Some scenes are really difficult to find your place in.
Sometimes the scenes are so ordinary and chatty that the ingredient that drives the drama isn’t immediately obvious. If we can’t find any conflict or even a simple difficulty that exists between the characters then we are unlikely to find meaningful reasons for saying the dialogue. What is more, we know that ‘difficulty’ is the essential ingredient that drives every story and if we can’t find a clear difficulty then the chances of such a scene surviving the cut are low.
The place we should look to find the answer to this dilemma is … ‘ the way we function in life’. Here we should the find simple difficulties that drive these casual conversation.
Such a dilemma emerged in a recent workshop. The actors decided that in casual conversations we are frequently testing and assessing the possibilities of friendship. With a new acquaintance we are testing to see …
# if they are on ‘the same page’ or have the same values as we do
# do they think rationally
# can we trust them
# do they respect us
# are they fun
# are they self-centred or do they think of others. etc
When we first meet someone the question, “Who are you really?” is ever present.
If they don’t measure up we don’t progress the friendship.
In life, these questions bring an enquiring nature to a casual conversation. These are the purposes that drive everyday conversations.
In established relationships (if there isn’t any obvious difficulty) the tests are harder to find … but they are still there. We are always immediately aware of any shift in a close relationship. Even in well-balanced, supportive relationships there are still ‘day-to-day’ tensions. In that regard we are constantly assessing ‘how good or bad for us’ is the decision our partner, friend or colleague is making.
The actor must always find that simple issue that is driving the conversation. It doesn’t have to be big. It often is small. BUT there HAS TO BE one issue that drives the conversation throughout. That’s the way it is in life. And in life, without that reason there is no conversation.
Have a look at the scene depicted by all the pictures on the right…
THE CIRCUMSTANCES: It is a first meeting; its not likely that there will be another conversation; it is a casual meeting organized by a friend; they both have experience as painters; they are in a gallery where the older man (he has the walking stick) has an exhibition of his paintings.
THE RELATIONSHIP: Two older chaps (158 years of life experience between them); they haven’t met before; the younger man (with beard) knows a bit about the older man; the older man knows nothing about the younger man.
The dialogue in this scene reveals it is a casual chat about art and art history. BUT behind that, what is really going on?
If you had to play a scene that is as simple as this one what difficulty would you be looking for?
I am going to suggest that the single theme that is driving this conversation is “a test to see if they share the same values”.
CONSIDER THIS: None of these simple conversation reasons will function without a ‘difficulty’. THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY OF CREATING A DIFFICULTY IS TO ALLOW FOR A SMALL AMOUNT OF DOUBT in the mind of your character. While there is doubt there are problems to anticipate and decisions to be made.
Look at the energy levels that exist between these two characters. They start off cautiously.
They test out various possibilities.
In the end they both are clear about what has been achieved.
These two men are NOT acting. It is a REAL conversation. It is not possible for us to know what choice the participants are making but it is plain that nothing is being taken for granted. In life these two participants are plainly committed to their task. They are gathering the information and making decisions about how to generate the next ‘test’.
The outcome is remarkably engaging, gently dramatic, absolutely real and comes to a logical conclusion.
You see, the difficulties and choices don’t have to be HUGE the outcome doesn’t have to be massively dramatic BUT IT HAS TO BE ACTIVE.
There HAS to be something to do.
In life there’s always a reason for the simplest of conversations.
So actors … look for SIMPLE lifelike reasons.
It’s just common sense.
(Many thanks to Max Middleton and Peter Cuffley for permission to use these pictures. The conversation occurred at Max’s wonderful retrospective exhibition at Castlemaine Gallery in May 2012.)
(Apologies to those who have been troubled by the outrageous number of spam comments on the blog recently. Because I am new to this I’ve had to learn about these crazy behaviours and then find ways to stop them. I’m still learning.)