Disturbing the Molecules – An Acting Approach

Disturbing the Molecules - An Acting Approach_550
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We are delighted to republish Prof. John Palmer’s ‘Theatre Briefs’ series, Actor Hub hope you find them as useful as we have.
This series of short essays about acting is reprinted with the kind permission of Professor John P Palmer of London, Ontario, Canada. He wrote these ‘Theatre Briefs’ for use by students and fellow actors during classes and rehearsals. Where he has relied on material from others, they are cited.
If drama is the story of someone wanting to do something against all obstacles, then the choice of specific intentionwhat I want to do NOW, moment-to-moment – is absolutely essential to building the character. It is very tempting to choose a simple or obvious verb of intention. Most plays begin with somebody wanting something from someone else, often something the other person doesn’t wish to do or give.
Example: “I want to CONVINCE my husband to finish the screenplay he’s been working on for two years.”
Convince is a rather ineffective verb. The secret then is to heighten or upgrade this ordinary verb until it becomes something definite, exciting and actable. From ordinary to extra-ordinary.
In William Ball’s must-own book on directing, A Sense of Direction: Some Observations on the Art of Directing, he offers an excellent example of upgrading. In the scenario, the common verb CONVINCE my husband is changed by the actor to FLATTER, FORTIFY, EXALT, IMMORTALIZE him.
The actor who works this way does what Glenn Close calls “disturbing the molecules.”
When the actor chooses an active verb rather than an innocuous one, s/he creates an energy force that transports the specific moment to a heightened point of reality. The energy field has travelled from the actor on the stage to the point where it enters the perception of the spectator. G.B. Shaw referred to this effect as “the optics of the theatre” –the trick the actor uses to carry his/her emotion to the point of audience comprehension and excitement.
Sandy Meisner spoke of it this way:
(When) you … get the basic reality at the conversational level, and then discover the deeper meanings that fuel it with the optics of theatre, it’s not built on bed of clichés… (When) you put the real situation on the stage, you need to keep its reality so that it’s believable both to you and to the audience; but you have to raise it to a level above real life. Otherwise it doesn’t communicate.
Ball offers this example:
I want to FLATTER him
I want to PRAISE him
I want to STRENGTHEN him
I want to GLORIFY him
I want to GLORIFY him into realizing his true worth.
The plot says the wife convinces the husband to finish his script. The actor acts something much more theatrical and exciting.
From work by By Norman B. Schwartz (with permission)
These essays may be reproduced at no charge for non-commercial purposes. Just please acknowledge the original source (John Palmer) and his blog Eclectecon.
Also please retain the attributions included in the briefs.
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