I worked with a delightful couple from a theatre company today who felt they were struggling to get into role as convincingly as they would like to; they are playing characters who are also acting being other characters.... The process was becoming hard work for them both, and the result appearing somewhat forced. I could (and almost hear!) their brains clanking with the effort of trying! We had had a couple of sessions around balance, free necks and breath, managing high heels, ‘constructive slumping’ in an office chair, allowing sound from the whole body, and then came today’s session. Both of them were very tired with the effort of long rehearsals and their recent preview night’s acute demands.
The young man, Tom, was struggling with getting into his older character. He had an idea that he wanted to be not unlike Jim Broadbent, so I asked him to ‘go right back to neutral’ as he sat in his chair, and then allow his legs and feet to absorb the sense of this much older actor. I said legs and feet as I wanted Tom to be as far away from all the thoughts in his head as possible! As his time of neutral stillness moved organically into a movement, more of him filled the stage than ever before, and more of ‘Jim Broadbent’ filled the lines. The young woman, Sarah, sensed the change clearly and appeared to find it easier to play her role with him. Tom still seemed slightly unconvinced it was working; like many people, being in his body isn’t, as yet, as familiar to him as being in his mind. I like to go very slowly with the process of opening up to what is happening in our bodies; too fast and the head’s thoughts will leap back in before a confidence in the senses has had a chance to gel.
Then we worked with them both playing a scene where much happens very quickly; the two actors playing the four characters - two people in an office playing two people they had to be in order to hide a misdemeanour.
|Then we removed the emotion to see what would flow… Not that Tom and Sarah looked like this!)|
It was still a little bumpy, neither feeling the swift changes they were trying to make were really working. So I asked them to play the scene as neutrally as possible - no characterisation, no postures, no emotional input to the words, no intention to portray anyone. It was more than marking it, but not ‘acting the parts’. I sensed might happen and it was only a matter of moments before they were revealing the characters with a new clarity and conviction. They were pleased, and not a little amazed! Sarah then said that she ‘still couldn’t get that bit right...’ so I asked her to repeat it with even less. Bold and willing, they played the scene again, “With even less than before, please...”
I sat spellbound as the scene unrolled before me....Sarah’s character’s self-dislike apparent and touching me in my stomach, her hatred for the boss curling my insides, their fears apparent as an uneasy fear within me, her humour and wit flashing in and out of the lines. Tom’s new speed and versatility was right there to meet it with a new flexibility and depth, their sought after characterisations simply happening organically. There was a moment when Tom and Sarah swapped lines by mistake and one commented about this to the other in order to right it, and I was really not sure at all that the comments weren’t lines to the script that I just hadn’t noticed before, such was their connection and depth.
When the scene finished, Sarah’s eyes were sparkling - she knew she had connected with the very thing she had been looking for, and she was excited for future rehearsals now she had a valuable tool in her pocket - Do Less! Tom was very tired from all the rehearsing, and we all acknowledged that his head was stuffed with too many thoughts. I advised them both to go and do something completely different; the very thing that their mind would say, “I don’t have time for that”, and they each had a plan for the next day or two. There’s nothing like leaving something to simmer whilst we go off and do something else; when we come back, so much has clarified in the open space we make by our absence. I know both of them made a great discovery today in the ‘space-of-non-doing-ness’ and that their desired clarity will be with them within a few days. With 10 days until opening night, they’ll be just fine.
Sarah added this comment after the session: "Sometimes when rehearsing or performing, you're thinking of so many things at once (vocal techniques, physicality, lines) that you become tense and therefore less able to connect with the 'truth' of the character you are playing. Annie's exercise of playing the scene without emotion really helped me re-connect with my character and her emotions - almost immediately too! I'm hoping I can incorporate this into my performance when we start touring."