This workshop is designed specifically to allow the actor to focus entirely on building his given character and the world he inhabits for the purpose of production.
Each actor is assigned a one person play and over the course of the four weeks works to create that one person. Works to create a life so secure that on opening night he can step out onto the stage genuinely prepared to live and breathe as that person. Knowing who he is and where he is as that specific human being. A person prepared to live the experience.
From the initial breaking down and analyzing of the script, through the myriad exercises necessary to create sense and logic, form connections (i.e. relationships) to every person, place and thing mentioned by and/or dealt with by his character, through the mandatory receiving and incorporating of specific direction to the seemingly endless repetition of dialogue and actions to achieve the illusion of spontaneity.
To make an audience believe that you’re the person you must first create the belief yourself. Approach the character not in the third person, but in the first. His language, thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, loves, hates, his very life, must become yours. You must choose to remember a history of people, places, things and specific events that have left indelible impressions on you. Not the you you are in your personal life, but the you you are meant to be in the piece
“Don’t think for a moment that I’m really like any of the characters I’ve played. I’m not. That’s why it’s called ‘acting’.” — Leonardo DiCaprio
To be or not to be? That very definitely is the question.
I believe that acting is best when enjoyed. I believe in the pleasure principal. Not in a hedonistic way. I’m a practical person. Laughter helps people relax. I spent years observing instructors terrorize actors and then wonder aloud as to why the actor was unable to relax. Well it was simple mathematics to me. If you make an actor terrified to perform in front of you it’s more than likely that that actor will find himself filled with tension and less likely to perform well. When actors are tense they aren’t open and available to themselves. Mentally, physically or emotionally.
I believe in hard work, extremely hard work, but I believe in having fun while doing it. Lots of fun. Acting should be fun. Serious fun, but fun nonetheless. Also, it creates security in the actor when they choose to take pleasure in what they’re creating. Whether it be high comedy or excruciatingly painful tragedy. Actors have often asked how it’s possible to enjoy suffering, because when actors create a character who is in fact experiencing great suffering, unimaginable pain, the actor hurts, badly…but the suffering, the pain being experienced is in no way related to anything personal to the actor…unless the actor chooses to make it personal to him, which I work my ass off to keep the actor from choosing to do.
My belief is that an actor must make use of his personal observations and experiences to help him relate to the character, to help place himself more securely as the character, to help him better understand what the character thinks, feels, etc. about the specific things that are affecting the character, but then to associate those thoughts and feelings to what’s personal to the character, not to himself. Understand? Any suffering, or pain, or even joy or exaltation, experienced by the actor as the character should be a reaction to what’s personal to the character.
Example; I was working with a young man who was having difficulty creating the feeling of ecstasy his character was experiencing in relation to the birth of a calf. I had him remember the ecstasy he felt when he assisted in the birth of his child and instantly he was where he needed to be. Mentally, physically and emotionally. And when he did his monologue again it was clear that he was being affected deeply by what he was saying, remembering, sharing. Afterward the actor said that he was afraid to confuse his own life with the character’s, and I told him that his memory was only to help him connect with the necessary state of being, once he had done that he needed to associate it to the character’s reaction to the birth of the calf. That way he didn’t have to keep remembering the birth of his child to be affected that way.
One day a casting director was sitting in on the workshop and asked about the danger of actors investing themselves to that degree physically, emotionally and mentally. It’s an understandable question. People think actors are crazy to choose to experience all of the things human beings work their tails off everyday NOT to. I work hard to remind actors that acting is what they love to do. Their passion. That yes, they may be suffering as the character but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy themselves while they do it. Enjoy doing what they love; creating, experiencing and expressing the gamut of humanity. And that keeps them safe. To go anywhere, anytime.
I encourage actors to aspire to health, to joy. If relaxation is key I can think of no better way to achieve it then through joy! I believe it’s possible to go safely, securely, joyfully, into the danger zone.