Observations on the state of things, mostly acting, anything theatre, and an occassional political remark.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Should an actor practice being in character in public places not on stage?
It is absolutely wonderful when someone asks a really good question.This evening I was asked if an actor, in order to better play a character not like himself, should practice being that character at home, or in other places out side of the theatre.The following is an edited version of my reply:
Not at all; that is nonsense. You should keep your acting and your character on the stage. To act or try to be your character off stage is not only rude to people around you, it could be interpreted as mental illness.Theatre and cinema exist, so we can feel as important, attractive, charming, and brave as we do in our imagination.But we must not try to be in public what we imagine ourselves to be in private.(Read Theatre, Religion, and Football, an article on my web site under Acting Theory.) Neither us, nor the actor, nor us as actor are the character. The character is a fiction created by a playwright. (Even historical characters must be somewhat fictionalized in plays and films.) The character only exists in the imaginations of those who read the script. That is until an actor takes the place of the character on stage or in front of the camera. When the actor does that he establishes the physical part of the character, the walk, the gestures, the posture and the voice (if they need to be different from his own--which they often do not). And he represents the character for the audience to see and hear. The vast majority of casting of actors in roles actually want the actor to simply look and sound like himself when playing the role. (Once, I was playing the next-door police detective in "The Gazebo." The director said to me, "Ken, stop doing all those character bits and just be yourself and be charming."It was the most difficult acting assignment I had ever been given. I did not consider myself as being charming, so I had no idea what to do. I had not yet learned that it was important not to "act" the role. It is the actor's job to simply stand in for the character, and the actor does not have to make up a lot of gestures or plan facial reactions. Rather than pretending, the actor allows himself to have full and honest emotional responses (his own, unplanned emotional responses, pleasant and unpleasant) to the stimuli of each moment of the play as it occurs. He does not pretend to feel or pretend to respond. He feels and he responds. So you don't need to practice being the character off stage. The character does not exist off stage. He only exists in the imaginary circumstances of the play and no where else (except in the case of historical or real people as characters). So you stop representing your character when the director says "cut," or if the play or scene ends. Keep your performances fresh, spontaneous, and vulnerable. And keep them only on stage.
I am a retired university theatre professor and program director. I worked as a SAG actor for ten years. I advise aspiring actors for free. I have a free ebook on how to prepare for an acting career. Find it on my web site: http://tao-of-acting.org