The entrée to strong dynamic choices that create great acting
What are choices? Where to they come from? How do we know if a choice is a good? Worrying about all of this can freeze an actor’s brain.
The acting process starts with reading the material, then stepping back. You need to understand what the writer is trying to do with the scene before you begin to make any choices. This is called script Analysis. Without is actors may give a great acting performance that fails to the job required. Every audition and job are actually a commission. The buyer is looking for someone to do a very specific job need. If you do not satisfy that need you don’t get the job no matter how great your audition.
Penny developed three important script analysis questions to give actors a specific process to begin working on sides, whether for an audition or an actual job. A consistent way of approaching the work goes a long way toward easing an actor’s nerves and allow their creative side to come alive.
- Why was this scene written? Too often actors look at audition sides and start by trying to come up with strong choices for their lines. Scenes are not only about what the characters are doing or saying. Scenes must tell us something about the situation, a relationship, a character ‘s flaw or strength or sometimes an important plot point. The first thing an actor must figure out is why did the writer have to write this scene and include it in the script? What does he want the audience to learn, or feel, or react to? What is really going on underneath the lines. Without this knowledge the actor is merely saying words in a believable manner.
The great director Sydney Lumet, in his book on directing, discusses in great detail understanding the purpose of the scene Before shooting begins, he meets with the writer, producer, and all the different departments: cinematographer, wardrobe department, set decorators, hair & make-up, etc.
They discuss what they want the film to say. Then very specifically why each scene and each shot are in the shooting script. What they are trying to accomplish with each shot. Everybody discusses all the options to make sure that what is needed by the audience is clearly brought out in each scene. He makes sure everyone is working towards the same goal.
Why haven’t actors been taught to make this part of their process?
Penny has made this a part of her process from day one. While she was working with her mentor James Kiberd, Trevor on ALL MY CHILDREN, he wanted her to become his acting coach. James arranged for her to meet with virtually everyone on the production side: directors. producers, cameramen, etc., to discuss what makes a shot work? What makes a scene work? She was soon in demand by actors on many shows on ABC. Sometimes when there was a major story line coming up for one of her actors, Penny would be sent scripts in advance along with the show’s BIBLE [everything imaginable about the show and have discussions with producers, and writers on arcing the character development as well as why certain scenes were in episodes. It one instance a show had trouble casting an important new role and shot around the character for 20 episodes. Finally, a major actor was hired, Penny received a frantic call from the casting director to work with the actor for a long Labor Day Weekend and bring him up to speed on how the character had to be arced to fit into the story line for all 20 episodes.
She incorporated this knowledge into her process opening Penny Templeton Studio, teaching the craft of acting coaching actors, when creating her approach to the acting technique, and writing ACTING LIONS
2. What is my job? How can you do a good job if you don’t know what the job is? The Commission: Every job is a commission. An actor is hired to fulfill the demands of the commission. The audition is your “submission” showing you understand what the commission is and your way of fulfilling it. Once an actor figures out why they are doing the scene (what it is about.) they must figure out what their job is. Why is the character necessary to the scene? What must the character do to fully capture the writer’s intent and convey that to the audience?
3. How do I want to do my job? Take a point of view on how you would like to do the job and then create a character that will do the things necessary in the way they react and deliver the lines that helps to complete the commission.
- The accomplished actor asks the same questions and does all the required research whether they have one line or a hundred lines.
- It starts with the writer’s words as the basis to create the character and ends with the actor bringing new meaning by personalizing them in the unique way, he uses them.
- The actor’s creative choices are what create a character and bring them to life.
There are three main areas of inspiration for choices when creating a character.
- What has the writer gives you? This is more than the character description.
- How do they use the words to communicate? Do they repeat certain phrases or words?
- What is their rhythm when speaking? Terse, short and to the point? reflective? Loquacious? Rapid Fire? Aggressive?
- What do other characters say about them? How do people react to the character?
- Most of your choices come from the in-depth question you choose ask about the character. Everything in their life influences this.
2. The choices that come from the creative questions you ask about your character.
- What was their upbringing. Poor? Rich? Middle Class? City, Rural
- Are they Religious? Moral? Amoral, Ethical, Kind? Selfish?
- How secure or insecure is their place in the world at this moment?
- Research: You should never say or do anything without knowing What it is and why you are doing it.
- anything you do not fully understand in the dialogue.
- researching everything about the characters profession.
- Everything unusual about the environment and circumstances of the script
90% of the specifics of the character comes from the actor. The more questions they ask and the juicier and more interesting the answers, the more compelling the character becomes.
