Acting pointers..
November 5, 2011 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I read the AskMeFi question, The Beginners Guide to Theatre Acting which was great for auditioning ... the only problem now is I actually have a part!

The Sound of Music is being produced in my local town. Its a money maker for the organization as each part is required to pay in order to participate. My daughter was very excited, however they lacked some key characters and -against my normal psychological course- I offered to take up one of the roles.

4 showing in May 2012 is the target but I have NEVER done ANYTHING like this. I am a computer geek, plain and simple.

I have signed up for voice and guitar lessons. What I am looking for is actual instruction, tips, websites for 'how to act'. Do I exaggerate every action? Do I play it normal? How do I play it normal without making it MY normal (cynical/sarcastic). Please if you have any pointers or experience I would love to hear about them so as not to embarrass myself or my daughter.

"The hills are aliiiiiive ... "
posted by njk to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do I exaggerate every action? Do I play it normal?

Somewhere in between - it depends on the size of the theatre. In a very small venue you should play it relatively normal. You'll still need to be able to project your voice to be heard but facial expressions and normal sized gestures should be perfectly visible/understandable even to the back rows. In larger venues those smaller expressions will be lost on most of the audience - that doesn't mean you should ham it up - although its a musical so a certain amount of ham and cheese is expected.

How dissimilar to yourself is your character? Different people have different styles but I find it helps to think about what your character is feeling and attempt to replicate that emotion in yourself. Its an added complication if your character is very different to yourself (a lot older, has an accent or a very different temperament for example). In those cases I find it helps to think of someone you know who is more similar to that character and imagine how they would say the line/perform in the scene.

Hopefully you'll have a good director with a clear 'artistic vision' who can give you lots of guidance, particularly about the physical stuff (where to stand, how to move etc).

The other thing to remember is to be aware of your position on the stage - don't stand infront of the other actors (unless the director tells you to) and don't turn your back to the audience (unless there is no other option) -ie if you need to turn, always turn towards the audience. eg. you're facing stage right and need to address a character who is directly to your left - you have to turn the same amount no matter which way you turn but if you turn to your right you have to turn your back on the audience. Equally, if you are addressing a character who is standing up stage of you, don't turn around to deliver your lines, turn toward but stay as front-facing as you can unless the director specifically tells you otherwise.
*This of course assumes you're working with a standard audience is the fourth wall setup. In the round is a whole different story
posted by missmagenta at 11:49 AM on November 5, 2011

It may help if you tell us who you are playing, both in terms of character tips & tips based on your stage time and scenes!
posted by firei at 12:18 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Relax. Much of what you're asking is actually the director's problem. Go make some mistakes. As long as you don't seem like a crazy person (a person who can't be communicated with), then the director will be able to point you in the right direction. A sense of humor will help. As will humility.

Regarding your specific questions:

- Don't worry about exaggerating or playing it normal. Do what you find interesting. The director can tell you if it needs to be bigger or smaller.

- You're allowed to play it normal by making it "your" normal. Or not. The director can tell you if your interpretation of the character is inappropriate.

- A willingness to make mistakes is key. The best way to avoid embarrassing yourself and your daughter is by being willing to do so. If you're present, honest, vulnerable (as opposed to holding back or pushing), the audience will be on your side.

Acting isn't, for the record, something you can learn on the internet, or in a book. Most of what we can tell you can only confuse you. Like this: Don't think, don't plan, don't intend, don't judge. Put your attention on what is literally happening. Break a leg, and, please, don't worry so much.
posted by tsmo at 2:06 PM on November 5, 2011

The theatre is small -I guess, but what do I know- seating is for 250??. The cast is complete except for some of the male roles, specifically the captain is the role that I have foolishly (but secretly excitedly if I have to be honest) agreed. (I am tall and not dissimilar to Mr. Plummer) Fortunately expectations are exceedingly low and I have a long time to prepare. I feel I am a good public speaker, and things felt good at my first practice (reading on stage).

So .. dont sweat it .. dont overemote (smallish theatre), be prepared to take direction. Check.
The thing I worry most about is using my arms and pointing and gesturing "Look at that green stretch of woods over there---" presumably I point?? right??

(Now if I can only wipe that permanent sarcistic smirk off my face)

For the record, this is fantastic to have this venue to air these fears/concerns, you people are awesome.
posted by njk at 3:59 PM on November 5, 2011

The most important thing to do is to get your lines down. Some people think that learning lines before getting the character is a mistake but I think in this situation learning your lines early and well will reduce stress.

You will need to make your character slightly larger than your own, but I think cynical/sarcastic would work well for the captain. The captain is not a smiler (particularly at the beginning) so you'll probably have to try and keep your smirk on the inside.

Always make eye contact when you're speaking to the other characters. A lot of people when they first start acting find it difficult to maintain eye contact. You can see it from the audience when it happens. Don't look at the audience (even briefly) during the performance; this is also really apparent. Save it for the curtain call and standing ovation!

Body language can be difficult. Let your character dictate what happens with your hands etc. You're fortunate that you're playing a stiffish kind of character, so you could explore the whole clasping hands behind your back, regimented movements, etc. Listen to what the lines are telling you. Use props (drink, cigarette, cane, whatever) to occupy your hands (if the director allows it, of course!)

When you're watching movies or tv or a play, take note of what the actors are doing when they're not the ones being spoken to. You will need to react even when you're not the centre of attention. Don't upstage the other actors by trying to draw focus but be aware that you are still going to need to be the captain whenever you're on stage. This can be done by posture, following people with your eyes, appropriate (small) reactions when someone says something important, etc.

Break a leg and have fun!
posted by h00py at 8:10 PM on November 5, 2011

Regarding your limbs: There's no one right answer, but worrying about what to do with them is definitely not it. Give it a shot, try pointing--maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. That's what rehearsal is for.

These aren't things to decide in front of a keyboard. In rehearsal, you try something: if it works, you try to remember it, and if it doesn't, you try something else. A good performance is a zillion mistakes you crossed off the list. But you've got to try them first.

And don't worry about the smirk, either. The less attention you pay to it, the less of a problem it'll be.

Finally, in case my agenda isn't clear yet: You should stop worrying. Give up. Yield control. It'll be ok.
posted by tsmo at 8:25 PM on November 5, 2011

Back when I was acting, I took a class at Amherst College from which I gleaned the following bit of useful (at least to me) information: You are most interesting on stage when you are really doing whatever it is you are doing.

If two characters are talking, and you bend down and tie your shoelaces, there is a good chance people will watch you.

The way to use this piece of info is to really do whatever you are supposed to be doing onstage as much as possible.

Then, you are not even really acting; you are just doing.

Hope this is helpful.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2011

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