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Tips: Acting


[The best tip I can give anyone about acting is to learn, practice and master the following:]

TEXT, CONTEXT, AND SUBTEXT

TEXT  The "text" is what we get from the playwright--the lines, notes, and stage directions provided in the script. The text is always the same though other things about the show may be changed--such as locale, time, or setting (see "context"). Some say that the text is like a roadmap; the actors use it to find out where they are going--but how they get there is left up to the actor and director. Below is a sample text. Kelly:  Hello. Chris:  Hi. How are you? Kelly:  OK--and you? Chris:  Oh, I'm OK Kelly:  What's wrong? Chris:  Nothing. Why do you ask? Kelly:  Well, you just seem... Oh, I don't know. Chris:  Well, I've got to go. Bye. Kelly:  See you around. Learn the above text. Don't worry about memorizing it--just become very familiar with it. You will be reading with others--sometimes you will read Kelly and sometimes you will read Chris. Do not let yourself become set in a particular way of saying each line.  

CONTEXT "Context" means the circumstances in which the text (lines) are used, Webster defines it as "the whole situation, background or environment relating to a particular event." Although the playwright provides a context within the body of the script, the director usually adapts the context of the script to conform with the particular needs of that production. For instance, the director may set Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" in 1890's Texas. If the context is changed, most likely the way the lines are delivered will changed also. Context is usually referred to in either emotional terms (such as in terms of relationships, love/hate, lying, joking, etc.), physical ways (such as describing locations, weather, the time of day, feeling discomfort, etc.), or both.  Below are examples of context.
1> Kelly and Chris are at a friend's funeral.
2> Kelly and Chris are waiting in line for a roller-coaster.
3> Kelly and Chris are foreign exchange students--Kelly is from Spain and Chris is from France. Neither one speaks English very well.
4> Kelly walks in on Chris looking in a mirror.
5> Kelly doesn't know it, but Chris saw Kelly steal a book.
6> Kelly knows that Chris saw the book being stolen.
7> Chris has just found out that Kelly inherited a million dollars.
8> Kelly just beat Chris in a math contest.
9> Kelly and Chris are best friends.
10> Kelly and Chris cannot stand each other but were told by a teacher to make an effort to tolerate each other.
11> Kelly is genuinely concerned about Chris, but Kelly is the last person on earth Chris wants to talk to.
12> Kelly is genuinely concerned about Chris, but Chris is a little embarrassed that Kelly knows that something is wrong--so Chris tries to alleviate the situation.

Using the text you learned above, deliver the lines using these contexts. The purpose of this exercise is to show that there is always more than one way to deliver a line.  

SUBTEXT "Subtext" means the character`s sub-conscious thoughts and feelings about the text, and is provided by the actor. We know that people don't always say what they are thinking--and what they are really thinking has a huge affect on how the lines are delivered. The actor's subtext is effected by not only his/her own lines, but also by other characters' lines as well. There is a big difference between "hearing" and "listening". "Hearing" is the passive action of sound entering your ear. "Listening", on the other hand, is the active action of allowing the sounds your ears hear to enter your brain and be processed into information and ideas. We often "hear" someone talk yet not "listen" to them. I believe that when you are "hearing" someone talk, you are not really "listening" to them--you are "listening" to the little voice inside of your head that is making comment on what the other person is saying: "That guy doesn't know what he's talking about!" or "oh, wow, yeah, that makes much more sense than what I was believing before!" This process is similar to that which is used when someone communicates through the use of an interpreter. You can hear the voice of the foreigner talking, but you're listening to the voice of the translator. Your little voice ("subtext") is taking many things into consideration: Your own prejudices, beliefs, attitudes, and values, and your perception of the speakers beliefs, attitudes, and values--which determines how much credibility you believe the speaker to have. The more credibility you believe the speaker to have, the more likely you are to accept what they say as true. The same holds true when you are speaking. That little voice also makes comment on what you are saying: "Oh, that was a stupid thing to say", or "listen to them laugh, I must be telling this joke well!", or "I really think her hair looks awful, but I don't want to hurt her feelings." Your brain is always working, constantly thinking, continually making comments about everything you experience. The use of subtext is one of the most valuable tools an actor has. "Subtext" should not be confused with "motivation". "Motivation" is the reason you are saying the lines of text or the desired effect you want from the text--for instance, trying to get someone to change their mind about something. "Subtext" is that little voice keeping you true to your motivation. If your motivation is clear enough and your subtext is consistent you will always be in character--which reduces the chance of your forgetting your lines and increases your ability to ad-lib when necessary.

LINE READINGS

Subtext/Motivation

Read the sentences in the first group (indicated by Numbers). Then, using the suggestions in the second group (indicated by Letters), read the first group again--showing different ways the sentences can be delivered. This is similar to the rehearsal process in that the actor may be asked by the director to change his/her subtext and/or motivation, affecting the line delivery. The rehearsal process is the search for the perfect line reading within the boundaries of the performance. Notice that if you had a group of twenty actors in a line and asked them to deliver one of the sentences using a particular subtext or motivation, you would probably get about twenty different readings of the sentence. This illustrates that given a particular line and a particular subtext/motivation, there are probably twenty different ways to deliver that line, five to ten of those would be effective, and only one would be perfect in that time and place of the performance.

Text

1. I sure am glad we decided to come here.
2. Where do you think you're going?
3. Don't you have something you want to tell me?
4. I think somebody owes somebody an explanation.
5. Are you trying to tell me that I'm in the wrong room?
6. Where have you been all this time?
7. So, tell me, what are you trying to say?
8. Of all the crazy people--you really take the cake.
9. Are you saying what I think you're saying?
10. What in the world is going on around here?
11. Just when I'd thought I had seen about everything.
12. I didn't know what else I could do.
13. Why did I get stuck with you?

 Subtext/Motivation Suggestions

A. YOU ARE SO ANGRY YOU CAN BARELY SPEAK.
B. ON THE VERGE OF TEARS.
C. YOU ARE SLIGHTLY AGITATED, IN A BAD MOOD.
D. UNDER YOUR BREATH--YOU CAN'T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING.
E. EXTREME EMBARRASSMENT OVER SOMETHING THAT JUST HAPPENED.
F. TRYING YOUR BEST TO HURT THE OTHER PERSON'S FEELINGS.
G. USING EXTREME SARCASM.

 

 

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