Thank you everyone for all the love and support both here in LJ land and via email. Between the virtual love and the doggy kisses, I’m feeling pretty darn good.
Week 3 of acting fundamentals on Monday. I seem to be consistent at posting it 2 days post. Oh well.
Now that we have become familiar (HA!) with the emotional spiral we will use it every week to warm up. But as a warm-up for the warm-up we have to, you guessed it, move around the room to music. I think some places call that dancing. I don’t dance. Ever. Not even alone in the house. I try, get self-conscious, and then stop. (Yes I danced in school 30 plus years ago but I was young enough to not care that I looked weird plus it was mostly slow dances anyway and those don’t count.) Anyway, I was quite surprised to find that the video she used this week actually clicked with me. It was a dancer/instructor by the name of Gabrielle Roth who does something called the 5 rhythms. We didn’t do the whole tape, just the 5 minute warmup, but I was excited when I found myself willing to move outside my norm (still avoiding the huge mirror on the wall) and as a result, after the warmup, I actually felt less tense.
Of course that didn’t last for long.
This time we went through the various emotions while moving around the room. I could sort of do them when I was sitting still but moving and making noises and bringing out the various emotions all at the same time didn’t work for me at all. Okay. . . I just couldn’t do it. Except for anger. Not a problem letting the anger out. Go figure. I don’t know if getting in touch with my anger means I will finally be able to write about my REALLY ANGRY KID or if I just need a lot of therapy.
After bringing all our emotions to the surface it was time to face off in a line again about three feet apart. First off was to just “be” and experience whatever the other person was sending you. All of this was completely silent. Then she had us continue but we moved a step closer. Wow. It totally changed the dynamics. I felt safer and found it much easier to send and receive silent messages. After that we traded partners and practiced the personalization technique again, first someone we loved then we changed partners again and the assignment was to imagine the other person was someone who had intimidated us. That was another tough one for me and I don’t think I managed to get it across. More fear than intimidation. I’m sensing a trend in myself here.
The next exercise was a lot of fun both to do and to watch. It was called “I want the chair” and the instructions were very simple. One person sitting down in the chair, doing a task, writing, drawing etc. (actual task, not pretending) Another person standing up. Each person had one line. The person standing could only say “I want the chair” and the other person’s line was “You can’t have the chair”. You couldn’t touch each other. You had to try and make eye contact. And you had to try and make the other person give you the chair. It is very hard to come up with different ways to ask for something when someone keeps telling you no. While the acting lesson here was all about transmitting emotions and getting those emotions across effectively so you could get the result/reaction you needed/wanted, my writer self was stuck on perseverance.
You must not give up asking for what you want. Even when all seems hopeless.
After this (or maybe before, I’m confused in my remembering) we did a round robin sort of thing. It was supposed to be the personalization thing, where we thought of two different people and then we took turns sitting in pairs, pretending we were in the coffee shop just chatting but we were supposed to personalize the other person but keep talking lightweight stuff. Then we traded off. I got confused and instead went into improv mode where the only emotion I seemed to be able to portray was, come on, you know the answer to this one.
Yes, anger. Okay, low level anger and frustration but still, anger. So of course when it was pointed out that I DID THE WRONG THING I was very embarrassed and tried (without success) to slide under the couch and disappear. Sigh. I hate when I don’t follow directions and then stuff like that happens. I do think, in retrospect, that my writer mind just doesn’t slow down to think about how actors do what they do. I’m barreling straight ahead into characters and watching them react to what is going on in their lives, just like I do when I write. Alas I was one of the first to do the exercise so I got to sit and watch everyone else do it right and gather teacher praise. (Gawd, we never ever outgrow that need for teacher praise, I fear. Okay, I’m being plural. ‘I” never ever seem to outgrow that need.
The last exercise WAS improv. (Yeah – this time I knew what to do.) We went up in pairs with different scenarios. Mine was siblings who were fighting over who got the mom’s wedding ring after she died. It was a lot of fun because of course, I had permission to be angry, to be indignant, to be sad, but mostly to be angry. It was 100% character development on the spot and I loved it. It didn’t matter that I’m no good at the acting part. What was wonderful was to watch a character unfold so quickly when all I had been told was that we were brother and sister, our parents had died, and we both wanted the same ring. I think we had about 5 minutes (maybe it only seemed that long) but it was enough for this unknown character to spring to life through me.
