I haven’t said this here before, but I’ve been taking acting classes for more than a year at Studio Theatre. The last time I really wrote at length about my acting ambitions was when I did the twisted fairytale in Ulsan. That had been so much fun, it was a natural progression to dig deeper, sign up for an acting class, and discover what this acting thing really was.
What I thought was acting, from the little bits I did in Korea, was more akin to finger painting and stick figures. Taking classes and learning all this technique has allowed me to refine my work to be more realistic, a sharper aping of real life.
(I attempt to take my acting from the metaphorical equivalent of nonsensical toddler gashes to the masterful strokes of Vincent Van Gogh.)
As an example, I will describe a recent student project I did that demonstrates what I’ve learned. More experienced actors are welcome to chuckle cutely as this baby actress learns how to get up on her two feet.
In early October, I had the pleasure of working with a former classmate on a scene from the play, Closer by Patrick Marber. We began with a phone call where my former classmate (as the director of the piece) went over the history of the play and the character’s (Alice’s) arc. Since we were only doing one scene and the play was hard to get hold of, her information was crucial to getting under Alice’s skin.
At our first in-person rehearsal, the cast read through the play a few times, playing with whether we wanted to do British accents or our regular ones. We ultimately stuck to our regular accents, and I quickly jotted down a few notes about Alice’s motivations. In class, the teacher always harps on us about motivation, why did the character say that, why did the character do this. The director helped a lot with this part as well.
The scene we chose was when Dan and Anna choose to tell their respective partners, Alice and Larry, that they (Dan & Anna) were leaving them (Alice & Larry) for each other (Anna & Dan). Apparently, the entire play is about these four characters swapping partners back and forth; it’s also supposed to be quite moving with a good dose of humanity for each character, so I remain optimistic they don’t sound as odious as the above sentence suggests. It was hard to tell from the scene. I was very invested in Alice as my character and didn’t think very highly of Dan, though this quickly became a source of hilarity for both of us actors between run-throughs.
I digress. My friend’s assignment as the director was to play with the blocking and so she walked us through her vision. She wanted the tension to be high and incredibly awkward, so we created that Alice & Larry, at least at the beginning, would be like puppies, oozing “love me, love me” as our motivation to dial up the guilt for our respective partners. And then, as Alice had to deal with the fallout of being broken up with, the motivations changed. Motivation, I’ve discovered in my acting studies, affects how you say a thing. “How are you doing today?” is vastly different in the hands of someone who wants to love you, hurt you, demean you, or seduce you.
We continued with rehearsal, learning lines and blocking as we bounded along. Lines and blocking start to merge together as you start to get used to how your character communicates his/her motivation. I’ve found little problem memorizing lines, but they’re a thousand times easier to remember when you get your entire body involved.
Being about lovers, there were a few kisses written in the script. That gave me more anxiety than I thought it would, as kissing what amounts to a co-worker because your job demands it is a much different experience than the one you’re trying to create for the audience, that of lovers who’ve known each other for several years kissing each other goodbye. Without some preparation, the actor’s face and the character’s face would fight it out and confuse the audience. This was solved when we (the cast) were able to do full run-throughs of our scene and we discovered it ran well over the allotted time.
So we started to cut lines, and the kisses were some of the casualties. I feel a bit for Patrick Marber, as his writing was excellent. Larry, in particular, had some really great, hilarious things to say that told you so much about his character. We took that out. We joked later that we had a slimmer Larry now. We had a slimmer scene, overall.
The other thing I struggled with on the scene was crying. I wanted to cry, but ultimately never produced tears in rehearsal or during the actual presentation. My directing friend was very kind about this, coaching me not to force things. And I think that enabled me to deliver a better performance. I did think back to the grief of being broken up with, of never seeing that person again, and never being this person again. I concentrated on that and brought it to mind as I was looking at “Dan” and going through the last lines in particular, that this was that last hug, don’t leave, don’t go, and the finally, just go away already, dammit.
And this immersion in a character, this concentrated effort to reveal someone else’s feelings is FUN. So much fun. In real life, I think, we hide so much of how we really feel and what we really think, so for an art form to demand that those intimate things be rendered visible, with no need to make intellectual sense of them, just feel, is cathartic.
Also, very physical. Working in the office often only really engages your mind; acting engages more of your whole being.
I don’t yet know what my acting goals are. When I was younger, I think I always had a dream of being a professional actor and starring in shows, buried under all my shyness. But converting that into reality is a different story, a challenge even for those who’ve been doing it for years and years. I’m concentrating on enjoying myself and growing myself, taking advantage of every opportunity that swings my way.