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Discipline + Imagination + Bravery = ?

Here’s another connection between acting and writing.

I found this equation in one of my drama books:

Discipline + Imagination + Bravery = Success!

I couldn’t have said it better for either acting or writing. Let’s break this down a little bit:

DISCIPLINE

An actor has to be disciplined in putting in the homework to properly understand the role. You have to understand the given circumstances of the play. You have to pick apart the dialogue and understand if what the character is saying is actually true.  You have to dig deep into the subtext in order to understand your character’s attitudes, emotions, and actions at a subconscious level. And you have to do all of these things as you learn the lines, practice with the other cast members, and try to fulfill the desires of the director.

Writers: As a writer, the first part of discipline is in the act of writing. You have to do it. Regularly. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether the ideas are flowing or not. Writers have to write if they are to be called writers. Besides this, writers have to research, and have to understand historical and cultural contexts. There is a lot of disciplined work required to be a writer.

IMAGINATION

An actor has to fill-in the gaps. The script only says so much. An actor has to take the imagination and make a three-dimensional characterization that goes well beyond the written page. Actors may also have to use their imaginations to act in scenes which experience doesn’t cover. Imagination is crucial for acting.

Writing: So much of writing is imagination. A thought comes to your mind, or a vision of a character, or a word, or a name. The imagination must take that small fragment and go places which are not obvious. In my novel, I had to imagine how to get a penniless, battered, Vietnamese woman into a position where she could escape Vietnam and end up in an unlikely place as rural Pennsylvania. Writers have to go places, sometimes hard places which leads us to …

BRAVERY

Actors have to be incredibly brave if they want their performance to be authentic. Sometimes, they need to unmask the hurt and painful moments of their own lives in order to touch that human emotion that is genuine in such a way that it will move the audience. It’s easy to see an actor who is not brave enough, or who has not put enough honest work into their role. Their performance is flat and unbelievable. But when an actor is brave, the performance can be magical and transforming.

Writing: Writers are such easy targets of criticism that to be successful, one needs thick skin, and a lot of courage to go on in the face of all of the critics. Good writers must be honest with themselves. If a writer only wants to sugarcoat subjects, I believe they will never be a serious communicator of the human condition. It is not easy. Whatever you write will be assumed to be what you think or what you have experienced, whether true or not. It’s an uncomfortable positioned in which to be placed. But good writers don’t compromise a story to placate anyone else. Good writers are fearless, willing to go places where others are unwilling to go. Good writers must be brave!

My goal is simple, I want to put this equation into practice.

Discipline + Imagination + Bravery = Success!

Drama: The value of character interviews

I had an amazing time sitting down with a bunch of the cast members of our new, original production of “Grandparents’ War” and conducting a series of character interviews.

The ground rules were simple: stay 100% in character until I say ‘stop’.

They were amazing, and I didn’t ask easy questions. The time frame was after the play was over so I asked a bunch of questions about what happened during the play, but the bulk of the questions were about the characters’ histories, personalities, and memories.

I asked: ‘Are you an optimist or pessimist?’ ‘What was your happiest moment of your childhood.’ ‘What was it about your spouse that attracted  you to her?’ … and so forth.

When I said ‘stop’, they devolved out of character, usually with a loud series of sighs. Then I conducted some debriefing questions of what they learned.

Character interviews are great for several reasons. First,  it gets them away from their canned dialogue, and it forces them to create a credible backstory to help build structure into their character. It forces them to be their character in a new setting, thus furthering who they really are. The spontaneous interaction forced them to think on their feet and to react to the other character in the interview as well.

Character interviews is a beneficial exercise for any actor wanting to find out more about their character.