Brief #26 PREPARING FOR YOUR ENTRANCE
based on work by John Crowther
I see no reason why the actor should attempt to be “in character” before his/her entrance.
This statement brings up the very valid question: what does it mean to be “in character”? Presumably it suggests that we are able to walk, talk, and behave in ways that are like the character, which just isn’t what we are doing in the moments we’re standing in the wings in the darkness while waiting for the cue. What *is* useful is to be relaxed and focused and in the “creative condition”, and herein lies the rub. The key word is focused, and focused on what?
If we are going to be “imagining and believing what has happened to the character a few minutes (or seconds) before entrance” so that we re-experience “the past and the feelings associated with them,” we are inviting difficulty. All of that exploration of the events and feelings that have brought your character to the present moment so that you can better understand and play it fully should have been done already in rehearsal. To do it as you wait for your cue accomplishes the exact opposite of keeping you focused; it scatters your thoughts because you’re not sure *specifically* which part of the past you should be thinking about. It also is not true to your character, and therefore is not “in character.”
If I’m about to storm through the door to confront my best friend with the discovery that he’s been fooling around with my wife, I am not going to be a) standing in the darkness waiting for my cue to enter, nor b) thinking of the past. Rather, I’ll be thinking about how I’m going to deal with him in the present and future. (And yes, I recognize that this is an example of one of those times when it would be appropriate to access the necessary emotion.) If I am walking into the bedroom after a terrible day at the office, I don’t need to recreate the fight with my boss, the mistake I made on the widget shipments, the bumper to bumper commute home, stepping in doggy doo when I got out of my car, etc. All I need to do is focus on how great it’s going to feel to get out of this suit and tie (that feels like a straight-jacket).
The acting process does not necessarily involve getting ourselves more and more “into character” beforehand so that then the moments of the dramatic event will come to us spontaneously and impulsively. On the contrary, we find the character by uncovering and learning how to play each moment of the dramatic event in a way that is consistent with the character we are creating. The complexity of the character results from the simplicity of each moment, and being in character results from the cumulative experience in the present tense of living each moment of the dramatic event fully and truthfully. In performance we are then like the musician, who begins by playing the first passage of the score as he has learned it (with whatever emotional content it contains), then transitions to the next passage, and so on.
John Crowther describes preparing for his role as “Einstein” in a one-man show:
In “Einstein”, the lights go up on the first moment of the play and the audience sees me at a blackboard, lost in my calculations. After a few moments I realize with surprise that they are present, and turn to greet them. Whatever it is that brought me to the blackboard is immaterial, the only thing that matters is what I am doing when I’m there. Yes, it’s true that as I put on the costume, wig, and moustache I am going through a transformation, and when I’m done I am walking and moving like Einstein. I will walk from my dressing room to the wings as Einstein (which I continue to do after 200+ performances of it). But this serves more to relax and focus me than to get me “in character.” It’s like a pianist limbering up his fingers. I’m still John Crowther moving like Einstein (a simile). It isn’t until the lights come up on me at the blackboard that I’m Einstein (a metaphor).
It isn’t uncommon to find that aspects of the person we’re playing are difficult for us because they are inconsistent with our own experience and behaviour. They can be as obvious and glaring as the external walk or the accent, or as subtle as an internal feeling or a certain emotional response. A skilled actor with a deeply ingrained craft may have an easier time breaking through his natural resistance to something unfamiliar, but maybe not, depending on what he’s trying to accomplish. Imagine an experienced guitar player who comes across an extremely difficult chord he’s never seen. Before he can play it effortlessly he must practice it, over and over. Each time he comes to it he will have to slow down slightly, until eventually it comes to his fingers easily and naturally.
Another example: if you are right-handed and I ask you to write your name on the blackboard with your left hand it will feel clumsy to you and look sloppy. But with practice you’ll be able to do it effortlessly. You may not be able to copy the Town Charter with your left hand, but you can write your name convincingly. We are not required as actors to do and feel everything our characters would throughout their lives, but only those things that are required by the dramatic event, and we have to do them only *when* they are required. If a certain character might have a swagger when he walks but he is only sitting in his one scene, then we don’t have to master a swagger, we have to master how that particular character sits and moves in a chair (working either from the inside out or the outside in). If at a certain moment he lights a cigarette and smokes, then we have to master how he does it. If in another moment something amuses him, we must master the distinctive way in which he laughs. The accumulation of these details is what gives us the illusion of “being in character,” and convinces the audience that we *are* the character.
It is also worth mentioning that the more aspects of the character we master (based on the requirements of the dramatic event) the easier it is to master other aspects of the character. If we learn to write enough things on the blackboard with our left hand, eventually we can write with our left hand as easily as with our right.
(For truly brilliant character work, try seeing Sean Penn in Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Sweet and Lowdown.” Penn genuinely disappears inside his character, seemingly without effort. The character is in the details.)The TWENTY-SIX previous "theatre briefs" are here:
- Character Checklist
- Learning Lines
- Subtext: Does "no" mean "no"?
- Using Goals or Objectives
- Objectives and Super-Objectives
- Where are You Coming from?
- Specific Intentions, Part I
- Specific Intentions, Part II
- Don't Get Carried Away
- Specific Intentions and Dialogue
- Overcoming Obstacles
- Writing Your Programme Bio
- Breaking down the Text
- Overcoming Obstacles by Changing Intentions
- Reading the Actor's "Score"
- Using Expectations and Outcomes
- Using (and misusing) Emotions
- A Roadmap of Intentions
- Beginning at Step 4? Really?
- Disturbing the Molecules: Choosing active verbs
- Preparing Emotionally
- Realizations and Intentions
- Theatre Etiquette