Creative Specificity (for actors); or, How I learned to stop worrying and love the script work.

 I’ll tell you a secret. The title of this entry is a lie. Script work still totally freaks me out. As an actor, that is. Script analysis when I don’t have to be in the damn thing is easy as heck. 
There are several reasons for this. One reason, I think, is that it is much harder for me to be objective in script analysis for the same reason that we always know how to fix other people’s problems but can’t solve our own to save our lives. It’s too personal. It’s the nature of the beast that actors are the characters we play. It can be incredibly easy to see the flaws and foibles of our characters as personal judgements, or to say ’I personally don’t like people like that, therefore I don’t want to be like that, therefore I don’t like my character, and therefore, essentially, I don’t wanna.’ Too bad. Take a moment to pretend you’re the director if that’s what it takes; step back however you want to. You’ll thank yourself for your forced objectivity when you have to go back in and make it personal again.
Another reason I have trouble with traditional script work is that my mind works intuitively, not analytically. Going into a scene, when that scene or that character is something that I don’t automatically connect with, becomes a nightmarish experience for me because getting from point A (first readthrough) to point C (audition or performance) is somewhat of a challenge when I can’t find point B. As much as I slog through verbs and objectives and what I’m trying to do to the other person, that doesn’t help me when I get up on my feet and try to act. That’s not how my brain operates in real life, and trying to translate those traditional cornerstones of acting technique into my own work only pulls me out of the scene and, honestly, makes me suck.
So what, when we get right down to it, is script work for?
People (some of them, anyway) get into acting to ’be other people’. I wanted to become an actor to live different lives, because life’s too short to let us live more than three or four, tops. I think that this is a much more accurate way of looking at it, because what we do when we act, all that we can do when we act, is be ourselves. However, we are ourselves as shaped by a (perhaps) wildly different set of circumstances than those of our own life. This is where the tricky bit happens. We know the circumstances of our own lives intuitively, immediately and intimately, and this is what allows us to react spontaneously to everything that happens to us. 
If we want to be able to create that same spontaneity in our acting, does that mean we need to know our assumed lives and relationships down to the last stupid detail? Well, yes and no. The details are important, yes, and every clue and reference the script gives us should be delved into and understood. Story structure (and my goodness, is it important to understand story structure) is a darn useful guide to what’s going on with your character in any given moment, and understanding your character’s external raison d’être can be a big help in figuring out those moments that really don’t make sense in your head when you read them. ’What do I want?’, the actor’s favourite question, is a lot easier to answer when you’ve figured out the answer to ’why am I here?’. (CHEESY LIFE METAPHOR ALERT!). No character is in a script just for kicks.
However, the given circumstances are no more than tools to help us understand what we FEEL about each moment. Whichever way we get there, the goal of all that script work is to create a living, breathing, spontaneous slice of existence. As long as we know our lines, know our place in the story, and know what we want – and know these things so deep in our bones that we don’t have to consciously think about it – it doesn’t matter how we get there. The techniques we are taught are simply tools. Teachers can give us insights, but if what they say doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with us; they may just not be the right teacher, and their technique may not be the one we need. There is no one true way. If it works, it’s the right tool, and if it doesn’t then give yourself permission to put it back in the box. Your work is your own. Own it.
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