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Motivation

Printed From: Community Theater Green Room
Category: Producing Theater
Forum Name: Acting
Forum Discription: Q&A about auditions, character development and other aspects of the craft
URL: http://www.communitytheater.org/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=2027
Printed Date: 6/22/24 at 11:38am
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Topic: Motivation
Posted By: eveharrington
Subject: Motivation
Date Posted: 9/15/06 at 2:12am
There was a short discussion in one of the directing threads about actors asking for motivation and directors saying "because I told you to". I also can't think of a single director I know that hasn't made one or two jokes about it. I'm wondering just how much animosity there is out there over this. Opinions? Stories? Rants?

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"If nothing else, there's applause... like waves of love pouring over the footlights."



Replies:
Posted By: TonyDi
Date Posted: 9/15/06 at 8:03am

Well Eve, since it was MY comment to an actor whom I was directing, let me clarify (as I partially did) in my response to someone's chastisement for saying that.  This actor was trouble from the get-go.  I auditioned him, I cast him, it was MY choice, I had to work with him BECAUSE he was good enough and gave me what I needed to see in auditions.  However, do directors EVER know what they're getting UNTIL the process is underway?  ONLY if they're psychic or have worked with the person before.  MY response to him was after many weeks of leading him by the hand (something I didn't think I'd have to do at the outset but graciously TRIED to do throughout).  He was disruptive part of the time, highly arrogant and insistant about things that took away a LOT of precious time and energy from the entire process, he alienated other cast members and was a problem case in the extreme.  MY remark came out of frustration because he didn't feel the need to sit and listen to notes (and this was days away from opening) after a rehearsal - he thought HE was above that.  So he did everything he could to be the proverbial thorn.  When that question was asked, it was one of wanting to know his motivation over the most trivial of issues that - by the way - had ALREADY been addressed before numerous times and I simply decided that it was nothing more than a ploy by him to further decay the process both in time and energy.  So perhaps my response was curt and pointed, I DID then go on to say that he simply would just have to trust me that what he was doing was what I wanted and that his "need" for motivation was unnecessary and designed solely to waste time and everyone else in the cast knew it too - but were leaving it to ME as director to do my job and address it.

As I said, he went on to do the show, doing what was asked of him and when his excellence showed, believe me, I gave him his strokes too just like the rest of the cast.  But as I said, AT THE TIME it was what he NEEDED TO HEAR to get him off his high-horse and moving forward.  Ultimately, he excelled in his job and he was pleased, the audience was pleased, and I was over it.  But I STILL HAD to be that forceful at the time to get past the issue that was inane, foolish, and a waste of time.  I really had no animosity toward him - beyond simply wanting him to do his job and to trust me as director (something he often tried to subvert from the beginning).  The rest of the cast - on numerous occasions - came to me with complaints about him too, but in my effort to keep his talents for the good of the show, I had to be diplomatic enough to tolerate and try to direct the energy of his problems into the work and make it better for the good of the show.

I'm sure I rub some people the wrong way.  I'm direct, to the point, I call them as I see them, and I don't mince words. Some people like that, some people don't.  There is far too little time for walking-on-eggshells doing this stuff and regardless of it being community theater or not, people know when I'm directing a show (and should accept it as a given part of doing theater in general) that they come into it with the knowledge that it's going to be conducted as well as possible but that their committment IS A COMMITTMENT.  And while it should be fun - it CAN BE and usually IS a concerted effort toward the highest quality that can be achieved under whatever circumstances with which we have to work...and the people involved.  I know these community theater venues are VOLUNTEER - but often that's the case for me too as a director.  And if I can commit and give 1000% then surely everyone else can give their 100% (I'm no better than they - I just work relentlessly).  And I'm sick and tired of people using the "excuse" that "this is a volunteer theater" to give LESS THAN THEIR BEST.  And as I've already said, had I NOT been on both sides of the issue, I would have little to say.  But I'm an actor too as well as a director and I've been subjected to some things that were much more stringent than even I do and in some cases far less.  But I have always tried to "strike a balance" and realizing that it IS a volunteer situation, I have to make "some" concessions.  Though I don't make many.  And when actors who commit to a project, making whatever efforts they need to in order to GET cast, but then disrupt the whole process, that's when I draw the lines.  Thus the nature of MY remark to that actor.

