because I was so far from them they didn't mean anything, but by creating a theatrical way of life out of the materials of my life as I find it. I see you as a traditionalist and I think when you are writing, ah, so that is the way it was done wherever he was, and I am always looking to see where and how other people created theater, sometimes without even calling it that or recognizing they were doing it, but if I could recognize it I could enter into their theater games and be fulfilled. Some bars, for example, are the stages for some great theater, so I would go in there and see what I needed to learn to do to be a part of their plays. One was playing pool, because I found some great pool bars where a certain kind of theater was constantly staged. And the great pool players were very often the leading actors who could always create a drama when one was needed, and so on.

Beth said...

That's very interesting...how do you convey something with just your hands?

B.

Indigo said...

I totally understood this. With my deafness movement is often caught by the eye to give an ideal of what is being said. Facial expressions, hand movements and body language often speak louder than words. (Hugs)Indigo

Lori said...

Very interesting.