Friday, May 7, 2010

Shoot The Actor

In order for an actor to play a scene he has to know in which direction the scene is going and he knows in which direction it's going because he decides.

DB - The Vagabond
In almost every important scene an actor has he has at least one secret. A secret is something that gets revealed. It may not get revealed until the end of the play, unless it is revealed to the audience earlier.

In the thousands of years of dramatic literature some of the greatest scenes ever written are the scenes between Iago and Othello when Iago, starting from nothing but a simple question: "Did Michael Cassio, when you woo'd my lady, know of your love?" gradually plants a seed of suspicion in Othello's mind. Thereafter, taking advantage of every opportunity and chance encounter to insinuate his lies into Othello's perturbed mind while pretending to be his friend, he finally drives Othello into a state of blind rage and murderous jealousy "Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell!"

The beginning is simple, the end is horrifying, but all the subtle steps along the way, the dimensions, colors, pauses, latitudes, perspectives, leverages and twists are up to the actor and if the actor makes the right decisions about how the scenes progress the result will be tragic in the fullest sense possible.

There's a show business story about a production of Othello that was playing out west many years ago in which the actor playing Iago was so good some pioneer type in the audience took out his pistol and shot him. The actor wasn't killed, fortunately, but it sure stopped the performance.

I never played either Othello or Iago, but I did play Cassio, the innocent soldier that Iago blames it on and so I got to witness that scene every night played by Clayton Corbin and Charles Kimbrough. Since both actors had made strong decisions they had very powerful directions in which to go.

So much of acting is following directions. The playwright gives you directions, the director and the production give directions. But in the end it's the actor's own directions that make the role. No one else can act the part.

Another interesting aspect to Iago's role is just how and how many of his secrets he reveals as the play goes along. We have a macabre fascination watching that friendly guy destroy Othello and a few other people along the way. Our reaction to him is going to depend partly on how much of himself he reveals to us. If his decisions are right we can't help ending up hating him. But leave your pistol at home.



pacifica62 said...

Acting is far more complicated than I ever would have thought. A lot of people must be doing good jobs if the scenes flow along and the audience is not aware of any of the efforts happening in the background. I suppose that is why some productions are much superior to others......better actors.

Gerry said...

One of my favorite lines in a Shakespeare play is "Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous!" Or at least those are what I remember. Maybe there is more in between, but when I would see a production of Julius Caesar I would be thrilled to hear these lines. Men apt to think too much fascinated me even if dangerous since so many men don't think enough! And then of course Mark Antony's speech after Caesar has been assassinated. I would picture my favorite actors as Mark Antony saying those sorrowful stirring lines. I memorized and got to say them in a Freshman class in high school. Guess I liked Marlon Brando the best of any actor I saw playing him, but I was sure I could have done that part better had I been a man. (Yes!) If I could be a man and play one Shakespeare role I thought it had to be Mark Antony. Funny, I never wanted to play any of the women roles as much. I wonder what that says about me.

Liz said...

The actor plays a prewritten role.
The greatest actors make that role so much their own, as they interpret the words so well, that the audience believes that they are seeing and hearing the world of the writer.
That the writer is often dead is indeed fortunate.
The greatest actor can never compare in imagination to the greatest writer.
What does the greatest actor’s imagination seek?
To interpret the words of the greatest writers and that requires more imagination than any actor has at his recall.

I watched my father teach the art of acting Shakespeare to schoolchildren who then performed with great exuberance every year the chosen play.
I watched, listened and learned.
One day I heard him say, ‘I have my Hamlet’.
He had waited to produce that play until a boy capable of playing the leading role came under his direction.
Ronald Pickup played Hamlet for The Kings School Chester production.

My father saw in a boy the ability not only to speak the words of the dead writer but also to act out the emotion that those words held without any mortification.