So now you know.  I haven't had to do that too many times thankfully.  But I don't shy away from it - I am NOT afraid to fire anyone if need be and if it's for the good of the show and everyone involved. Nor am I afraid to "call them" on their disruptive, or ego-based issues if it's making everyone else uncomfortable.

I really didn't want to have to defend my position.  As I stated earlier (and I'm sure at least ONE person thinks I'm being arrogant and egotistic) but I HAVE been at this game for nearly 50 years and I've had a lot of experiences and time in the game to figure out what works in general and what works for me.  And there are enough people who are of like mind that they DO want to work FOR me as well as WITH me on projects in which I involve myself.  But then this all sounds arrogant and like I'm blowing my own horn.  Sorry about that.  I can't change history.  Maybe I don't need to be part of this forum. But I thought I COULD contribute - yet some feel compelled by whatever authority - to redress me for my opinions based on my experience and involvement in theater.  So I'm still considering my option to leave as easily as I came into this group.  And maybe that would make those who think I'm just being egotistical, happy as mud-hens.  If so, I might have to accommodate them.  But we'll see.

TonyDi



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"Almost famous"


Posted By: Shatcher
Date Posted: 9/15/06 at 10:17am

Wow.

I think it might be nice to remember that many many of us have 20 plus years of expercience in theatre as well, both in CT and as pros.



Posted By: Topper
Date Posted: 9/15/06 at 11:02am

Every director has their own style and preferred method of working.   I believe my job as a director is not to PROVIDE my actors with their motivations, but help them DISCOVER their motivations during the rehearsal process.   However, changes and compromises are often made depending on the situation.

I was hired to direct a summer-stock show and, because of the limited rehearsal period (eight days total!) I warned my actors in advance that there wouldn't be much time for "discovery."  In fact, it was a very large cast (14-15 characters) so I had already pre-blocked the show before the first rehearsal to establish traffic patterns and stage pictures that needed to move the story along.

After the first read-thru we moved immediately into blocking and I was simply telling actors things like "You enter and go left"  "You must get to the couch by the end of this line"  "You wait for her to clear before starting your cross" etc, etc, etc.

Often the actors were mystified as to why they were moving where and at what time.  But, much to their credit, they did as they were told and it was only during the next rehearsal, after the play was completely blocked and we could start actually rehearsing individual scenes that questions arosed as to motivations.

Whenever an actor asked "what's my motivation?" rather than provide them with answers, I often countered with "what do you think?" forcing them to come up with a workable solution.  Sometimes, I had an answer in my head and was merely trying to guide them there, other times the actor came up with a completely convincing and workable alternative to my solution.  And -- truth be told -- sometimes because we were just trying to get the show on its feet, I hadn't a CLUE (and was merely getting one actor out of the way to make room for another actor coming through the door two lines later), hoping the actor would get there on his own. 

Left to their own devices, the actors eventually learned to stop asking and started thinking for themselves (Actors who THINK!?) Sometimes, the blocking changed as a result, but, more often than not, the actors found solutions and it wasn't until day five or six when we started running the show where I could actually sit back and watch the story unfold that I began to question THEM.  "What's your motivation here?"  Their answers were varied -- "I'm embarrassed by what they're saying so I'm moving over here to be away from them" (Great!)  or "I need to get the laundry put away" (workable)  or "I'm tired and need to sit" (boring). 

On the less desirable choices, we'd work together to come up with more actable and interesting motivations.

Finally, during a run-thru we came to a scene that had lots of chaos and movement.  I noticed one actor (our romantic leading man) simply cross through the action and leave the scene.  It seemed odd and unmotivated, so I  quickly checked my notes and discovered, yes, I told him to do that.  Why?  I had no idea.

Later, during notes when I asked him what his motivation was for entering and leaving such a dramatic scene, he could have easily said "because YOU told me to" (and been perfectly right), but instead he said "It's been a while, I figured my character needed to go find the bathroom."

Somehow, that seemed less than heroic, so I asked him "Is Sally [his romantic opposite] in this scene?" 

"No," he replied. 

"Is there a lot of chaos and action here?" 

"Ye-e-e-s-s-s," he thought until finally "Oh!  I'm looking for Sally!  I'm concerned about her safety!"

