Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "An Online Actors' Lab"


This week, I was due to shoot Phone Box Gun, but had to move that back to next month as one of my actors became unavailable. However, I didn't want to waste the time this freed up, and so decided to go and shoot an improvised, experimental short. There was no time to write a script, or plan much at all, so I just had an idea, grabbed a camera, got together with an actor friend, and turned the camera on.


The idea I gave myself to explore, was that I was an actor preparing to audition, and while working on a scene from the script I was to read, discovered there was a line I just couldn't say – and that line was: “I just don't know anymore.” All I knew in advance of filming was that I was going to explain to my scene partner that I couldn't say the line, and then just see where that took us. The technical challenge then, was to work out how to actually say the line in such a way that illustrated that I couldn't say it (and couldn't say it here means to not be able to say it in a way that is truthful or believable). I decided that the awkwardness I needed to say the line with, ( in order to create the illusion that I couldn't say it) was an external (like doing a limp or acting drunk), it wasn't a question of action or intention – I had to decide how I wanted to say it, and simply apply it. The effect I wanted, was that when I said, “I just don't know anymore”, it would seem phony in comparison to the rest of my improvisation (and having reviewed the footage, I'm relieved to say I think I achieved that). So, having decided to employ that external, I then needed to give myself an action to carry into the scene, and here I chose to get reassurance from my scene partner – ie: the character is literally complaining about the line of dialogue, but the action I would give myself was to get reassurance, for that is the essential meaning of complaining about the dialogue, that's what it means to me. And broadly speaking, this approach worked, proving to be highly creative, and I enjoyed playing the scene, always good signs both.


Furthermore, doing this quick fire short film, reignited an old idea of mine – that of an actors' laboratory – a place where actors can come to work on technique, try things out, create, and keep sharp in between jobs. However, there must be a performance aspect to the work, that is: the work must, in the end, be presented before an audience. The trouble with acting classes is that it is a false situation, the body and mind knows that the work in class will not be presented to an audience, and therefore, it is difficult to be motivated properly, to commit fully, and really sweat. However, knowing that whatever work we do will be shown publicly, gets the blood up, and focuses the mind to do great work, afterall, that's what we actors are all about: performing for the public – if that doesn't excite you, then perhaps you might want to think about a career change. Perhaps, over time, this laboratory could become a philosophical laboratory too, where notions about how actually to think about the work can be discussed and articulated – let's face it, contemporary acting is a laughing stock*, where any actor who calls himself an artist is mocked or sneered at, or, on the other hand, it has become an academic's wet dream, where graduate directors endlessly “debate” the “meaning” of a line of dialogue. So our laboratory actors would be ambitious actors, but not just in terms of their creative choices, but also technically and philosophically. Ethics would also play an important part in this laboratory, examining personal conduct would be part of the work. Values which are quietly dying in British culture, like honesty, integrity, good manners, loyalty, solidarity and hard work, could be cherished and promoted (drama schools have really failed here, as far as I can see, they only teach actors how to cut eachothers' throats). We could create an environment not of fear and suspicion, but trust and co-operation It would admittedly require a certain kind of actor to participate in this, one who is hungry to work, not polite but dedicated, and one who wants to startle the audience with the sheer force and intensity of their work. Yes, all this has been a long held ambition of mine, but what has held me back in the past has been funding – ie – a space to work in, and then a space to present the work, and then the materials and man power to generate an audience. However, with developments on the internet, in terms of exhibition and audiences' capability of watching movies online, perhaps my theatrical model needs to go virtual, where those costs are minimized. Perhaps what is needed is a sort of online actors' theatre. The lab work could be recorded using digital cameras, then the work is sent to post-production, and finally presented in our online theatre, as shorts, features, documentaries, video essays, research, or whatever form would be appropriate for each individual piece of work.. I am going to do it.



* In an ideal world, our leading actors would speak up, because they are the most influential, but that isn't going to happen, so we have to create the situation we want, ourselves.

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