Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Acting Is Not Just Words
The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.
- Peter Drucker
Subtext, or everything but the lines themselves, is the main reality of what actors do. If it weren't, we could simply have computer text-to-speech read the lines aloud in a robot voice and the job would be done. There are a million quotes and ideas along these lines. The business world even likes to suggest that research indicates 45% of communication is the tone used, 50% is body language and only 5% the actual words.
We know better. Silent films with out any frames with words on cards can still communicate completely. This doesn't mean ignore the lines or don't learn them, but don't be rigid with them. In a dance class once, there were suggestions for choreography listed on a poster on the wall. Among them was:
Be neither a slave to, nor mutilator of, music.
So to with lines. The line may say "I'm alright, really I am," and while we all might know that this character is decidedly un-okay at that moment, playing the straight opposite, some sort of beside-themselves-mess, might be too shallow too. Maybe they are okay with being un-okay, maybe they don't know how to be happy. Many dramas have characters that don't know how to have good, solid, happy lives, and start drama partly because they are only comfortable when something is wrong; they need chaos. The character that wants peace and happiness but doesn't know how to allow themselves to have it may be far more interesting, and relate-able, than the one who is simply and only a mess.
The irony that I'm writing this in a words-only medium is not lost on me. So I'll conclude with: play the words, but also play the spaces between, under, over and through them. The role is not the lines. Break a leg!
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