Years ago I did a ghostwriting project (a novel) that involved a character who lived a complete different lifestyle than mine. She was rich. Really, REALLY rich. She was dangerous. She lived life on the edge. A friend in my critique group knew that I was struggling with the project. She really didn’t know anything about the character except for those three things; she was rich, dangerous, and lived life on the edge. She called me and told me to be ready to entertain a visitor the next day. In the morning I answered the doorbell and there was my friend decked out in a ritzy outfit and a wig. She introduced herself as my character. We proceeded to spend the morning getting to know one another. It helped, but if I had it to do over again, now that I have had a tiny taste of improv, I bet it would go even better.
But I’ve never been that good at taking my own advice.
But SUSAN, that is such fabulous advice!! Tell ya what, I’ll parrot it back at you and you can follow MY advice! *grin*
Ooh..me likes that plan. I am much better at following other people’s advice. Thanks.
I am so impressed with you, Susan. For two reasons. First, you step outside of yourself by even venturing to take the acting class. Then second, you come and share your heart with us about it. Wow. I feel privileged to have this little peek into your heart.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Kristy. As often happens in classes, I am learning things I didn’t go there to learn (some good, some, well….room for self-improvement, shall we say) As for the sharing, part of my problem sometimes is that I share way too much. 🙂 But sharing, talking and writing about whatever I am doing, is a way for me to internalize the experience.
Fascinating stuff Susan
Sounds like the acting class is working its way in and has you looking at how a character comes alive for you, how you make choices on the spot etc.
You asked about the acting class for writers that I was in. Early in the sessions, (we went for about four months last spring) we did warm up mirroring exercises, did some dancing, and eegads some singing. It was interesting to see how we came alive by the end when we were all so trepidatious and scared in the beginning.
When we did improvs our instructor had us focus on actions and objectives. She’d have us play out simple scenarios but each two person pair had a different objective known or unknown to the other person. IE: a married couple, one wants to stay in for the night, one wants to go out. etc. As writers we discussed how the improvs that “got off the ground” had instant tension. Physical actions were clear. Motivations could be hidden or overt. Eventually, we also did mood work. Our instructor named emotions and we physically had to experience them. Then we went around in a circle and shared how we felt and where. One person who feels anger may feel it in their chest. Another in tense hands. Etc. (all good for writing to get in and portray char with original beats after tag lines or amid a scene.)
And some of the most helpful nights is when we brought in our own writing and the facilitator who had an acting and directing background analyzed the scenes with acting techniques. She looked to see if we moved from one emotion to another clearly, with build-up. Did we hop from depression to intense outward anger without any of the various moods in between? Did we have a clear moment before or moment after? What was the overall objective for the book? How did the scene portray this objective? How did the char go about getting what he/she wanted? (And each scene also has it’s own objective. And each char in the scene does, too.) Did the scene have an arc? Interestingly enough, we spent a lot of time digging in to secondary character motivations. How do we portray their wants, and each char wants something, when we can’t go outside our third or first person MC’s field of vision and internal thoughts? (None of us were working on multiple viewpoint novels, nor omniscient narrators).
It truly was a mind-shifting experience. I’d love to do another one.
And how excellent that you had a friend who dressed as your character so you could get to know her!
Re: Fascinating stuff Susan
Thanks for sharing all this with me. I wonder if our SCBWI conference would consider bringing an actor instructor along to a conference for a workshop like this? I’m going to have to suggest it.
Singing in class? I draw the line at that. No way no how. Objectives. Yes, that term came up in our class this week. And once she explained it, it made perfect sense, that an actor would need to know what the character wanted in every scene. Just like with our writing.
We did the same thing with the moods last week, noting where we all felt the different ones. I really do hold actors in even more awe now when I realize how hard it is to show the various moods, especially without saying a word.
Have you ever read Dwight Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer? I realize now that a lot of his scene and sequel for storybuilding must be based in acting. HMmm…time for me to go and reread the book.
Re: Fascinating stuff Susan
I highly recommend the woman I worked with, Nell Robinson. She has a varied theater background and also has a history of teaching acting to non-actors. I’d love to get her connected to the SCBWI. If interested I can get you her contact information. I am sure she can create a long one day or two day event.
And I haven’t read that craft book you suggest, but will surely pick it up!
You are doing so great, Susan. stepping out of a comfort zone is hard work. Harder than most people know. Good on you.
It IS hard, Barb. Thank you for saying that. But it’s also freeing, once we finally get brave enough to take the chance. I wish it didn’t take me so long to get brave.