Monday, May 30, 2011

Creating A Role

He who strives will find his goals strive for him equally.

Hello Kapalua Hawaii
Many years ago I saw a production of "The Taming of the Shrew" by Shakespeare. I didn't know any of the actors but I was particularly impress by the actor who played Petruchio. He filled out the role with strength, virility and a stage taking manliness. A few years later I met the actor when we were both hired to work in the same theatre company. In real life he was a young, short, gay fellow. It didn't matter. He had found Petruchio and played him brilliantly.

I auditioned for a Broadway show and was told by the director I could never possibly play the role I was auditioning for even though I had just played it in another theatre. That was his first mistake. Then he asked me to read for another part, a young man who falsely threatens to drown himself. The director began describing a horrible scene of me floating around in a river full of garbage and human waste. That was his second mistake. He didn't cast me but the show never took place. That was his third mistake but it's understandable considering his approach to the art of acting.

The man to find there was not the man who could jump into a fetid river but the man who could feel such a passion of self destruction that he could threaten such a thing.

There are two ways for an actor to depict a character on the stage: the right way and the wrong way, the creative way and the artificial way. Many actors fit a character around themselves like a suit of clothes. Sometimes they wear the suit, sometimes the suit wears them. But there is a principle of character development in acting that is almost mystical. It is best and only described as that at the same moment you set out to discover your character, your character sets out to find you. It sounds quite other worldly I know, but it actually happens, as Euripides must have known.

I remember two roles I played of men who were totally unlike me and how I found them. One was an official torturer for an unnamed South American dictatorship. The other was an older gay man being taken out for Christmas dinner by his young lover. Since I am neither gay nor could I ever torture anyone both these roles presented me challenges to find and portray these men honestly.

In the case of the torturer I didn't waste my time imagining applying electronic shocks to anyone's genitalia. There were no scenes like that in the play. He worked for the government. Torturing was his job. The play was about his relationship with his unfaithful wife and the sadomasochism that was part of that relationship. And when I began to search for the character on those terms he began searching for me. And one day I discovered him. I looked into the mirror and there he was looking back at me. We found each other. From then on I could play him, and he could play me.

Playing the gay man, on the contrary, required imagining things that weren't happening. Instead of eating the meal his young lover bought for him he drank wine and reminisced about his own youth when he was in love with his college English professor who eventually betrayed him and broke his heart.
Instead of sitting at a table in a three piece gray suit with an untouched plate of food next to him I imagined him as a young, sweater wearing poet, passionate about life, living again through all the sad and happy moments of his love affair. When I worked it that way the man showed up and sat right down in the chair with me.

Your goals may not be as far off the center of your life as mine were in those two cases, but the principle is the same. To imagine graphically is correct as long as it is appropriate. Floating in rivers and torturing people gets one nowhere, but to find the key that unlocks the door to your dream will set the dream on a search for you. You will know you've done it when the dream comes true. Then on to the next one.

DB - The Vagabond

(This is not a contest)

Come on. 11 diverse and interesting answers so far. Where's yours?

NASA has planned to send a two man mission on an 18 month trip to the planet Mars. It would take 6 months for the astronauts to get there and after 6 months of exploration another 6 months to return.

Should they do it and why, and if not, why not?

I eagerly await your answer.


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