Friday, 16 February 2007

Imagine people took me seriously

So the other day at school, I contradicted a teacher, whose name I will not here mention because he is probably more important than me and is friends with people who are definitely more important that me, depending on what you think the word "important" could possibly mean.

We were discussing "building character" in an exercise of his, hot seating characters in a play that takes place in 1932 Germany, and I asked one actress, who is a lovely Jewish girl, but was playing an anti semitic Prussian woman, to take herself far enough out of her own head to imagine that I was telling her that people like her would be despised in the future. What was her reaction? Lloyd stopped the question in its tracks. (Shoot. I mentioned his name. Oh well. Apologies.) He said that asking a character about the future is not relevant to their present.

Now I guess I think differently, fair enough, but I am of the opinion that character building can begin from any point. An actor's decision about whether their character's mother died, or if they ate eggs in the morning is as relevant as what that character dreams about or how that character chooses to use their imagination. When I act, or invent a character, I try to step into that character's world, and that world will be populated by their hopes, dreams, and history. Don't we all live in the present, past and future all the time anyway? And doesn't our vision of the future change on a daily basis? Isn't our vision of the future a barometer for what we want, for what we expect from ourselves, and for what keeps us going? Surely this should be important to a character. Integral to their motivation.

The way that I write characters is very much in keeping with the story of the Scorpion and the Frog, as told by Forest Whitaker with an Irish accent at the beginning of "The Crying Game."

A Scorpion walks up to a frog at the bank of the river and asks it for a ride across. The frog says, "Get away from me, Scorpion jerk."

The Scorpion says, "Look, think about this reasonably, Mr. Frog. Yes, under normal circumstances I may feel inclined to sting you. But if I stung you while you were taking me across the river, you'd stop swimming, sink, and then I'd drown, and then we'd both die. It just doesn't make any sense."

So the frog thought about it for a moment and conceded. "Hop on." He said, begrudgingly.

And sure enough half way across the river the Scorpion got this crazy look in his beedy little scorpion eyes, pulled out his taiser tail, and stung the frog.

While they were both sinking the Frog, with his last froggy breath, said, "Now why in the hell did you do that."

The scorpion apologized, and drowning wildly, the frog could make out the words: "Because it was in my nature."

Now I am of the opinion that people act according to their natures all the time. The way that someone opens a door, or rushes to work, or dreams about water, their character, and the flesh and bone of their character, their understanding of character should be ingrained in any of these activities.

Yeah, but the prof didn't like it. Or wasn't in the mood to let me push boundaries. And who am I anyway? Maybe one day when I'm famous he'll tell that story to his class and give it a chuckle. But for now I've fallen out of favour, meaning that if I ever do get famous, it may be with no help from him at all.

But now I'm just complaining to my blog, ain't I?

Apologies. It's in my nature.

(Wakka Wakka!)

1 comment:

Craig said...

Hey, Deborah. You know, you are entirely right and Lloyd, alas, entirely wrong. As T.S. Eliot said in "Four Quartets" (and I am probably paraphrasing wildly here): "Time present and time past are both present in time yet to come, and time yet to come is contained in time present." Heidegger basically makes the same point, a great, tedious length. But it's not just that the big guns are on your side; rather, it's that these guys saw something about the modern experience of the world which must be integrated into our acting and our creations of characters on penalty of total irrelevance. In fact, it is precisely the observation that people are not always living in the moment, but in both remembered and ANTICIPATED moments (after all, what else is motivation) that lies at the heart of Stanislavski's whole theory. And to set limits on what may or may not be anticipated is to doom all of the characters we play to being far more shallow than ourselves. It is, in short, to condescend to them, which in my view is a cardinal sin for a theatre practitioner. So there.