Making choices for auditions can be scary because you usually do not think you have enough information to make informed choices. The truth is you can find all sorts of great “invisible” information once you start asking the right questions. —-What are the right questions? Everything you can think to ask!
- Sometimes, you must make the answer up.
- When you answer a question, it becomes part of the script.
- Just be sure your answer fits in with your research and contributes to the fulfilment of your commission.
- Your answers fill in the blanks in your character’s life.
- The more interesting your answers, the more interesting the character becomes.
I only have 2 rules when answering questions in a new script.
- When you have several options choose the answer that is the juiciest
- Never violate the script, by that I mean, your answer can not go against anything in the script.
As you learn to answer all the questions your character will start to come to life in ways that will surprise you.
There is no “Acting” in acting. Using the acting technique, actors make choices for a character to do specific things with the words, and you fill the character with personal emotional triggers that constantly stimulate them. so you don’t have to act. Everyone of these choices come from Script Analysis
Over the past year I have been trying to add posts to our website site featuring good advice I find in various columns on acting. Penny and I want our website to become resource for actors, trying to find practical answers to the often frustrating and maddening business of auditioning and getting work.
Here is a piece I came across written by Stephen Tobolowsky for BACKSTAGE ESPRESSO. I thought I would pass it on to you. I had the good fortune of working with Steve about 25 years ago (I doubt he would remember me). He probably works as much as any actor in LA, doing interesting supporting character roles. Here is what he had to say.
“I have spent my life reading scripts. Some of them have been good. Most weren’t. But it didn’t matter because I wanted to be in all of them – even the one with the bionic dog. For years, I have taken acting classes and read advice on how to do well in auditions. I would like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned along the way – tips for auditioning and performing. I hope they help. If not, I hope, at least, they’re not annoying.
The first problem I always have is reading the script. It’s never easy. It’s not that the language is difficult. Good or bad, scripts are always filled with things that are incomprehensible.
For example, I have read many television dramas where the writer has described a character as LAWYER, 40. That’s if the part was written for a man. If the same part was written for a woman, the script will say LAWYER, 34, ATTRACTIVE.
As actors, we read that and move on, not even aware that we are already lost. Personally, I have no idea what any of those descriptions mean in terms of auditioning or playing a part. I don’t know what “LAWYER” means. I don’t know what “40” means. I certainly don’t know what “ATTRACTIVE” means. I’m not joking. This is a first real challenge in working with a script.
Take “LAWYER.” Am I a good lawyer or a bad lawyer? Do I come from a long line of lawyers, or am I the first person in my family that got a college education? The answer may not be in the script. It not only makes a difference, it makes all the difference in the world.
Often the writers and directors aren’t aware of the pockets of nothing that are in their projects. It is the actor’s job to find them and fill that nothing with something – hopefully, something truthful. I have found that true always trumps clever. To do that, we have to be aware of what questions to ask. Then, we have to ask them. None of that is easy. I had an experience that opened my eyes to the power of positive questioning.
I was working on a television movie where I was playing LAWYER. Because it was one of those scripts that was “based on true events,” I was able to do research by calling the real lawyer I was playing. Lucky. I didn’t think it was appropriate to ask him if he was a good lawyer or a bad lawyer. Instead, I asked him if he always wanted to be a lawyer. He laughed and said, “God, no. Never. I always wanted to be a country-western singer. I always had my guitar in my office. Everybody made fun of me for plucking a tune when I was interviewing my clients.” Talk about a goldmine.
I showed up on the set with my guitar the next day. I talked to the producer and director about my new plan for LAWYER. They were happy to fill in the blank with something that was real. That was a fluke. Actors almost never get that lucky in creating a character.
So what questions can you ask to try to find your inner “country-western singer”?
When I read a script, I find a good starting place is. What is my profession? Simple. I know. It is not so simple to get at answers that are specific enough to help you create a character. Start with the obvious. What do I do? Then move to the less obvious. Do I do it well? Where do I excel? Where do I fall short? What did I think this job would be? What did it turn out to be? (The honest answers to these questions can also be a good source for comedy.)
If you prefer a more emotionally-based way into a character, there is one I use that never fails. What is my greatest hope? What is my greatest fear? If you can read a script and answer these two questions, you can play anything from Romeo to Juliet. You will be able to improvise, adjust to a director’s notes, and have a good time whether you are attractive or not.”
Stephen Tobolowsky has appeared in more than 200 movies and television shows. He is the author of “The Dangerous Animals Club,” published by Simon and Schuster. He teaches improvisation and comedy for Kalmenson & Kalmenson.
For more on Auditions and Script Analysis read Penny’s book ACTING LIONS
For more on Auditions and Script Analysis read Penny’s book ACTING LIONS