I hope ‘The Bard’ will forgive my paraphrase and allow me to approach text analysis from this perspective: what you don’t know about the scene is more important than what you do know.
Sounds counterintuitive and even counterproductive I know but, let’s consider what actors are expected to do by the powers behind the camera. They are expected to know the ‘style’ of the work: romantic comedy, action, thriller, horror, sitcom, tragedy, historical drama. That’s an actor’s job whether in Film/TV or Stage. An actor must know the view of the writer, their world and add to the mix the influence and vision of the director, their milieu, and add the casting director’s office protocol, how they want you to comport yourself in their audition room.
That’s a lot ‘expectation’ to which the actor must respond and be responsible. That’s the actor’s job. But, that’s not the actor’ art. So, with all that research done on the worlds of the writer/director/CD, it’s now time for the actor’s world. And that world orbits in the space between the words, ‘tween expectation and creation. And that’s not only where you book the job, that’s where you build a unique career.
Using scene-ologues (what the industry mistakenly calls mono-logues: the actor is never alone, solo, without reactive relationship) from the great films of the 1930s and ‘40s, when movies still believed words were as active and as engaging as today’s ECUs of teardrops and CGI explosions, we apply the Hagen Six Steps of Investigation to each line, each word to mine the information that conjures powerful affective imagery that spurs the actor in action.
BEFORE you memorize the words, BEFORE you emotionalize them, BEFORE you attach an attitude, BEFORE you listen to the words, BEFORE you rush to result: the ‘how’ or ‘way’ of saying them, ASK, precisely ask, WHY do you say them? What do you WIN by saying them? To WHOM are you speaking? WHY must they know? Ask what the ‘other’, the person to whom you’re speaking, is doing in reaction to your words? Are they friend or foe, and do they change from one to the other line by line? And as they and you must change through the course of the text what ACTIONS do you take to counter or reinforce those changes?
Why do all this? To prevent cliche and stereotype acting which is ubiquitous in the industry today. The regional industries of Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans may be creating more opportunities for local actors but the main roles, the lead roles, the juicy challenging demanding roles are still being cast out of LA. And that reality leads to regionalism in acting development/coaching/workshops. Actors in the hinterlands are being taught how to fit the immediate needs of the ‘biz’ for 5 and Under professionals who can step in, hit a mark, say a line, and disappear. Cogs essential to the machine that is the show or film but a reality that leads to ever diminishing creativity and daring and skill base in more and more and more actors every year.
So, using text that demands actors find a deeper power of expression to prepare them for what they truly want, to play lead roles, we must honor those words, honor that dream, with proven investigative tools into the biggest most colorful palette of acting choices. And that does NOT come from meeting the expectations of the ‘biz’, the 5 and Under. It comes from rich, varied, subtle and bold choices that mark the careers of artists in our industry.
Ask the Six Steps for this primary goal: to evoke the most powerful imagery that anchors you in a world in which you can believe, now, in this moment, and each fleeting moment and which frees from listening to yourself, frees you from jumping to assumption, frees you to react again and again to changing moments. For they must! Each moment is alive and active only for now. It must evolve, disappear, reappear, transform. Just as in life, there is the ever-changing flow of thoughts into actions. That’s real. That’s true. There is NO MOOD in life, no incessant, predictable, retread stylization of TV/Film.
Hunt for the Causes, the Opposite Causes of your words, and you steer clear of assumption. Search for the Opposite Actions you can take to accomplish your goal, to win in the scene, to prevent predictable mannerism and verbal delivery. Clarify the ‘other’ in the relationship, pinpoint their imagined behavior, see them in reaction to you, see their judgements pro and con of you and react anew time and time again keeping the audience engaged by surprise rather than numbed by the expected.
Your next IMDB credit that helps you build a relationship of professional trust with the powers behind the camera is in your meeting the expectations of the style/director/CD of each project.
Your next IMDB credit that builds your leading role capability is in your discovery of what is ‘undiscovered’ between the words.