Much better!  Suddenly his cross through was dramatic, with purpose, completely in character and added another level to the scene.

So, long story short -- (too late!).    It is up to the actors to make choices and for the director to shape them.  An actor who constantly asks "what's my motivation?" is neither thinking for himself nor thinking as the character.  If you have SEVERAL actors doing that, it's enough to try ANY director's patience.  The answers will be revealed, but only if you look for them. 



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"None of us really grow up. All we ever do is learn how to behave in public." -- Keith Johnstone


Posted By: eveharrington
Date Posted: 9/15/06 at 3:21pm
Originally posted by TonyDi

Well Eve, since it was MY comment to an actor whom I was directing, let me clarify (as I partially did) in my response to someone's chastisement for saying that.

I really didn't want to have to defend my position. As I stated earlier (and I'm sure at least ONE person thinks I'm being arrogant and egotistic) but I HAVE been at this game for nearly 50 years and I've had a lot of experiences and time in the game to figure out what works in general and what works for me. And there are enough people who are of like mind that they DO want to work FOR me as well as WITH me on projects in which I involve myself. But then this all sounds arrogant and like I'm blowing my own horn. Sorry about that. I can't change history. Maybe I don't need to be part of this forum. But I thought I COULD contribute - yet some feel compelled by whatever authority - to redress me for my opinions based on my experience and involvement in theater. So I'm still considering my option to leave as easily as I came into this group. And maybe that would make those who think I'm just being egotistical, happy as mud-hens. If so, I might have to accommodate them. But we'll see.


TonyDi

Tony I'm not sure what has caused you to think that all the posts on this website are personal attacks on you and your level of experience but I assure you thats not the case. You're not the only one who made that comment, and as I mentioned it's something I run across on a consistent basis in MY experiences. In short I think theres a lot to be gained from this forum if you just get over yourself and read the posts as they are intended, as free advice take it or leave it.

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"If nothing else, there's applause... like waves of love pouring over the footlights."


Posted By: eveharrington
Date Posted: 9/15/06 at 3:27pm
Anyway, getting back to what this threads about, I agree totally that "motivation" is the actors responsibility and an actor who must constantly ask for it is either lazy or just not that good. However there have certainly been times where I've just been stumped on a line, it just doesn't seem to make sense in the scene for whatever reason, and I didn't think there was anything wrong with saying to the director "I don't understand why I say this" , and to me it's part of the directors job to help the actor figure it out.

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"If nothing else, there's applause... like waves of love pouring over the footlights."


Posted By: jphock
Date Posted: 9/16/06 at 9:36am
Personally, the only time the words "What's my motivation" come out of my mouth is when I'm trying to be funny or break the tension (and is more often than not said in a British accent). I think it's a very pompus and 'actory' (for lack of a better word) thing to say. If I really have a question about my motivation-I'll ask questions that will really help the director to help me find the right tone or emotion or whatever to get to the heart of the issue. Something like "Am I feeling XXX or YYY about that?" Generally though-I try to get there on my own first and let the director correct me if he thinks I'm going down a wrong path.

Afterall, isn't it the job of the actor to create the character on an individual level and the job of the director to take all of the individual characters and fit them into a larger vision? Kind of like the actors are the paint...the director is the painter...the finished show is the painting.


Posted By: castMe
Date Posted: 9/16/06 at 11:14am
Great post, Topper!  You are absolutely right.  Sometimes the best way for a director to answer a question is with a question.  If nothing else, it give the actor ownership of his blocking or character or costume....makes him feel like the blocking (character, costume) wouldn't exist without him.

The actress/ comedienne/ writer Elaine May has been quoted as saying the actor's business is to justify.  Justification is really a synomyn for motivation.

In thinking back, I have rarely been asked about motivation.  Maybe its because, when blocking (or working a scene for the emotional context), I try to give reasons for the move.  The reason may be as mundane as "I need to clear the door for another entrance" or "the scene has been fairly static up to now" or intrinsic to the plot like "I want you close enough to physically threaten her".  The actors I generally work with are good enough to use this as a basis to justify the move.  And frankly, if the actor and I can't come up with a good, plausible, playable reason to move (or react, or enter, or exit), I need to go back to the drawing board and find an earlier time to effect the cross out of the doorway.  Its a beautiful thing when you and the actor make a good choice as your justification.  And if your first choice isn't working.....make another choice....and another, until you hit upon one that works.  When I begin my script anaylsis work I follow my tag line "investigate, imagine, choose" and then, as Topper says above, the levels of character begin to revel themselves.  I like to think of it like peeling the layers of an onion.


