How To Be A Good Actor - Script, Uh, Discipline - Right? Huh? SALLY?

Script, Uh, Discipline – Right? Huh? SALLY?

My rapidly advancing age has perhaps made me downright persnickety, but for some reason my ear has become more sensitive to the increasing lack of discipline with, you know, uh, saying the words of the script, uh, and, like, only the words of the script. Right? Huh? Character name? 

This is a bad habit, and particularly so with theatre scripts, which tend towards greater density of words and potential power of expression, all of which get fucked up by what my purist classical music-listening ears pick up as an increasing cacophony of contemporary verbal pollution. One hopes the writer has done a good job arranging just the right words in just the right order to bring a circumstance to life in an interesting, enlightening way. (Read Stoppard on the art of writing in Act II, Scene 1 of The Real Thing – brilliance I shall not try to emulate here.)  If he or she has failed, let them fail without your additions to the equation. Then the teacher can make a clean call on it, by advising you work on better writing or somehow helping it along in some way that will benefit your training via the scene in question.

(There are related topics here – the translation used for foreign language scripts, different adaptations, different edits, combining film scenes to create a better stage scene for class purposes, the free-fire zone of rehearsals that allow exploration through improvisation, paraphrasing, etc. I’m not talking about all that. This post is really targeting the moment of performance, and the concept of largely reflexive, often unconscious verbal pollution.)

So, cutting to the chase, stop with the following:

1. Adding “…. right?” to the ends of sentences.

2. Adding “…..huh?” as an intensifier to the ends of questions.

3. Adding “like… / uh… / um… ” in the middle of sentences.

4. Saying a character name more often than is indicated in the script.

5. Adding “fuck / shit,” etc, where they are not so indicated.

6. Relying too much on the “I”m so fucking real right now I don’t know what I’m going to say and so the line will kind of emerge from me in this brutally honest, way – like I don’t know the line.” This kind of reflexively “authentic” line reading, which is based on a good idea… I mean, one of the basic questions of acting is how do I make the line appear out of nowhere, as if from spontaneous response to the situation, even though everyone involved knows exactly what everyone is going to say and do? How does an actor “not-know” the script that has been so well rehearsed? Acting 101 stuff there, but I would offer that while this is an excellent question, eternally so, the answer is NOT:

“… To be…. uh…. Or…. Uh…. Not to be, right? Huh? [Actor pauses as if to find the next words…..] Whether ’tis nobler… in the fucking mind…” 

Shakespeare gets so much reverence and fear from actors, that one wouldn’t dare mess with his writing this way. But I do often wish that contemporary writers were treated similarly.

When the writing is good, it will benefit from clear, expressive, unornamented delivery by the actor, who by their natural or hard-won talent will bring to life the reality and emotions of the situation, and in the proper style.  If the writing is not good, why the fuck, uh, are you… uh… like… fucking working on it, right? Huh? Actor? Pick better stuff!

I will now desist, and go out to yell at the kids on the street that that crazy rock ‘n roll music will ruin their morals.

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