A Brilliant Object Lesson on Good Acting

The most awesome thing happened in my Intro to Theatre Arts Class today.

We were in our drama circle, and I was debriefing an exercise we did two days ago where one person sat in a chair and was told that if she left the room, her family would die. Another person was outside and didn’t hear that scenario. He had a different objective. He had to get the person sitting in the chair out of the room because he knew there was a bomb about ready to go out. It’s a classic scenario. Two opposing objectives with the stakes very high for both. It’s fun to see what the young actors will do. (On this particular day, the one person committed suicide, and the bomb went off. It was a mess, but I am digressing.)

Anyways, I am debriefing. My principal walks in to observe as I am asking my class if that scenario had been part of a script how would things have been different? The difference would have been that the person in the chair would have eventually left the room because it would have been in the script. That’s the problem with acting. The script tells you what is coming; therefore, if an actor is reacting only to the script it won’t be authentic. The person has to react to the words and actions of the other actors in the scene. The opposing objectives have to clash, and they have to be wrestled with and worked out in a spontaneous, authentic way.

As I was explaining all of this, my principal interrupted and looked at one of my students. “D.J., I need to see you outside right now,” he said in a gruff voice. D.J.’s face lite-up in fear, he slowly lowered his head and walked out of the classroom as a hush settled over the rest of the students. After they left, I continued talking. A minute later they re-entered and D.J. sits back down. “D.J., I need to see you outside right now,” the principal repeated. And then everyone got it! A brilliant demonstration. The first time the principal caught the student off-guard and the reaction was fear. Genuine fear. Even I had fear. I thought, “Oh no, I’m losing one of my actors. He’s going to be expelled.” D.J. later said that every bad thing he ever did flashed through his mind at that moment. He was not acting. He felt fear. As my principal informed me later, “D.J. was ‘crapping his pants’ when he walked out of the room.” But the second time through, he knew it wasn’t real.

And that, in a brilliant demonstration, is the difference between normal acting and exceptional acting. Exceptional acting means the person isn’t reacting to scripted lines. They are acting in the moment to the situation in authentic way.

I thanked my principal for his exceptional timing and an object lesson that my young actors will not soon forget.

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