Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Lessons and the Fun of Acting

Scott D. Parker

Based on my experience, it might be a good idea for all writers to try their hand at acting.

On a lark, I volunteered to be in my church's play. I attend one of the larger churches here in Houston, so we've got a stage, lighting and sound system, the works. The play itself consists of twenty or so vignettes dealing with family relations, church relations, and how they can be funny, somber, and heart wrenching.

I'm in two scenes. The first involves a young married couple where the wife catches the husband looking at another woman. He tries to convince her that the reason he fell into the planter was not that was eyeing another lady, but that his contacts were out of place. The problem: he's wearing glasses. The second has me playing the husband of a seasoned--not elderly--married couple while they are driving somewhere on vacation. I think y'all can figure this on out on your own. Man, woman, driving, directions...

This is my first time to do something like this. First, we had rehearsals with the scripts in our hands. Next, we had to memorize our lines and rehearse using props. I made recordings of me reading both parts (you'd love my soft, "womanly" voice) and loaded the MP3s on my iPod and practice while biking. Yes, I get funny looks. As of this week, we are rehearsing on stage with the lights, mics, and sound. It's a whole different experience for me, but I'm really digging it.

Here's where the writer part of me started to churn over thoughts. I started putting myself in the shoes of these two men. What would I do? How might my reactions be different than someone else's? Gradually, I started trying different things with my voice. The driving husband, according to my director, needs to start out over-the-top angry but then come down at the end. Thus, I read the lines in a really angry voice. While I do most of the lines this way, I've toned down some of the vitriol. It just felt better that way. But the process was fascinating, especially as the two actresses and I started reacting--body language, tone, voice pitch, etc.--to each other. The collaborative nature of this experiment made the entire experience that much more fun.

An interesting aspect of these two scenes is what do I do while the two, separate actresses are saying their lines to my characters. In the grand and glorious tradition of our craft, I had to show, not tell. Literally. I have started rolling my eyes, doing things with my face and body, walking towards or away from the other actress, all in an attempt to convey that character's thought without actually telling them. That, my friends, might be the most fun part of this entire thing. Sure, I enjoy saying my lines, especially the funny ones. But getting across a thought through an action is priceless.

I still get butterflies in my stomach each time I rehearse. And, come next weekend, when I actually get some eye liner, a live mic, and a hall full of spectators, them there butterflies* are going to be like a hurricane in my gut. But here's a little secret: I can't wait for it to get here, and I'm going to miss it when we're done.

Ah, but I do have my writing. And I'll get to carry with me some lessons from acting that will improve my writing. One of which is to understand that a story needs numerous drafts. This is obvious not only for the typo type stuff, but for the experimentation. Too often, I get One Idea in my head and I'm too fearful of changing it because It Has To Be This Way. This acting thing has changed that mindset a bit.

And, I need to have more fun in my writing. Period.

Anyone also do some acting? How has it influenced your writing?

*Speaking of butterflies, do y'all ever get butterflies or a similar feeling in your stomach when you're writing? I have. Sometimes, it just that unexplainable feeling you get when you are on that writing high. In my first novel, there's a part where all the characters are putting everything together. I get those butterflies every time I read those pages and I even got them when I first wrote those chapters. That's when I knew I had something special.

TV Show of the Week: American Horror Story. I've become immune to most horror stuff and I don't like the slasher/torture porn stuff like "Saw". I prefer my horror to be creepy and supernatural. I'm really digging this show mainly because of the mystery behind it. And how about those opening credits. Talk about eerie.

Concert of the Week: Fabian Almazan Trio and String Quartet, Live at the Village Vanguard. I had never heard of this gifted pianist and composer before NPR Music uploaded this concert. Man, you talk about some sublime pieces of music. Almazan's tickling of the keys is like some sort of ethereal musical mist trickling down through the trees. The other two member of the trio--Linda Oh on bass and Henry Cole on drums--accent Almazan's compositions, but never overpower the majesty of the music. When it's just the three of them playing, the music often possesses a hurried frenzy that never overwhelms you. That he has a string quartet--one of my favorite types of ensembles--with him is mere icing on the cake. When all seven musicians play, it is not a traditional type jazz thing where you have a theme and everyone takes a turn at improvising. Yes, it's still jazz in structure and language, but it's also somewhere out of the 19th Century tradition of the tone poem where the listener is transported to some other place by the music but isn't necessarily required to follow all the themes.

The concert is available on NPR Music. Almazan's first album, Personalities, is available digitally now. The CD comes out in November. I haven't purchased the CD yet as I'm too mesmerized by this live show.

Tweet of the Week 1:

Whoa!-- @jonathansfrakes in on Twitter? WHY DIDN'T ANYBODY TEL ME?! Number One-engage.

-- Nathan Fillion

Tweet of the Week 2:

"The Thing" is a prequel to "The Thing" which is a remake of "The Thing" which is about a monster that duplicates itself.

--DanaJGould as retweeted by Roger Ebert


Joelle Charbonneau said...

It's no secret that my other job was stage performing. Acting and writing have so many similiarities. As an actor you are aware of pacing, characterization and internal monologues. Actors also have to create backstory for their characters to help them understand the decisions that their characters make - and like writing, more often that not the backstory the actor needs to know never is communicated to the audience. I can't wait to hear how the rest of your acting adventure goes!

Theresa Munroe said...

I acted in college, way back in the day. I haven't consciously applied it to my writing, but I'm sure it expanded me as an artist. The nature of any art is self-expression and making the personal universal. Any experience with one will improve another. Break a leg next weekend!

Scott D. Parker said...

Joelle - I cannot agree more about creating the backstory that is never shown. Back when I was in grad school for history, I had a lot of peers who put it all in because they had researched it. Editing is key. As to the acting, as of yesterday with microphones, the comfort level increased dramatically. Two more rehearsals and it's game time!

Theresa - Thanks. I'm realizing that there really is a part of me that's opening up during this experience. I'm going to miss it when it's over.

Al Tucher said...

When you're onstage with a live audience in front of you, you find out brutally fast that something isn't working.

Theresa Munroe said...

Al, so true! It can take a while longer with writing a book. And you don't have to think so quickly to try to fix it!