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Investigate. Imagine. Choose.


Posted By: B-M-D
Date Posted: 9/16/06 at 2:57pm

Same here.   The question with a question "ploy" works wonders for me.  Not only does it save me from giving an answer that may not resinate with an actor and therefore be of little value to him/ her but it allows the actor to "get it" on their own.   And it's way for me to have an understanding of where the actor is coming from with the question.   I also use the question method rather than telling them when the actor isn't quite giving me what I want.  Chances are I wasn't very clear in my direction and it allows the actor to discover what it is I'm going for.

Fortunately I cast well and most actors make me look like I know what I'm doing.    Oh...., guess the secret's out now! 

 



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BD

"Dying is easy, comedy is hard."


Posted By: Topper
Date Posted: 9/16/06 at 9:30pm

A director friend of mine who has directed numerous professional and CT productions always says that the secret of good directing is proper casting.  90% of the work is already done if you've got the right actors in the right roles.

Incidentally, whenever he's asked (in a professional theater) "what's my motivation?"  he typically responds "Your paycheck!"



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"None of us really grow up. All we ever do is learn how to behave in public." -- Keith Johnstone


Posted By: tristanrobin
Date Posted: 9/16/06 at 10:13pm
[QUOTE=Topper]

It?is up to the actors to make choices and for the
director to shape them.? An actor who constantly asks "what's my
motivation?" is neither thinking for himself nor thinking as the character.??If
you have SEVERAL actors doing that, it's enough to try ANY director's
patience.? The answers will be revealed, but only if you look for them.?

[/
QUOTE]

Excellent! I agree.

I don't believe anybody has every literally asked me 'what's my motivation?,'
as the word 'motivation' has become (sadly) a rather catch-all satirical word
for pretentious acting.


Posted By: Mike Polo
Date Posted: 9/18/06 at 9:31am

Actual dialogue on one of my shows...

"What's my motivation?"

"Not pi**ing off the director."

In all seriousness, I think Topper nailed it pretty well... the best response to that question is to help the actor sort through what's going on and to encourage them to think.

 



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Mike Polo
Community Theater Green Room
http://www.communitytheater.org
http://www.twitter.com/CTGreenRoom">


Posted By: red diva
Date Posted: 9/27/06 at 3:08pm

Yes, yes, yes! to all these comments about justification and the director's responsibility in HELPING the actor to find his motivation.  Questions (isn't that the Socratic method?) elicit -dare I use the word?- organic responses from the actors, making their choices honest and relevant to them.

I have noticed over the years that it's mostly "newbies" who are trying to impress you with knowledge that they don't have that ask "what's my motivation". 

I also love the ones that, when I ask the question "Why is your character moving toward the door?", answer "because you told me to"! 



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"I've worked long and hard to earn the right to be called Diva!"


Posted By: falstaff29
Date Posted: 10/29/06 at 6:42pm
I realize this is a heated topic, and so I'm going to try to be as civil in my response as possible.  My experience has been that "motivation" is just a buzz word of the acting schools that doesn't mean that much.  What's the actor ACTUALLY asking?  If there's a specific question the actor has (e.g., shouldn't I be angrier at Bob for sleeping with my wife?), then the director can deal with it.  But sometimes actors ask about motivation just because they've been taught that they should, and this leads to them wasting a director's time arguing about stuff that doesn't matter (e.g., why Mercutio is so cynical about love- was he hurt in a past relationship?  Was it with Juliet?  How old were they?).  I can fully understand the frustration that directors have when they tell actors, It doesn't matter, or, Because I said so.  And, as a director, let me say that, while ideally an actor will understand why a director tells him to stand up on a certain line, and a good director will try to see that the actor gets it, most of the time, a director that is very specific is that way because he actually has ideas of some worth, and, so, at some point, the actor just has to say to himself, "Although I may want to play this differently, the director obviously wants this, so I should trust him and make what he wants of me work."


