So today I had acting class. I used to think acting class was BS. Memorize some lines, put some tone and arcs wherever appropriate, throw in some facial expressions, wham bam shambam, you got acting. Acting class was always an easy a: you participate, you watch others do their scenes, and make nice with the teacher.
I remember my first acting class freshman year in high school. The classroom was a big-carpeted room with no tables and chairs, just a wide-open space. The drama teacher, Ms. G., looked like a mix between Goldie Hawn and Olivia Newton john and she always had her shoes match the oversize sweatshirt she wore (red shoes with red sweatshirt). Anyways, she would literally take ten minutes to take roll. Then would follow a fifteen minute meditation where everyone would lie anywhere on the carpet, close their eyes, and listen to Enya as Ms. G. narrate us flying into the clouds and floating into the sunset. I swear we did this everyday. After that, we would just take turns doing scenes that we chose. This was all fun and games to me, and I guess part of the reason why I didn’t take acting seriously was because I saw it as a joke for so long. I didn’t want to be associated with it, with the stereotypical “aspiring actress” because that was just a euphemism for unemployed. Who wanted to aspire to be unemployed??
Even when I took acting classes in college, I remember rolling my eyes when my teacher first made me write a whole background about my character, even when the background was never mentioned in the entire story. (I was stupid back then, background story is soooo important in developing a character). He told me to just make it up and was so broad and vague about it, that I just thought, “what the fuck is the point? I should just raise my voice at line 2 and soften my voice at line 12.” (I don’t do this now, I promise).
Finally, I took this one class in college, acting for the camera. My teacher, Ms. T was kinda kooky, but she made excellent points. She made developing a character less broad and just told us to ask questions. What is my character’s objective? What is his/her want? What are his/her weaknesses, strengths? How does his/her weaknesses prevent him/her from obtaining his/her objective. She taught us how to audition, to take a moment when asked to make an adjustment, to mark up the script and make specific decisions, to not look at the script when your reader is speaking, but instead to react to when the reader is speaking. Acting is reacting.
Now, I take acting classes from a studio with Mr. A. he’s great because he assesses my weaknesses and forces me to face them through improvisation. He’ll make up a scene with 2-3 characters. Each actor in the scene is the character and he’ll set up the situation. He’ll tell us the back story and our relations to each other. And then he’ll give us the present scene and let us go wild with the motivations and back story in mind. It’s a good workout for the mind and psyche. I’m a very positive, perky, and optimistic person. So comedy and lighthearted stuff, I rock at. In any given improvisational scene, I would comfortably choose the choice that would bring me to the happy ending. Let’s say the scene is a breakup scene. My boyfriend says, “I’m breaking up with you”. Automatically, I would try to work it out, “we can work it out. I can change. We’ll be happy together!” <— the happy ending choice. What I’m not good at is sadness, making the decision that would make me feel helpless, vulnerable, in desperation and hopelessness. So in this case, I would have to say things like, “my life is over! It’s over; I’m going to die. I’m nothing w/o you. It’s her isn’t it?” Through the improvisation, I can train myself to explore and delve into the extremities and develop a range. I need to be able to access and control, not only the lighthearted but the dark side and sensitive stuff as well.
With the last couple of classes, it’s been a struggle, but there’s been progress. Just two classes ago, I used to think that I had to be sad, to portray sadness. To get into the mood first and then do the scene. I couldn’t do that very well anyways because I never felt sad in front of class. And to do a sad scene when I wasn’t sad never felt true to me. Besides that was the wrong way to approach the scene. Mr. A. said I should be motivated enough by the scene and the character to evoke the emotions. Emotions are the byproduct of the motivations. Not the other way around. And it makes sense. When you’re watching a movie, and you see the character go through a really sad situation, all of a sudden you start to cry. Doode, I hella cried at the first few scenes of Up. It’s not that I was sad before watching the movie, I was just sad for the character, for his plight. And listen, this was an animated movie. These characters aren’t even tangible! Those tears and frowns are CGI! I swear the sobs crept up so unexpectedly. Which reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite actors, Harrison Ford. On IMDB, when speaking about emotions he said:
If real emotion is available, use it, otherwise I follow what I think is an AA rule: “Fake it ‘til you make it”. Emotions are an interesting language. Sometime they sneak up on you when you’re not expecting, when you are available to it.
All right so today, with all that in mind, I faked it ‘til I made it. I came into the scene with all the set up and motivations in mind, I believed and imagined myself in the situation given to me and the tears came out. I was sad. The problem was that my body and mind weren’t used to this kind of situation. There was a struggle between keeping it together and allowing myself to just break down and cry. My body started to vibrate; it didn’t know what to do. I could feel sobs wanting to roll out of me, but I could also feel them being suppressed automatically. To cry or not cry? In any case, Mr. A. stopped the scene from going further and told me to aim and go to the full extremity next class, to break down and just let it out.
I know I’m capable of breaking down and crying. I’ve done it before. I can do it! Hah, it’s ironic how I’m enthusiastic to be sad. Wah wah wah.