Acting – being real in imaginary circumstances. Easier said than done. What actually is the fine line between real and imagined? There are many circumstances in life where situations are surreal when bizarre behavior is not only accepted but celebrated. There are times when behavior seems truer than true even though it flies in the face of what seems reasonable or appropriate. Many actors choose the “right” behavior the “correct” way to play the scene to achieve the obvious objective or result. More often than not this pedantic approach succeeds in delivering the exposition of the story but fails in revealing the true heart of the experience.
The key to avoiding the cliche’ of formulaic performance is to find the music in the words and beats just as a musician explores a piece of music. Just like the words are the notes of music on the page the Actor’s body is the instrument that is played. The set, the other Actors, the camera and/or the live audience make up the rest of the orchestra. Think about how musicians totally confident in a performance will riff and change keys speed up or slow down the tempo in sync (or purposefully out of sync) with the other musicians. Pushing the envelope of what is expected, accepted and pleasing to the ear. If music is not your thing then relate it to the sports world. Sports are all about the element of surprise contained within the structure of the rules and boundaries of the game or contest. The players or competitors that push the rules and boundaries to the limit, the ones that do the unexpected “win” the moment. If an individual competitor wins enough moments in a contest they win the contest. In the case of team play if enough individuals win their moments and the others on the team don’t negate the accomplishments of those individuals then the team is victorious.
Acting follows the same basic principles. If the sport of basketball was watching each individual on one team take ten free throws one after the other then allowing the other team the same experience tallying up the score and declaring a winner then not many tickets would be sold. If you went to see your favorite band and each band member played a “correct” song individually with no fused energy or reaction off of each other then the concert would be tepid and unmotivating for the artists and the crowd. As an Actor it is vitally important to develop the instincts that allow you to create and recreate spontaneous natural circumstances within scenes utilizing all of the supporting elements that surround you. One of the keys in allowing the natural flow of a scene to play out is “acting on the line”. What does acting on the line mean? While the line is being spoken or heard the physical reaction is simultaneously occurring. There is no pause, beat or breath in between the lines. There is no moment where a feeling or reaction is “shown” to the audience to illustrate how the Actor is moved by the dialogue in the scene. Action then reaction with no air in between. As you practice this more and more you will begin to feel the “micro” beats that occur in between the back and forth of the character dialogue and in your own line delivery.
There is a difference in the trap of the “pause for effect” instead of the natural “cause and effect” that happens in a real situation. Pausing is outwardly motivated by what you want the camera or audience to see happening to you, showing what want them to see. In that pause you are self-conscious and in control of what you are doing it is presentational and result oriented Acting giving “them” what you think is correct and they should see. Cause is allowing what you say or what someone says to you to resonate and impact your character leading to a spontaneous and often unpredictable response. Allowing this cause to occur can be daunting and intimidating because it is unstable, erratic and a bit dangerous it is internally motivated and evolved, organic Acting.
Pausing will lull the players and audience into a trance. Although the story will be told it is more about the information that is relayed than the emotional connection and resonance involving the audience. Cause will keep the other characters on their toes and the audience on the edges of their seats wondering what might happen next. The story will unfold in a motivated and connected although chaotic manner just as real life plays out in it’s own unpredictable way. Think about the most memorable performances you have seen and the most memorable experiences you have had in your life and compare the commonalities.
Give a diligent examination of the “cause and effect” rule in your life as an observant Artist and also in your Acting practice. Once you see it occurring in life and in Art you cannot “unsee” it. Take a chance in your next class, audition or performance prevent the pause and embrace the cause allow “it” to carry you into that place of unpredictable bliss, chaotic danger and precipitated acceleration. Leap and the net will appear – John Burroughs and “You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury two inspiring and applicable quotes supporting cause and effect, Acting on the line and being in the moment. Enjoy the Journey!!