Posted By: Guests
Date Posted: 10/31/06 at 3:11pm

Originally posted by falstaff29

My experience has been that "motivation" is just a buzz word of the acting schools that doesn't mean that much. 

Not to be combative on the topic, but I do have an opinion I'd like to share . . .

I believe motivation is not just a buzz word in acting schools.  If you analyze the script you will realize that each character has reasons for doing and saying what they do.  They are trying to accomplish something with each movement or speech. 

Now, I'll be truthful . . . sometimes as a director I haven't quite figured out what a character's motivation for a certain piece is when a character asks me (especially when working with the classics).  I usually say, "I'm not sure.  Why don't we come up with motivations it can't be."  Sometimes it may take a few days of having the problem stew in our brains, but the motivation always materializes before opening night.



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Posted By: falstaff29
Date Posted: 10/31/06 at 11:13pm
My point was that actors sometimes look for motivation where it's irrelevant.  This may be the case because:

1. The motivation is, as Hitchcock would call it, a macguffin- something the playwright doesn't explain because he just wants a plot device without focusing on motivation.

2. The actor is looking for the motivation of something his character did in the past, which is mentioned in passing in an expository line- again, as a macguffin.  The fact is what's important, not the motivation.

3. The play is not meant to be psychologically realistic.  Psychological realism is a stylistic tool that is not intended in many works of theater.

My basic point is: go by the script.  If you're veering far from that to do table work on a motivational question, that should be a tip-off that motivation is something the playwright doesn't want you to consider.


Posted By: castMe
Date Posted: 11/01/06 at 6:18pm
Originally posted by avcastner


Now, I'll be truthful . . . sometimes as a director I haven't quite figured out what a character's motivation for a certain piece is when a character asks me (especially when working with the classics).  I usually say, "I'm not sure.  Why don't we come up with motivations it can't be."  Sometimes it may take a few days of having the problem stew in our brains, but the motivation always materializes before opening night.



Beautiful.  


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Investigate. Imagine. Choose.


Posted By: Topper
Date Posted: 11/02/06 at 11:26am

Originally posted by falstaff29

My point was that actors sometimes look for motivation where it's irrelevant .... My basic point is: go by the script.  If you're veering far from that to do table work on a motivational question, that should be a tip-off that motivation is something the playwright doesn't want you to consider.

 

I'm sorry, but I completely disagree with this attitude.

One of the first things I teach my acting students is "everything in a script is there for a REASON."  Plays (and screenplays) are constantly being rewritten from draft to draft, readings, rehearsals, previews and so on.  If something in the script has survived that process it's because it is MEANT to be there.

If it's purpose is not apparent from the text, then it is up to the actor and director to DISCOVER (or create) its purpose.  Sometimes the meaning is only relevant to one character or one situation.  Sometimes it's a secret or something completely esoteric, but it must be recognized as IMPORTANT.

If it's not important to the characters, why should it be important to an audience?  Why waste time rehearsing it if it's not important?  Why waste the time and talents of other actors, technicians and designers investing their energy into something that has no purpose or meaning? (And in the case of movie script, why the hell are we waking up an entire crew at 6:00 AM to film something that isn't important?)  And, worse yet, why are being so bold as to charge admission to watch something that ISN'T important?

I learned this lesson many years when I was acting in a play called "Social Security" -- possibly the fluffiest of fluffy situation-comedies.  The director (much to her credit) INSISTED that these cardboard cut-out characters have a LIFE and a HISTORY and MOTIVATION for EVERYTHING they do in this puffball excuse for a script. 

She ordered the entire cast to go home and write a COMPLETE biography of their characters, taking them up to the "present" where the play starts.  All of us grumbled about doing this kind of "bull-sh*t busy-work" that most of us haven't done since college and, as a result, we let our imaginations run amok, creating outrageous scenarios in protest being treated like first-year acting students.

Since there was precious little information in the text, we made up whatever we could.  One character (according to the script) was a famous artist and the actor decided this guy had been married and widowed FOUR TIMES(! -- nowhere was this even HINTED in the text).

My character (according to the script) owned an art gallery and I decided he was once a frustrated artist himself who failed miserably but remains connected to the art world because he can't let go of the past.

