The longer I teach the more I realize how important it is for actors to orchestrate their scenes. And the more scenes I see the more I become aware how few actors have a technique that allows them to do this.
Members of an audience go to see a movie or a play because they want to feel something and the way they feel those things is through a series of emotions. If the actors don’t know how to properly orchestrate those emotions the audience won’t have the experience they expected. If the members of the audience don’t have those experiences they’ll think twice before paying to see those actors again.
But if the audience does experience those emotions at the right time and in the proper amounts they will line up for the next opportunity to see those actors perform. Following this logic it stands to reason if actors want to continue to be employed they need to be doing quality work on a consistent basis.
What is the best way to ensure you’re doing that?
As actors it’s important to get another set of eyes on your work. And while it may seem as if the director would be the ideal choice for that – that isn’t always the case. This isn’t a knock on directors – if you’ve ever been on a film set you know how many other things are competing for their attention.
The best way to get another set of eyes on your work is to use your own eyes but use them in a different way. To do this you have take off your actor’s hat and put on the director’s hat. (Let the other director worry about the lighting and camera angles – you’re going to focus on the emotional content of the scene.)
Once you have your new hat firmly in place write out a couple of paragraphs that explain the scene to your actors. Be careful not to favor your character when you do this. Simply say, “This is the point we’re trying to make in this scene. And this is what each actor needs to do to make it happen.”
This doesn’t need to be a long drawn out explanation but it does need to be an unbiased assessment of what is happening in the scene, an appraisal that forwards the story, not simply your character’s desires.
After you have applied this “third eye” to the scene and you’re able see it from a more objective point of view then put your actor’s hat back on and create an outline of the major events that occur during the course of the scene. Every scene is a series of events – this happens, then that, then this and so on until the scene reaches its conclusion.
When you’ve determined what the major events are you then assign an emotion for your character to feel for each event. Once you choose the emotion that best supports what is going on for your character during a particular event you will then need to adjust the volume of the emotion. Your character shouldn’t feel everything with the same intensity – there should be variety. Sometimes the event is going to be mildly upsetting, somethings it will enrage them. Sometimes they may feel a touch of melancholy other times they will be near suicidal with grief. Something might make her a little envious, other times she will be red-faced, dish-breaking, throw-his-clothes-out-the-window jealous.
This way instead of going in a straight line from the beginning of the scene to the end you have created peaks and valleys that will add music and color to the scene. You have orchestrated your work and made it not only easier to play but more enjoyable to watch—a win for both you and the audience.
Continue to stack up those wins and people will be lining up to see your work.