This week at NDW we started off the day by singing all of the Act 2 songs with Jane. Our cast is starting to sound good – our actors just need to memorize those lyrics! Lisa was back, so many in our cast were dancing once again while others reviewed blocking.
All of Act 1 is now off-book and actors learned the Entr’acte blocking just in time to have that scene memorized for next week. We also delved more into Act 2, Scene 1, which is good because that scene is also off-book next week. Additionally, after working on blocking for “Help is On the Way!” I was able to teach fight choreography to our Robin Hood and Friar Tuck for their big fight in Act 1. We are definitely moving right along!
With all of the snowstorms this month, we have been so lucky to not have missed a single rehearsal due to snow (I hope I didn’t just jinx us). What do you do on snowy days? I shovel, but that’s not all I do. I read, I make hot chocolate, and I have a tendency to binge tv shows. I like to watch old shows that I’ve already seen so that I can easily multitask. Even when I do this, there are certain performances that cut through all of my Candy Crush-ing and grab my attention (even if I’ve seen the same thing 10 times already). Why do these moments, these performers, grab my attention? Well, their superb acting of course!
Whenever this happens and I get lost in a performance, I find myself thinking about it afterwards. I think about what was so special, and if there’s anything that I can learn from it. This varies from show to show and actor to actor, but the biggest thing is that I believe the performance. I believe it to the point where it stops being performance and it starts to be more like watching life unfold. Even on shows where ghosts and vampires roam, if the actors are doing their jobs right I get so immersed that I see past the supernatural plot and it doesn’t matter if ghosts are real or not.
So what exactly are these actors doing to make their performances so real? I’m sure that there are many answers to this question, but I’m going to answer that they, the actors, believe that what their characters are going through, and that what they are thinking, is real. If you want to know if an actor is good, watch his or her eyes. The eyes should tell a story. Not just in terms of if their eyes look sad when they are sad, but if their eyes are seeing things. When a person, a normal everyday person, remembers a past event, the memory comes through the eyes. Think about it. Watch someone try to remember something. You can see how hard he is thinking and you can tell when he grabs onto part of a memory. It’s like how you smile when you think of something good that happened last week, or last year. Actors who are really good are constantly doing this, too. The backstories they craft for their characters help, but if an actor doesn’t use her backstory while acting, the performance can come across as hollow.
Okay, so why am I telling you all this? For two reasons: First, as actors, it is important to appreciate the craft. The next time you’re watching a tv show or a movie, stop and watch the actors’ eyes and appreciate all the work that goes into making their characters believable. And second, so that you, as actors, can improve your craft.
When you are at NDW, think about what you’re saying, doing, hearing (when other characters have lines your character would be listening to them, right?). For example, in the very first scene, those characters in Sherwood Forest when the caravan horn sounds – how do you know it’s the caravan? Have you seen a caravan before? If so, what did it look like? Who was in it? How much money did you get from it? Answer these questions for yourself and then see it in your mind’s eye. This will then come out through your real eyes! Or think of Friar Tuck when he’s thinking of food. Of course he’s picturing the food in his mind’s eye.
Another example would be when Robin and Marian realize that they knew each other as children. For our two actors, maybe they can picture what the other looked like as a child (which shouldn’t be too hard as our actors are far less removed from childhood than the characters they play). Maybe there was a game Robin and Marian played or a place they used to walk. If our actors picture those things, the relationship between the two will feel more real. And it doesn’t have to be the same thing for both actors.
There is another way to go with all of this of course. Instead of making up images, use images from life. When you’re at the fair, singing about all of the wonderful things that are there you can think about that time that you went to a carnival, or to King Richard’s Faire, and use those images. Those real-life memories can transport your character to a more believable place, too.
So, having said all of this, remember that acting is in the eyes. Try it. Or, at least, try looking for it.