Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why Many Characters Have Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder

One of your many projects-in-the-works is a book length treatise on how techniques actors use to help them articulate their assigned role and, indeed, to be more convincing in their interaction with other characters. This project is undertaken in the conviction that tellers of stories and actors have more in common than meets the eye.

An additional aspect of this conviction leads you to believe storytellers and actors share many techniques related to the development and maintenance of characters, techniques with the common denominator of concentration, which is to say the actor's absolute ability to concentrate on the inner life of the character portrayed, and the writer's similar need to leave the writing self behind while exploring the nooks and crannies of the character's persona.

Disclosure # 1. Much of your reading, however much you may enjoy the performances of the writers you read, is to see how accomplished storytellers convey the depths of reality and simultaneous empathy they do.

Disclosure # 2. You believe there is a direct link between the writer's successful portrayals of persons, places, things, and motives to the writer's ability to concentrate out of self and into character.

Disclosure #3. You believe the ability to concentrate can be better grasped by watching the better actors. You also believe trained actors are more likely to have the ability to concentrate in better control than most writers.

Disclosure #4. You are accordingly envious of the actor's ability to understand, use, and demonstrate the nuances of concentration than most writers are able to effect without significant revision.

Disclosure # 5: Sometimes when you are in class, your own DIoP whispers in your ear and you are off one one of three exercises in concentration given you by your acting mentor. DIoP stands, accordingly, for Dramatic Imp of Perversity, which wants you to collude with it.

Exercise # 1.  Pick a spot close to the baseboard, where wall meets floor,in the classroom or social situation. Imagine a mouse hole and, then, the head of a mouse appearing in the hole, investigating to see if it may step forth to engage in an exploratory run for food.

If you focus and believe you are seeing the mouse, it often will appear. Over the years you've been working this exercise, you find it helpful to imagine the color of the mouse or, particularly if there is food available in the immediate area, what kind of food this is.

Since you've "worked" the exercise, your concentration has gone from a grim determination and thus, a rather forced, near melodramatic stare to one of amusement: Here you are, able to watch this mouse about the warp and weft of its venture to provide itself a meal, while the students or others present know nothing of its existence.

If you are a complete success in performing the exercise, one or more persons will "catch" you in your observation and ask, "Are you seeing a mouse?" or variations on that theme.

You believe--and this is a key ingredient of the exercise--that a skilled actor could "project" that mouse to a larger audience.

Only in the past several months have you come to understand that those small details, the color of the mouse itself, the location of its den, and the target of its venture outside the den, are heavy contributions to you being able to imagine the mouse for more than a few seconds at a time.

Exercise # 2. Pick a spot in the ceiling or, if outside, some tree branch or wall or shrub, from which a spider has produced a strand of web from which it lowers itself, allowing you to follow its progress.

The goal is the same as with the imaginary mouse, but to date, you've only once been able to cause someone to arrive at the desired result of, "Eeew, a spider."

Exercise # 3. Best done indoors but may also be essayed in porches or outside dining areas. The imagined object this time is either a house fly or a bee.

You've had the most success with this one, not surprisingly because it is, you believe, the least complex of the three. With your eyes, you're able to "track" the fly or bee in a more distinctive flight pattern, say circling the room in search of a place to land or, outside, moving from object to object.

If you were asked what one thing you see actors do is the most valuable to you as a storyteller, your answer at this time is the ability not only to concentrate, which certainly happens to you when you are approached by a story idea in a manner equivalent to someone in a Trader Joe's or COSTCO parking lot asking if you have any spare change. You are suddenly focused on the idea, and its implications. 

The process begins in earnest when you find yourself able to concentrate on it in longer increments, the way an actor does when undertaking a performance.

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