Personal vs. General: Why the latter is Death to the Actor

Being ‘general’ in your work is death to the Actor
Being ‘general’ in your work is death to the Actor

No one remembers the generic actor. Be personal in your work; being general is DEATH to the Actor! Perhaps the most important internal work an actor can do, to build upon the imaginative, creative work one must do to create a profoundly moving performance for an audience to witness, is to attach his or her self – his or her own real life – in a deeply PERSONAL way – to the events, circumstances and dialogue of their character. As I wrote about in the article SPECIFICS, being general in your work is death to the actor. This is in regard to the specificity of something that has an effect on a given scene, like a Physical State. How drunk are you? How many drinks? Four? Or nine?? What type of liquor have you been drinking? How long have you been drinking? But this concept is even more crucial to personal dynamics that might be the threads that lead you through an entire part, an entire play or film, or even a TV series that lasts for years. For example, the useful and important question for actors to ask when working on a scene is “What is this relationship like in my own real life?” – or “Who is this person to me?”

To create deeply personal dynamics in your performances, the following are simple, practical exercises and techniques that can help tremendously.

Personalization / Endowment

Attach qualities and characteristics of a person in your life to another character in the play. Take specific stock of the characteristics that the person in your life and the actor playing the part share. ENDOW your scene partner with the specific nature of the relationship you hold with the person from your life. Hence, if you are playing a police detective, you can endow your “Chief” with the power and respect you hold for your father.

If you INVEST in this personalization, its power and specificity, you will respond instinctively and fully in the desired manner. You won’t have to plan too much or think too much about how to respond in the scene, your work will become more impulsive and if the character you are personalizing never appears on stage, but is only referred to in the play, then when you speak of that character, simply “make” that character the person from your life – and essentially – speak about them with the writer’s words.

Tell a Personal Story

Write or improvise a story of something that happened in your life. Make it up from your imagination for the character you are playing or use something referred to in the script and from YOUR ACTUAL PAST – mix them up at your leisure – and at your impluse. Someone watching should not be able to tell what is imagination and what is real. The story, ideally, should, in a profound way, express who you are and what makes you that way – or – who your character is and what makes “them” that way.

The Actor should use all of their abilities to communicate, just as they would in approaching a monologue or role that exposed someone else’s deepest self. Use intelligence, humor, anger, sorrow, charm and simple truth. Reach out. Affect your self and therefore, your audience. As an exercise make sure the story has a beginning, a middle and an end. You must have a private NEED (Justification/Intention) for telling the story. That means deciding WHO you are telling it to. This will give the story the thrust of an INTENTION – whatever INTENTION the Actor CHOOSES that will fulfill that NEED.

This is a clear path to self-exposure, self-revelation, and the challenging process of SHARING DEEPLY PERSONAL PARTS OF ONE’S SELF with an audience, and integrating it into a character. This is ACTING PERSONAL.

 

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