Monday, May 21, 2012

Footlight Competition

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others

Ayn Rand
Hello Diane
OK, here's another acting lesson, so get out in the enter of the studio with everyone else and get ready.

One of the more useful techniques for an actor to employ, if the script allows it, is competition. It is better used by experienced actors than less experienced ones. Why do I say that? I'll explain later.

Plays are mostly made of critical situations and conflicts. If there is a conflict, an argument, one character will win and the other will lose. But the actor who plays the loser must not act as if he is going to lose. He fights to win until the inevitable outcome. Then the actor who plays the winning character gets to depict the satisfaction at winning, while the other actor must show his character's unhappiness at losing. In a tragedy sometimes the outcome is death, or something close to it. In comedy (which is known as serious business in the profession, because it is) the conflict is just as great and the fight is often fierce, although what the two characters are fighting over may be ridiculous. How often have you been caught up in an argument like that?

The conflict and hence the competition may not be so broad, but may be of a subtler level, more mental and psychological, and that's when it requires experienced actors.

Some inexperienced actors think the term competition refers to competition between actors for attention, praise and, in a comedy, laughs. It often results in upstaging, scene stealing, or what is known in the acting business as stealing focus. It's a terrible, unforgivable trait that many inexperienced actors have and, I'm sorry to say, some well known professionals also do.

I remember two incidents of stealing laughs. In one case an actress was delivering a speech to the audience and upstage of her was another actor making funny faces and getting laughs. I noticed it and pointed it out to him. He said he was just reacting to the speech. When I told him it was taking the focus away from the speech he stopped. He didn't realize what he was doing. He was inexperienced.

The second case was more damaging. In a comic scene the actor sat on a sofa and removed his shoes, feeling around inside of them searching for something important. One night he noticed that a certain laugh came early. The next night it did also but he caught a glimpse of another actor in the show sticking his head out from behind a door. So the following night he was ready. When the moment came he turned and flung the shoe right into the actor's face. The lesson was learned.

Competition on the stage or in film is, or should be, different from competition in real life. If it's done right the actors don't compete with each other, the characters do. See for yourself.

DB - Vagabond Journeys
Never give up.

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