The next rehearsal, as we sat around the table and read our biographies to each other, we all laughed at the imaginative "crazy" choices we had made.

The director told us to treat these made-up biographies as fact -- despite their fanciful nature.  (Her argument:  it IS a comedy, after all.)

As we walked through the play again -- suddenly everyboyd noticed a difference.  Because we had created information, our lines were being delivered with a new meaning.  When the artist begins a flirtation with another character, the fact that he'd been widowed so often brought a new level of concern from the rest of us.  Whenever my character had a "throw-away" remark about art and the art world, suddenly my tragic past brought a new gravitas to the lines.

In short, scenes that we had blown through previously now crackled with life, meaning and -- dare I say it? -- MOTIVATION!

Lesson learned?  Absolutely!  Motivation is the ROOT of good acting.  Without it, characters don't exist and are merely spouting words written by someone else.  Motivation means the characters are behaving as REAL as possible -- and not just taking up space, wasting everybody's time.



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"None of us really grow up. All we ever do is learn how to behave in public." -- Keith Johnstone


Posted By: B-M-D
Date Posted: 11/02/06 at 12:49pm

Originally posted by Topper

As we walked through the play again -- suddenly everyboyd noticed a difference.  Because we had created information, our lines were being delivered with a new meaning.  In short, scenes that we had blown through previously now crackled with life, meaning and -- dare I say it? -- MOTIVATION!

Well I can't say that I've gone as far as making cast write a complete biography of thier character but I've been fortunate that in the rehearsal process both the actors and myself have "discovered" things in the text and have used that to propel motivation.  All you need to do is find it.   You may not find it upon first reading or at the start of rehearsals but if you've got good actors they'll find them and/ or a good director will ask the right questions to help them find it.

 



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BD

"Dying is easy, comedy is hard."


Posted By: Tom_Rylex
Date Posted: 11/02/06 at 1:11pm

Topper,

You beat me to the punch. Very well stated.

I had been noting the dichotomy between this thread and the 'changing profanity' thread. Either the scriptwriter had a reason for writing a certain character into the script, or they wouldn't put them there.

The 'what's my motivation' question (which is an umbrella term for the specific character questions that are asked) is part of a normal dialogue that should occur in every show. Whether the question is stated or not, an actor/actress should find a consistent thread between their lines, their scenes, their interactions, and the show.

I usually only ask those kind of questions when the direction I'm given does not display consistency, or fits into any possible interpretation I can find from the script, or my research. I ask those questions so I can figure out what the director was thinking for my character/scene. If the direction is still "Do it this way" without any reason, then fine, I'll do it that way. However, even if it looks good to an audience, it's a hollow performance. I act in CT to act, not to be a warm puppet.

Just so I'm clear about my philosophy regarding directors: a director has the responsibility to have vision for the show, and to be able to guide actors within that vision. If the actor doesn't agree with that vision (or direction for the show), the director has the greater say. To use that authority without explanation (especially at a CT level) is an abuse of that authority.

Discovering motivation is, in my mind, a means of respect to the director, the rest of the company, and the audience.

Regards,

-Tom



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The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-R. Frost


Posted By: falstaff29
Date Posted: 11/02/06 at 1:47pm
Of course the scriptwriter has a reason for writing what he does into the script (except, arguably, with Shakespeare, because what we have is an idealized version of usu. 2 or more deliberately-distinct versions of the play).  I just don't think that the reason always deals with motivation.

I think writing character bios IS "B---s---."  If the actor wanted the character to be divorced four times, he would've written it into the script.  You're not respecting the script if you decide that everything needs to be psychologically-motivated, when it's clear that some of it is written for another reason, like as a plot device.

As for characters being under-developed, or un-developed, I'm sure the playwright knows that!  Actors and directors shouldn't be "correcting" that.  Why isn't the character three-dimensional?  Probably because the playwright has a certain use for him, and making him too three-dimensional would shift the balance of the play too far from the playwright's intent.

And, a lot of plays (e.g., Attic tragedy, farce, expressionism) just aren't meant to consider motivation as acting gurus understand it.  It's irrelevant to their point.


