Last weekend I saw two independent theatre productions and watched a large number of actors participating in a world that was extraordinarily real for them. They listened extremely well to the clear understanding that the words had for them. They plainly understood their reality and the nature of their relationships extremely well BUT frequently the outcome of their efforts was that I wasn’t engaged with the drama of the story.
On the other hand, sometimes I WAS engaged with a scene until the end of the scene and then I was suddenly confused – for the scene often just stopped rather than leading me to an understanding about the purpose of the conversation I had just witnessed. If I didn’t understand the point of the story I tended to disengage from the communication.
‘Realism’ or any performance style is simply a means to an end. The end result that we are questing has to be an engaging and purposeful story. Without an engaging story the whole performance becomes an irrelevant acting exercise. The whole reason for the performance to exist is lost.
We need to be careful that we don’t mistake style for substance.
‘Realism’ is only a tool to achieve a well-told story.
Nearly thirty years ago, a wonderful teacher by the name of Murray Hutchinson taught me that the key to a readable performance is that it must be ‘externally focused’. He meant that everything the actor does should be aimed at affecting the other person. Processes that lead to excessive internal reflection, he explained, generally have low levels of ‘readability’ for the audience. If you want your audience to be engaged with the difficulty that is unfolding between the characters in the scene it essential that you are ‘externally focused’.
The other common sense issue that Murray’s revelations helped me to understand is that we only tell stories for a reason. So, even if the performances are interactive and engaging BUT at the end of the scene I DON’T get the point of the story then I’m ultimately disengaged from the whole event. If I am watching a short play that just stops suddenly I wonder why I had to sit through it in the first place.
The parallel in life is the real conversation that initially engaged you but at the end you wondered what it was about and why you bothered to participate.
An ending of a scene or a play has to be clear and it has to make a statement about the difficulty the play is exploring. The actor’s final choice (the story’s outcome) is more than likely connected to the decisions and the difficulties that have been explored throughout the play.
Actors need to make sure that ‘telling the story’ is the primary reason for existing.
It is not what the actor is feeling that is most important.
On every level it’s what the audience understands that is the measure of success.