I think I’ve expressed an opinion about this before, but there’s this thing about a paint-by-numbers approach that is really irritating and widespread. So many of us succumb to this at some point or another and with a kind of surprising regularity. Acting, contrary to popular
opinion, has much to do with throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. Of course there are schools of thought and volumes of terrific information as to how to approach the art of acting. All can be very useful. But they are all educated – sometimes highly so – guesses as to what will work for the actor.
Actors are like cancer cells. Incredibly individualistic and unique. What works for one of us doesn’t necessarily work for another. There’s no magic bullet. So aside from reading, studying, and practicing all that has come before, which is a thoroughly ex-hausting concept, what is the actor to do? How is the actor to improve, rehearse, and
Leap. Jump. Try something. You know it works when you don’t hit the ground. Luckily
for the actor, the ground is a metaphor. There’s no risk of injury. Except to the ego. Which bruises easily and readily with alarming frequency. At least in my limited ex- perience. Of myself. Perhaps you’re different. The point is merely that trial and error is a big part of creating a role.
Leaping and jumping doesn’t include knowledge of a particular outcome. There’s never a guarantee. And if there is a guarantee, you can almost always be assured that there’s a more interesting choice, a far riskier option to be had. I find myself in a lot of trouble when searching for a guarantee. I want to know what’s about to happen. So I focus upon one planned predictable outcome. By doing so, I eliminate all else that might occur. All else that might be discovered. All else that might be revealed.
This does without doubt take time, practice, and experience. The ability to listen to the script, to recognize the variety of opportunities that exist within it. These are skills that
are absorbed as much as learned. I like to compare it to playing any kind of game.
At first you’re just figuring out the rules. Trying to make sense of it all. Following the rules because they are the rules. But you don’t really understand why the rules are the rules—they’re just the rules. Why waste time asking why you can’t move the shoe backwards in Monopoly or why the bishop in chess gets to move diagonally and the rook can’t? We just accept the rules and try to play within those designated para- meters. Over time we learn the rules, we learn the game, we stop thinking about the rules, and we even get creative within the framework of the game, within the framework of the rules, and we begin to play!
The given circumstances of the play are the rules of the play. At first, I don’t know why the circumstances are significant. Or at least I don’t know how significant. That doesn’t happen for a while for me. I am forced to continually make a fool of myself as I try to listen to the script, figure out the rules of the text, and try to play within the layout as designed by the playwright. Eventually – sometimes sooner, sometimes later – the game seems no longer a set of arbitrary rules and begins to make sense. Not merely intellectually. Physically as well. As if it is in my bones. Like a game I love to play. Like Monopoly or Chess….Okay, those are bad examples, and I don’t really play them all that much. And, to be quite honest, I am not a big fan of Monopoly. I still don’t understand why the shoe can’t move backwards.