Posted By: Topper
Date Posted: 11/02/06 at 4:27pm

Originally posted by falstaff29

Of course the scriptwriter has a reason for writing what he does into the script (except, arguably, with Shakespeare, because what we have is an idealized version of usu. 2 or more deliberately-distinct versions of the play).  I just don't think that the reason always deals with motivation.

I can see you and I are going to be at polar ends of this argument.  Perhaps one of the reasons the question "What's my motivation?" has become such an actor-centric cliche is simply because it is a question that the actor must ask CONSTANTLY (preferably, of himself and not the director).  It is the actor's JOB to find motivation for everything he does.  Like it or not, by the time opening night rolls around and there's an actor onstage who's STILL unsure what they're doing, then they have no business being on stage.

Even Shakespeare (no matter what version you're counting) wrote many things that are largely expositional, plot-driven and descriptive due to the limitations he faced, yet rather than have a narrator step forth and do it (as he did in the prologue of "Romeo & Juliet") Nine times out of Ten he CHOSE to have a character reveal the information.  As an actor playing this character, it suddenly befalls upon me to understand WHY I'm stopping the action of the play to disperse all this.  And as an actor LISTENING to this speech, it's up to me to figure out why I'm standing there, taking all this in and not saying "Yes, I can see that, you dolt!"

Originally posted by falstaff29

I think writing character bios IS "B---s---."  If the actor wanted the character to be divorced four times, he would've written it into the script. 

Sometimes certain information is difficult to work into natural conversation and so the playwright leaves it out.  Sometimes, it might be an idea that the playwright hadn't thought of yet helps an actor discover his motivation.

As I'm paraphrasing what was written in a previous post on another thread "The parts in black [ink] belong exclusively to the playwright.  The white bits are mine to do with as I please."

Writing character bios CAN be a wasteful exercise -- but that's simply all it was -- "an exercise."  We never changed a single word of dialogue or altered any phrasing of the script to suit our bios.  What WAS altered was our attitudes toward the characters and what they were saying.  We began to see them in a new light, with more depth.

Originally posted by falstaff29

You're not respecting the script if you decide that everything needs to be psychologically-motivated, when it's clear that some of it is written for another reason, like as a plot device.

On the contrary!  If you're devoting that much time to discover the nuances of EVERYTHING, then you begin to respect the script even more!  This was the lesson I learned (and I was trying to impress on the others on this forum).  Our initial reaction to the script was that it was a worthless piece of fluff.  The director didn't want that attitude to come across in the production.  She FORCED us to discover the nuance, depth and meaning which made me realize:  Who am I to decide which script is worthy of my respect?  Treating EVERY script as if it were brilliant makes doing the job of an actor worthwhile and often challenging.


Originally posted by falstaff29

As for characters being under-developed, or un-developed, I'm sure the playwright knows that!  Actors and directors shouldn't be "correcting" that. 

Playwrights might know that, but not always.  And if they do, then they're relying on the actors to bring their own personality or ideosyncracies to the performance to flesh it out. 

As someone who's also written scripts, whenever I (unintentionally) saddle a poor actor with an under-developed role, I become absolutely THRILLED when the actor finds ways to breathe life into it.  First of all, it makes me look good -- like I knew what I was doing in the first place. 

Originally posted by falstaff29

Why isn't the character three-dimensional?  Probably because the playwright has a certain use for him, and making him too three-dimensional would shift the balance of the play too far from the playwright's intent.

As far as I'm concerned a character can never be "too three-dimensional (?!)"  It's precisely that goal that I attempt to achieve as an actor.  It's what I look for as a director.  And it's something I greatly appreciate as an audience member.

Whenever small children undertake any kind of production, it is often the adults who drill into them "Learn your lines and say them loudly."

Unfortunately, for many actors, this is the ONLY lesson they've learned from acting and never waver from this.  What I'm trying to say is there's more information BETWEEN the lines, if you only look for it. 

How is this different from a designer deciding exactly what shade to paint the set, or a costumer selecting what type of collar should be on the leading lady's blouse?  If it's not specified in the script, (and unless the playwright is sitting in on the rehearsals) then we can never be absolutely certain what the playwright's intentions were. 

Originally posted by falstaff29

And, a lot of plays (e.g., Attic tragedy, farce, expressionism) just aren't meant to consider motivation as acting gurus understand it.  It's irrelevant to their point.

