All right, I’ve started my Advanced Acting class at school. Seems kickass, the teacher’s pretty cool, the students all seem like they have talent…
Tonight, we started performances. Monologues (scenes start next week). Everyone has to have picked out a monologue and perform it for the class. Today, I think seven or eight people performed. I noticed a disturbing theme…
See, there are limits to acting. A lot of people want to get up there and “Give it everything they’ve got”. They want to create a lasting impression. They want to blow their audience away. They want to have the kind of “Special moment” in which they captivate the entire audience, and everyone shares in the “Theatre Magic”.
But you know what? It just ain’t gonna happen.
See, in order to bring in a “heavy performance”, you need a good deal of buildup. The audience needs a while to gradually be drawn into the world you’re creating. A 1-2 minute monologue isn’t going to give anyone, except maybe the top ten actors on the planet, a chance to build up any big impact.
The first girl goes up for her monologue. It turns out to be a piece from a play where her character was a nymphomaniac, and due to her nymphomania, she got AIDS. Obligatory tears, not very creative blocking (she really just sat on a small table the whole time). “All right,” I think, “not the greatest of performances, but it’s the beginning of the semester.” The girl gets compliments for her “bravery” at performing such a piece, but not much else, really.
Second student goes up, a guy. He’s actually a good actor, and I look forward to his future work. His monologue had his character talking about having just killed a guy. A very heavy subject if there ever was one. Again, a good performance, but given the time constraints, there just wasn’t much for him to do with it.
Next student, a girl. Her monologue had her as a rape victim and pregnant.
Next, another girl. AIDS again.
Next, a guy. His character was beaten as a child, and now is lovesick.
Next, an older woman. She was playing a girl (in the afterlife) who had been hit by an Ice Cream truck and been killed. Hers was actually touching, but again, not enough time to develop the scene any. And she insisted on doing the scene with most of the lights off, so you really couldn’t see her very well.
And now, the rant…
Look, I know that there is a lot of deep and meaningful work floating around out there, and a lot of it deals with the more “serious” problems and issues in society. But, holy shit, if you have two minutes to try to build to a deep, soul-wrenching conclusion to your monologue, there’s almost NO chance of succeeding! It needs DEVELOPMENT. It needs BUILD-UP. And damn it all, it needs a bit of BLOCKING! Move around a little! If you feel like you can upstage your class members by crying a bit better than they did, or by becoming angrier than they did, or by shouting louder than they did, that’s all fine and dandy but you’re going to fail miserably!
The second-to-last performance tonight was a guy who did a scene from one of David Mamet’s plays. He played a salesman who was trying to sell stuff to a customer. It didn’t deal with death, it didn’t deal with rape, it didn’t deal with nuclear holocaust… it was just some random shmoe doing every-day stuff. And you know what? He was fucking amazing. He blew the pants off EVERYTHING that anyone else did!
The moral of the story is this: You don’t NEED to delve into the “extreme” cases in order to find good material. In fact, that’s more of a cop-out than anything else. If the whole focus of a scene is to bring problems like AIDS and rape into the limelight, it’s going to seem more like a news editorial than anything else! Go grab Death of a Salesman. Go grab Glengary Glenross. Go pick up stuff by Tennessee Williams or Tom Stoppard! You’ll be amazed at how much drama you’ll find without having to get dramatic!
And, yes, before anyone asks… I did provide the above information, in more polite and gentle terms, during the critique after each performance. Constructive criticism.