The Effect the Camera has on Performance

The actors' workshop is just beginning.

Everyone is starting to relax into the first exercise.

Some are beginning to listen.

Others are beginning to stop forcing - allowing themselves to just respond to the interaction.

The camera commences moving around the room. Capturing snatches of the interaction. And suddenly everything changes.

Performances have changed significantly. Backs straighten. Eyes are fixed.

Listening drops away.

Instead of "inter-acting" there are now signs of people "acting".

"The relaxed" and "the truthful" have disappeared and have been replaced by "the tense" and "the contrived". The only difference - the appearance of the camera!

So what has actually happened? It could be compared to two friends playing a relaxed game of chess. Their concentration is focused on the quality of the choices they are making. They enjoy the contest. There is an equality of participation even if one is in a stronger position than the other.

Then three friends drift across to watch the game. The atmosphere changes.

The friends just want to see what's happening. But somehow the expectations of the participants have altered. Because they are being watched the situation has suddenly changed.

The same thing often happens to actors when they become aware of their audience.

Constantin Stanislavski, referring to an actor's "objectives" wrote, "They must be on our side of the footlights. They must be directed towards the other actors, and not towards the spectators." ("The Actor Prepares" published by Methuen.) Stanislavski addresses this issue because sometimes actors do have their focus distracted by what they perceive the audience wants. This can often cause actors to start judging their own performance while it is happening. Thus before they have finished uttering a line the actor may be feeling that they haven't articulated the words the way they intended. Immediately such internal judgements begin the actor loses touch with their external focus. Under these circumstances the ability to listen and interact within the context of the scene diminishes significantly.

Chess players who begin to worry how others will judge their choices inevitably reduce the chances of achieving a checkmate for now the focus is being stretched beyond the boundaries of the game. If, instead of just playing the game one decision at a time and meeting each challenge as it arises, the participants are now starting to worry about outcomes beyond their control then the quality of the game will suffer. The more they worry the harder it becomes to make any choice at all. The same is true for actors.

Although Stanislavski was focusing his comments on stage acting the same rules obviously apply to the screen actor. Any choice which is made for the benefit of the audience breaks down the truthfulness of the relationship between the characters for it adds an extra party to the interaction.

The appearance of the camera can have a similar effect on the screen actor. That is it can make them "audience aware" and diminish the interactive process between the characters.

October 2001

Copyright © The Rehearsal Room 2001. All rights Reserved.



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