The singing actor has one great advantage over the stage actor – they have music. Music has a physical effect upon the central nervous system of both performer and audience, and the actor’s singing voice has the same effect on the audience. This means that the singing actor can move an audience in a way that no straight play can ever do.
The voice of the performer, coupled with the music and the words, creates an effect in the audience that cannot be topped. The singing actor has something special, the ability to move without a call to the intellect of the audience. Their audience responds unconsciously, truthfully and with full emotion. The filtering, editing effect of the brain does not have a chance to destroy the moment.
Acting the song requires two things:
- A good strong, supple singing voice with an adequate vocal range
- A technique or ability to connect you to the song
We approach the playing of a song like we approach the playing of a monologue, but we are restricted by the musical rhythm (like in Shakespeare, we must stick to the metre). This indicates to us a certain flow of the song, but still allows us our own way of approaching the song, and how we play it.
Perform a simple analysis on the song, by asking the questions:
- What is my character literally doing?
- What does my character want the other character to do as a result of this song?
- What is(are) the obstacle(s) between my character and their desire?
- What is the essential action?
- What’s it like to me?
- What analogous circumstances exist in my world that help me connect to that essential action?
- What tactics would you employ? A tactic is best summed up as a verb that can be done to someone else such as mock, berate, stroke, challenge, implore etc.
The main tool here, once the direction of the piece is ascertained, is finding the analogous circumstances by using an ‘As-If’. This will give your body a great sense of what it means to play that Essential Action and all the ways that you might try to get your action accomplished. Working to improvise or play with the analogous circumstances will provide you with a truthful bed rock for the song.
The ability to distill your character’s task down to the lowest common denominator (the simplest form) is the real test. After that, live truthfully and the song will fly.
Mark Westbrook is an Acting Coach based in Scotland, he offers free advice and tips to actors through his website www.actingcoachscotland.co.uk.