The way to approach material so that you can render clear, specific characters is through character interpretation and breaking down a script. It’s a necessary approach that requires analysis and careful study, versus just portraying a part based on your own experiences.
All of the great teachings, from Sanford Meisner to Stella Adler, recognize that without interpretation, actors really can’t make specific, clear choices that lead to memorable performances and auditions. While working from just your own experiences can be helpful to young people who may have very simple circumstances in the material they’re working with such as falling in love, out of love, and then in love again, the more complex the work is and the more complex the writing is, the more it requires an actor to be able to interpret material and understand the writer’s intent.
This movement away from interpreting work just from your own experiences and viewpoint requires you to learn how to pick behavior and emotional points of view that create a character who is very different from yourself. Great works require the skill of understanding the psychological and behavioral clues that a writer is giving you as to how to discover and create a specific character. It’s said that great acting is always character acting. According to Stella Adler, “Your talent is in your choices.”
To dance without a plan for how each step is picked to tell the specific story, to pick notes randomly that are not organized to render a specific message, is too limiting. It’s only through thoughtful selection that an artist can really come up with inventive and creative ways to bring unique characters to life. Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler identified actions, activities, and doings (all names for the same thing) as the means by which to plan and practice, set and then forget, and leave open for improvisation as the specific way to create vivid and fully human imaginative characters.
Understanding the underlying themes and points of material and then planning emotional responses and subsequent actions and behavior that is not just straight from your everyday self is what makes acting great. With great, accessible, practical acting techniques, the actions and emotions that you plan can seem to seamlessly come from inside of you without any sense of performing or acting. They can have a pure three-dimensional quality of your living and breathing the character.
Character acting is great acting! Training to do it opens a world of artistic possibilities.
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