When it comes to identifying
the elements of story it has been explained in previous notes
about the value of labeling and how, for example, if endings
aren't clearly identified/labeled then frequently they aren't
clearly played either.
The basis of this phase of
the process (i.e. identifying the elements of the story) hinges
on a number of straightforward assumptions -
- The actor's main task is to
deliver the story and therefore identifying the essential ingredients
is a good way of making sure that the task is completed
- Simple labels of the essential
story elements are a clear way of keeping the information in
mind without cluttering up the brain with excessive unnecessary
information. This is helpful because the less responsibility
there is to remember things the easier it is to listen and allow
the intuitive impulses to work.
- There are often elements of
the story that are essential to deliver but which are not clearly
represented on the page. These elements often include the fact
that frequently the story being told is about what is happening
between the characters while they are saying the lines rather
than about the content of the dialogue.
The simplest way of labeling
the essential ingredients is to make sure that the beginning,
middle and end of the story (of the scene to be played) are clearly
- The beginning identifies the
start of the conflict
- The middle generally is about
testing and exploring the dimensions of the conflict
- And the end makes plain whether
the conflict is resolved or not.
The above items have all been
articulated before. And it is plain that three items of story
element are more than enough to remember at any one time. If
a simple list like that will guarantee that the story is clearly
told then there is no reason to make the actors task any more
complicated. The dialogue will do the rest.
But there are occasions when
a fourth element is required.
There is one further story element of a scene that the evidence
strongly suggests needs to be labeled clearly. If it is not identified
then often actors don't play the moment at all or mechanically
move through it as something which is done by the character rather
than something that happens to the character. This additional
element, which is sometimes part of a scene, is THE TURNING POINT.
THE TURNING POINT is the moment
where the drama changes direction. Inevitably this has arisen
because a character has experienced a moment of realization.
It is the realization that ultimately produces both the change
of direction for the character and the turning point in the story.
Without the realization the turning point is arrive at without
clear reason and therefore the audience will know that they are
watching actors acting, not characters interacting.
TURNING POINTS are always important
moments in a scene and in a story. Actors need to take time here
to allow thought processes to unfold. Labeling them helps identify
them as moments of importance so that the actor doesn't self-consciously
rush through them. The labeling identifies that this is a story
point which needs attention, that needs 'playing'. TURNING POINTS
generally involve processes which embrace listening, realizing,
assessing and choosing. Actors should take time to process these
A recent viewing of "American History X" provided a
worthwhile opportunity to assess performance process. In this
instance it is particularly interesting to look at the turning
points, as this is a story of how Derek (EDWARD NORTON) comes
to a new understanding - so the steps along the way that change
his views are important elements of the story. There are three
significant scenes. They all happen in prison.
(This scene commences at 1 hour 14 minutes and 10 seconds into
Derek (EDWARD NORTON) is confronted by a black man, Lamont (GUY
TORRY), who explains something about Derek's behaviour which
he was unable to see himself at the time. Once it is pointed
out, Derek recognizes it as truthful. Instead of reacting against
Lamont, Derek changes his behaviour. This is his first step towards
acquiring a new understanding. So the turning point in this scene
is based around a moment of realization for Derek. EDWARD NORTON'S
performance choices are interesting here because he chooses to
play a significant part of this important moment of realization
with his back to the camera. However he takes a significant amount
of time to realize, assess and choose. The story is well told.
(This scene commences at 1 hour 16 minutes and 41 seconds into
The next step of the journey also occurs in the prison laundry.
Here Lamont offers more advice but in a considerably more intimate
way. This adds considerable complexity to the situation and there
is much for EDWARD NORTON to assess before he decides to accept
this advice in the spirit in which it is given. This is the next
phase of the journey and although there is no pause in the dialogue
here EDWARD spends a considerable amount of time assessing the
choices before he finally decides. Important decisions often
take time to make. If the actor takes time to deliberate then
the audience understands both the difficulty and the significance
of this decision.
(This scene commences at 1 hour 23 minutes and 39 seconds into
Although other information contributes to Derek's realization
and choices, the final stage of his new understanding is reached
in a scene in the prison hospital. This is the ultimate turning
point and although the story is clearly and effectively told
here it is also possible that even more time could have been
taken to arrive at his new view. See what you think.
Whatever your conclusion it is in fact evident from this material
# turning points are significant moments in a scene
# that labeling them clearly as moments of realization help the
actor confidently give them the performance space they need and
# that taking time to process the elements of a turning point
is frequently a good and appropriately dramatic way of allowing
the story to be told .
In fact these circumstances in "American History X"
offer the opportunity to try a turning point exercise. Transcribe
a few of the lines that lead up to and include Derek's major
moment of realization in the prison hospital. Then -
- See what elements you can
add to Derek's assessment of this situation that would increase
the complexity and difficulty of him arriving at this final choice.
- See how much more you can
expand the duration of this turning point while still keeping
the process truthful and dramatic.
- See if you can remove some
of the lines the script has given Derek to help articulate the
realizations he is experiencing and still play the stories turning
point. If it is importantly about realizing and assessing it
probably doesn't need many words to make the story plain.
Whatever your conclusion about
the outcome of your exploration of this exercise you should ultimately
be more aware of the importance of turning points in story.
This scene is not specifically
gender orientated at this point - it can just as easily be played
by a female. To assist in that manipulation you may choose to
alter the back story a little, if you so desire. Obviously it
requires two actors for the scene to satisfactorily maintain
the interactive ingredients.
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