Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Peaks and Other Acting Emotions

Coming back to listening to Audio Drama after a nice vacation is like coming home again. It's good to give the eyes a break and the ears a chance to just relax in listening and the mind a chance to explore.

Acting in audio drama must be the most intimate of all the performance arts. The smallest yawn or even a smile changes the shape of the face and can be heard through the microphone adding context to a line that the actor may not have been aware.

Similarly one of the great problems in long distance or "satellite" acting has been the piecemeal way certain lines are put together. In an ensemble run through where (at the very least) a scene is run through with the cast, context is instant. Feedback between the actors is immediate and natural. Listening to someone recording in absentia of the others in the show can create some strange emotional low and high points. In some rare and disturbing cases, I've heard actors hit one line coolly and the very next line with startling energy and excitement only to go back to a duller reading in a third line.

Unless you want the audience to believe your character is bi-polar or manically swinging from one emotional point to another, it's important to develop a crescendo and decrescendo to your actor's performance in a show. Certainly there may be multiple moments where high or low points are needed, but these should be picked with utter care, even for comic effect.

As an actor in a major part, consider the following:
Always read through the entire script given you. Although it is understandable that you wish to work only with your character, reading the story will give you tone, setting, relationships and even some extra details to which you will need to create your character.
Write down notes describing what you think your character is. What he/she represents. What is their point in the story and who they interact with as friends, enemies or neutrals. Where do they stand philosophically in the plot of the story? If they are antagonists as "Why" and get as much detail as you can from the script. Does this character need an accent? An affectation?
Go through the lines carefully with multi-colored highlighters. Pens or pencils. Circle or highlight low emotional lines- cold or emotionally distant tones in blue. Circle or highlight high emotional lines- hot, angry or emotionally expressive and passionate tones in red. Underline or highlight neutral or slight emotions- like gentle playfulness or slight sarcasm in green. Underline or highlight director’s notes to the character in yellow. Read them out loud to be certain before marking.
Write down notes about your lines. As you circle, underline or highlight the lines consider ambiguity in the speech. Write down notes of questions about uncertain lines.
Discover the Peak Emotion of the scene/play. Each major character has an emotional peak. This doesn't mean that every scene has a "yelling" or "angry" moment. But there is a point in the play where a character reaches a crossroads, a choice (forced or otherwise) and a catharsis. Find the spots where your character needs to draw especially meaningful lines and pick them careful. Make notes of any questions you might have about those moments.
Connect with the Writer/Director/Producer. Take out your notes and ask for some direct time with the W/D/P. Whether it’s through Instant Messaging, the phone, or face-to-face ask as many questions as you can to get the right tenor and beat of the character. Unless really pressed for time the W/D/P will appreciate your exactness and detail to the script. Make certain you're clear as to what you want.

The old adage "Don't use it all up at once" is especially important in audio drama acting. Find the sweet spots for your character and use them to the best of your advantage and you'll be wanted for more and more parts. Skimp and guess and you may find yourself rerecording your part- or worse- being recast to someone with more experience and professionalism.

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