I agree, some forms of theater don't lend themselves to this philosophy.  But I disagree about "farce" being one of them.  Nothing spurs characters on to more and more outrageous situations than finding the reasons for their actions in farce.

And for an actor to dismiss motivation altogether as "irrelevant" is an attitude that I find reckless at best and arrogant at worst.  I've seen too many actors rely simply on the words the carry their performances (especially in our old friend, Neil Simon).  They figure the lines are smart enough or clever enough to make up for any characterizations they might neglect to create.

When Mike Nichols directed the first production of Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" he told the cast at one point to "forget we're doing a comedy and let's pretend we're doing 'King Lear.'"

He knew the value of investing importance in every line.  Motivation is what makes acting real.  It makes characters believable. 



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"None of us really grow up. All we ever do is learn how to behave in public." -- Keith Johnstone


Posted By: falstaff29
Date Posted: 11/02/06 at 6:43pm
We're never going to agree on this, and we're talking at each other.  I'm moving on to other posts.


Posted By: eveharrington
Date Posted: 11/03/06 at 3:58am
Ladies and Gentlemen the winner by K.O. Topper!!!!!



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"If nothing else, there's applause... like waves of love pouring over the footlights."


Posted By: red diva
Date Posted: 11/03/06 at 10:48am
I agree with eveharrington:  BRAVO Topper!!!! You expressed my feelings exactly!

A play is merely literature until it is brought to life by the actors (under the guidance of the director, of course). And isn't that what acting is all about:  bringing the characters and the situations to life?  And some of the ways to do that are to study motivation, subtext, back story, etc., etc., etc.  I sure hate to see a show where the characters are just cardboard cutouts.  Don't you think we owe it to the playwright to make a performance of his/her play as good as we can?  There is more to acting than just learning the lines and not tripping on the furniture. 

Many editions of scripts have very few or no stage directions included. Are you just going to have your actors come in and stay in the same place for the whole show just because the playwright hasn't specified what blocking he/she wants?  No, you need to take what the playwright has given you and use that as a platform on which to build your performance.  Theatre is about CREATING!!! Creating characters with dimension, creating blocking, creating ensemble...

And falstaff29, I think it's a shame that you are unwilling to continue this "lively discussion".  Isn't that what this Board is all about:  sharing knowledge and expressing opinions? I don't think that's just "talking at each other"!


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"I've worked long and hard to earn the right to be called Diva!"


Posted By: falstaff29
Date Posted: 11/03/06 at 1:44pm
Well, Topper's posts are getting increasingly long, and misrepresent some of what I'm saying.  I've been having this same argument with theater artists (both live and on boards like this) for years; neither of us is going to convince the other like this.  I have a life.

Besides, Hornby and Mamet both express my basic views on this subject far better than I can.


Posted By: eveharrington
Date Posted: 11/03/06 at 3:07pm
Originally posted by falstaff29

Well, Topper's posts are getting increasingly long, and misrepresent
some of what I'm saying. I've been having this same argument with
theater artists (both live and on boards like this) for years; neither
of us is going to convince the other like this. I have a life.

Besides, Hornby and Mamet both express my basic views on this subject far better than I can.



Well look, Falstaff, Those of us with no life enjoy the discussions on this board, the longer the better. Topper can't really misrepresent you using your own quotes. Besides unless your real name is Copernicus then the fact that you have to continually argue your viewpoint to everyone might make a reasonable person stop and reconsider their argument. Thats OK though, I hope you'll find time in your full and much more exciting than ours life to continue posting. If we all agreed it would be boring.

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"If nothing else, there's applause... like waves of love pouring over the footlights."


Posted By: whitebat
Date Posted: 12/02/07 at 11:32pm
I think some actors' focus on motivation is a misunderstanding of "method acting".  I am getting a lot of questions from one particular actor in the interactive murder mystery we are currently rehearsing for.  They tend to be motivation related "Why would the Mayor do this or that?".  I think it is because we don't have much of a script, and a lot of actions are plot driven without concrete motivation for the final cause (the first cause of the action being motivated by the nature of the character).  The other actors are apparently finding their own motivation, which is all to the good.  Sometimes actors discussing motivations with each other seemed to be more productive than them asking the director about it.



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