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A funny thing happened on the way to the script…

June 5, 2013

We get so caught up in the horn that we forget to play the notes. We get so caught up in the breathing we forget to sing the song. We get so caught up in the words, we forget to do the speech. These are all cliches, but…cliches are cliches because they’re true. Life goes a certain way, in the context of certain circumstances – with astounding predictability. This will be true from moments of joy to moments of terror, to moments of sadness. Look at the recent meteorological events and their aftermaths.  Look at the reactions of human beings in these given circumstances. Humans do a lot of things that are predictable to a ‘t’, and yet it never fails that we are moved, to one degree or another, when we witness it. A human picks out memorabilia from a tornado-ravaged spot where their home used to be – a family photo, a coffee cup, a pot holder. We witness the irony, the boot-strapped courage as they look around. Oh, they may break down for a moment, but then they get back up, dust themselves off and pick up the next piece of their lives. When they speak, it is with no intention to burden the listener with their travails. It’s often with great emotion, and except for infrequent and covered bursts, they speak with objectivity – almost like it happened to someone else – working through the shock. 

In this scenario there is no conflict between this person and anyone else. If there is conflict on this scene, it is between the survivor and a wheel of fortune that has landed on ‘bankrupt and busted’. If there is a fist raised, it is against cruel fate, not their next door neighbor.

If this is so in life, then it must be so in acting. We cannot look at a script and decide that the wheels of fate and the hand of God and the course of history can suddenly be acted as a bullfight between two people, when in dramatic law it must be acted as a confrontation between two worlds! We must be certain – as we look at a script, look at a scene, look at a line! – that our character is dealing with things far larger than the characters present. Why? Because good writing is never about people, it is about ideas! Ideas in common or ideas in contrast or even ideas in conflict.

You will find that ‘getting personal’ is generally to be found only in comedy, and then rarely and briefly – in which case it can be very funny indeed, as prescribed in the writing. Don’t desire to act in order to show strength, passion,  mastery or dominance. Don’t desire to ‘win’ on behalf of your character, or the audience will hate your character through and through. You may earn praise from the peanut gallery – even from some artistic authority figures – but don’t be deceived. The laws of drama require the watchable character to maintain the position of one who would make it through the day without a fight – not a character who is looking for one. Remember, even the bad guy isn’t there to have a fight – he is there to rule his world. If you are given the archetype of “Guy Always Looking for a Fight” then it’s a small role intended to get us from one place in the script to another place in the script in as short a time as possible – and then usually to be quickly killed by either the protagonist or the antagonist.

What about villains? The believe that what they are doing is what is best for mankind, of course. How else could they be so dangerous?


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