The most important part of a script isn’t what you think. Acting tips #1.
Short Acting Tip Article #1
For the next few days, I will be doing short articles with tips for actors. Yes, my life has become insanity all of a sudden since I am going into pre-production for the next play I am directing.
Today I want to discuss something that many actors will be surprised to hear. My opinion on the most important part of an actor’s script work. For those who are not actors, you may be surprised to hear how much work great actors actually do on a script. The number one question most actors receive from those who are not in the business is “how do you memorize all of those lines?”. Ha, very few actors just memorize and then start to act. The work involved in breaking down a script and learning the thoughts of a character is momentous. I know actors who prepare for a whole year or longer for certain parts.
So without further ado, short article acting tip # 1: the most important part of the script for the actor are the first two pages before the play begins. Huh!? :) Yes, I said that correctly. The first two pages of a script usually include the first page (the title of the play and the playwright’s name) and the second page is the cast of characters.
# 1a The Title of the Play. You must start reading a play or script by the title. This is arguably the most important piece of information that many actors and directors ignore. The playwright puts as much thought and time into naming their script as most people do with their baby’s name. The title is a massive hint at what the play is about. It helps explain the play. You can not approach a play like Tiny Alice (Edward Albee), for instance, without knowing that Alice means Truth. The ‘truth is already telling you something about the play. How many productions of Romeo and Juliet have we witnessed where the Nurse and Mercutio stand out? Or where we feel no tragedy? In the Folio, Shakespeare’s actors wrote very specifically that the title of the play was The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet. It is a tragedy. It is also about two people, Romeo and Juliet. If you do not know this, it will be an unbalanced production with no power whatsoever. # 1 gives you a huge hint at the bigger picture of what the play is about. It is an insight into the playwright’s lens of the play.
# 1b The Playwright. Playwrights are writing about their own experiences or commenting on their own time. The research you must do is extensive, but the pay off is huge. You can not approach The Crucible (Arthur Miller), for example, without knowing why Miller wrote the play (Senator McCarthy, Communism, Hollywood etc.).
# 2 The Cast of Characters. Most will know that this is a list of all the characters’ names and who they are. Just like the title, most great writers take time in naming their characters. They are named something for a reason. It can be a huge hint to the actor’s character. If you understand what Benvolio (“good-will”, “peacemaker”) and Mercutio (“mercurial” “God of Mercury”) mean, it already gives you the spine of the character. It gives you a huge palate to start with. What does it tell you about their point of view? How does it influence how the character might listen? How does it inform some of the things they say in the play? How they react? How they relate to the other characters? How the character might physically move on stage?
A HUGE amount of information is to be found before you even start reading the first word of the play! Now go read that script and see what information you can gather from the first two pages. You are already ahead of most actors and directors. ;)