Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Great Acting Blog: "My Own Good Opinion"

When I started out as an actor, I accepted any part in any production that came my way. I didn't think too deeply about the production or who was producing it or the quality of the work or what it might accomplish, I was simply thrilled to be given a chance to exercise my craft and dived in, and tried to do the best I could. When my first agent offered to take me on, I bit her hand off without any thought for what she could offer me, which, as it turned out, amounted to little more than a few commercial castings and a vague promise about a bit part in Dream Team (which never materialized), and after I hadn't heard from her for two years I decided to delete her contact details from my CV, understanding her silence as a signal that she no longer wanted to continue our professional relationship. It was simply the opportunity to gain experience I was taking, rightly or wrongly, and I did learn.

However, there came a point in my career when I needed to take greater responsibility. I felt that I was not fulfilling my potential. I certainly wasn't the actor I wanted to be and I sensed there was a lot more to come from me but I didn't know how to tap into it. I decided to break away from my old habits, and set about defining my aesthetic, and practicing it rigorously. I researched acting technique, a process which began with Michael Chekhov and ended with David Mamet, and Practical Aesthetics.

I then realized I needed to test my ideas in a performance situation, and I wanted a stern test at that, so I wrote a one-man play, The Call, which was structured around a telephone conversation, and the audience only heard the character's side of it. I directed myself in the play, and one of the reasons I did so, was that I wanted an unfettered view of my work, all of the thinking and analysing and articulating would be mine, I could get a true picture. The play, and my performance were generally well received, but I knew within myself I wasn't quite there. Next I decided to write, produce, direct and act in a short film, and I intended it to be my "statement of acting". And again this worked to an extent but I still wasn't convinced, possibly because it did not provide me with a stern enough test as an actor.

My second play, Certain Things, was a full three act tragi-comedy, about a man who suspects his fiancee of having an affair with the lodger, and this time there was a cast of five. It took me six months to write the play, and I cast myself in the lead role and directed the other actors. What is important here, is that I used exactly the same technique to write the play, act in the play, and direct the other actors in the play, exactly the same technique. I will not pretend this production was not an enormous challenge, which required a huge effort, but it answered many of the questions I had about myself as an artist. It was a life changing experience. My performance in the play was closer to what I wanted, and showed me I was on the right track.

I am not a writer or a director, and I have no ambitions to be either. I wrote and directed those scriptes as a "non-writer" and as a "non-director", my primary motivation was to explore and develope my aesthetic to the point where I could articulate it and practice it simply and precisely. And in the process I became an independent artist, requiring no eye, but seeking my own good opinion of my work.

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