“An Active Pre-history”
In the MASTER CLASS on a coolish night in the second term of 2011 we were seeing a strong growth in screen presence as a hallmark of every actor's work. Top stuff! Plus there were clear stories and excellent listening. The discussion which followed was as always exciting, when more and more key ingredients are being understood the discussion as well as the performances always escalates. AND, on this night, the importance of understanding the CIRCUMSTANCES and the RELATIONSHIP had become a REALLY functional tool. Exciting times!!
The realization of how ‘understanding the circumstances and the relationship’ contributes to really believable listening is quite profound. It’s exciting to see the powerful results it produces. Creating a pre-history has always been an element that actors have worked on. Sometimes a lot of effort has gone into creating an understanding of a character’s past that in the end has no noticeable effect on the performance. Sometimes it even has a NEGATIVE effect.
If building a pre-history is focused on understanding how the character feels the results are often less than satisfactory. Building that kind of pre-history certainly makes it easier for the actor to reach a particular emotional state. However, it generally totally removes from the performance all the character’s decisions that would have generated the reason for the character’s feelings. Without the character having to make decisions as a result of their understanding of the CIRCUMSTANCES and the RELATIONSHIP there is little chance of the performance being real. Actors who display their understanding of the emotional state of the character without exploring why that state exists generally deliver a very one dimensional performance.
A pre-history needs to be an ACTIVE useful tool for the actor not an inertly descriptive one.
Check out this article on a related topic about "Holding Emotion Back" from 2001
Richard Sarell - April 2011
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