Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Concentrate

The actor needs to be well trained in concentration in order to become the character.  To the extent that concentration ebbs or gives out altogether, the resulting character is stopped in his or her tracks, not all present.  This is a dangerous game because characters, by their very nature, must be dimensional presences.

You catch yourself at times, wondering if you are merely a presence or an authentic manifestation of you.  You wonder about this at times when someone offers a suggestion or makes an observation for which you have no answer.  

Because of your fondness of written, filmed, and stage versions of story, you've grown accustomed to seeing characters one hundred percent present, thus able to roll with the punches of Reality, have a response, project some sense of feeling, even a feeling as intangible as doubt or indecision.

There are similar times when, rereading aspects of story you've written, you get the distinct impression of a character not one hundred percent present, thus cheating the audience/readership, cheating you, the creator, and cheating him/herself as a creation.

Sometimes you feel the need to visit the review pages of Amazon or Netflix, where viewers such as yourself are invited to register their opinions of a particular movie or an episode from a television series.  You are impressed when you see comments from viewers who have enjoyed a particular story and one or more of its characters in instances where you found story, pacing, performances to be lacking, at about fifty percent level.

Rather than taking the easy--and dangerous--way out, in which you dismiss out of hand viewers who greatly enjoyed something you considered marginal, you try to take the position that these reviewers have not watched performances or read with anything at stake other than enjoyment.  This is another way of saying that every time you see a performance you admire, find a character for whom you can unequivocally root, you are risking the admission that the performance is of a level you'd have to struggle to accept as something beyond your ability to duplicate.

Characters in film or theater have to convince us they are not being played by actors; they have to convince us they are characters written into context by a writer who knew her/his way through the maze of possible distractions within a story.  To reach this level of your own performance, you need the ability to concentrate out of and away from your essential self, digging instead into the attic or cellar of your stored tools, models, and experiences.

Once you are away from your essential self, your significant goal becomes that of surprising yourself by having your characters do things that surprise the other characters.  When you find yourself writing a line of dialogue, where one character does something physical such as sighing or taking a breath, or shrugging before saying, "I wasn't expecting that," you somehow become aware you are lithe and limber for the moment, reaching toward a sense of familiarity with your people and their circumstances, even a bit sympathetic to the plight that is holding onto them.

In such moments, you are an instrument of surprise, your characters saying, doing, not saying or not doing some expected thing.  This leaves you to take notes, because things are happening quickly and you may not be able to capture all of it.

You need the actor's concentration, the actor's presence, what theater people call taking stage.  You need to come awake, alert to the moment to the point where a potential reader of your work who knows you will not see you in the activity, rather the potential reader will see the characters.  

Fred stood, idly watching.  That doesn't go far toward projecting why Fred was standing in the first place, much less why he was idle rather than fuming or trying to allay the inner and physical manifestations of his fear.  This suggests you observe the parallel lines of the actor rehearsing and the writer revision.  

Why are few listeners with any preference for jazz or inventions surprised at the benefits to musicians of improvising?  Why are so few readers willing to extend that acceptance to writers, who improvise scenes, press the delete key, then line up their characters once again, on the equivalent of the last place in the story where writer and characters were united in a bond of purposefully awareness?

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