Sunday, March 11, 2007

I Wish I Could See What I Look Like When I Talk…

I have been trying to see myself lately. I think the next step in my life, to really find myself, is to look outside of my life and really take a look at me. From the way I act and reactions to what the hell I physically look like when I am explaining something or laughing or talking about something I am passionate about.

I have caught glimpses of myself in the reflections of windows or other mirrored objects when talking to people. Only recently, I have really started looking at them and not trying to change what I look like. You know, you see yourself, your real self in the reflection, and you change the look on your face to look more natural or attractive or just adjust your hair.

I did this with a recent conversation then went back later and remembered what I looked like when I was talking to this person. We were having a serious conversation, then there was a funny moment and there was a moment of wow, do I really look like that. It wasn’t bad, but a real seeing of myself. It was a good reflective moment. Later, this lead me to thinking about acting and an experience I had when I was in the conservatory.

I do not have one specific method or practice of acting that I follow. I have a lot of different texts on acting and have worked with people who follow a different method. I like having a hodge podge of experience and different methods I can draw from.

So, when I was back in AMDA, (prior to this I had a BA in Theatre and Music and was on my way to a BFA in Musical theatre before I graduated) funny enough, I had never really dissected a musical theatre piece (song) to perform. All the time I was directed, it was a generalized notes given from the director. And, some directors were more worried about the movement than the actual emotional interpretation.

I wasn’t a huge musical theatre junkie and one of the reasons was the show would stop, the person would sing and then we would go back into the piece. I didn’t see a lot of performers make the connection from the story to song. And, in some cases, not the performers fault, but the pieces themselves. But, when I did see that rare moment of connection, with the story to song to the emotional elements of the song performed, it was magic.

I had a hard time when I first really began to dissect pieces for the action and emotions for each line. Not with finding the emotion, but with the showing of it. especially with showing sadness. How do you do that, not cry, and stay on key? Then, how do I show longing without looking like I was doing the “floating away” head or the “nothing in that head” puppy dog eyes?

I remember this one girl in my group who was amazing. At the end of it all, she was the top girl in my group, got to do the solo performance in front of the agents and head of the school, etc.

I wanted to know how she did it. Did she just have some amazing life experience to draw from? Did she just have an amazing imagination? What? How did she bring across these feelings in her songs and make it look so effortless? She didn’t do a lot of hand gestures or over choreograph. It was all natural movement. She was very subtle and she was really connected to the piece.

I asked her one night when we were hanging out – what was her method to practice/act a song. I remember her looking at me sideways – like the answer was just so obvious and then she told me what she did. “I practice every song in the mirror. While I am learning the music, I practice in front of the mirror and perfect my facial and body movement. I know what sadness looks on my face. I know what anger looks like – how my body is, what muscles tense where. And, just like dance, you want to get it into muscle memory. I do it all at once so that I don’t get stuck feeling a note with a certain look on my face or my body in a certain position.”

Honestly, I was a little heartbroken at the time. I thought she drew from her experience and just felt these pieces from somewhere in the depth of her soul. But, in looking back, it makes a lot of sense. I knew then why I had such a problem with musical theatre and with my own musical theatre performances.

And, it does make a lot of sense. When I get angry, what muscles tighten up? When I cry, what does my mouth do? When I am happy, how do I stand? If you do these physical sides, the brain will associate that physical characteristic with the emotion.

I ended up using some of this method when I was in a musical a few years ago. I ended up feeling very connected with each piece of music. I believe I made the transition from speaking to song fluid. And, from what my audience and fellow cast members said, I did an amazing job.

There, hopefully I have put a feather in your cap and gave you something to think about – all you musical theatre actors out there. Of course, this has been stated in some way in acting books, so not really saying anything completely new here. Or, you think I am absolutely wrong – in which I look forward to your comments.


Cat* said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cat* said...

Oh you're SO not wrong... but there's another piece to the puzzle I find very few people ever hear (and frankly it took me forever to *quite* "get" as it was...

Too often we make songs about the music, and the words come secondary (or worse - tertiary when movement is involved)... a really great way to avoid this is to learn the lyrics As A Monologue (first if you possibly can) and then learn the music - or put the two together... it's really hard to forget the emotional connections when you sing if you've already embodied them as if it were a "straight" play....

my $0.02 - do with it what you will ; )

(sorry - damned typos :P)

Courtney said...

I caught myself faking a smile when I was having to be nicey-nice in the ladies bathroom. My teeth stick out when I do that.

I'm never fake smiling again.