If you’re an actor, you may have already read the ‘#DearActor’ blog that Dave Lankford wrote that went viral. In it, he rather gently expresses his hope for actors to understand the relationship between their job and his. Frankly, I love it, he speaks my language. And many of my students sent me messages after I posted a link on our Studio’s Facebook Page.
Dear Bloviating Shitbag… was one of the responses he got (not from my guys!)
But amongst the vitriol heaped on his carefully crafted words of advice, is a missed opportunity. An opportunity for actors to learn from writers, learn something about their craft that acting teachers and directors, with their own agenda, may not be able to see or pass on to their students.
The script comes first.
Stanislavski believed that the writer wrote down the bones and that the actor filled it in. The popularity of the Stanislavski system, it’s transbastardisation to the Method, and all the amorphous nonsense that followed, cause this credo to become the central concern of the actor, to build a character, to create a role.
Stanislavski wasn’t good with scripts, that job fell to his literary manager, Nemirovich-Danchenko. Is it a surprise that he invested those scripts that he worked on with all manner of invented augmentations? Is it a surprise then, the actors trained in approaches based on his work, have far too much concern for their egos and too little concern for the script.
I’ve been saying the same thing on this blog for years. But Dave’s #DearActor blog, touched a nerve. We all want to be special, and actors, knowing their job, don’t want a writer (he’s also an actor btw), telling them that job. But in my opinion, it seems he knows more about your job than you do, because he’s right.
Pack your ego away, it’s beneath you to respond with anything other than an open mind. And if you listen, if you hear, you might actually learn something.
The main points of Dave’s #DearActor were:
Find the Clues:
The script is a series of clues, a mystery to be solved, and we are detectives on a journey of understanding. Ask any of my working students whether they feel better prepared to go to work now they understand the script from a writer’s perspective, than when they fannied about trying to build a character. A solid understanding of the playwright’s dramatic intention is far more important than your own opinion. Stow that ego.
Any activity that isn’t aimed at revealing the truth from what is on the page is a distraction. Backstories and ‘before-time’ exercises are practicably purposeless if you haven’t discovered and uncovered the dramatic action of the play.
Commit Everything to Memory – Verbatim
This one should go without saying, but thanks to the television and film industry having less respect for the writer’s intention, actors have been allowed to get away with paraphrasing, and yes, even inventing. Look, if you want to write, WRITE, if you want to act, learn your bloody lines. I know it’s a boring chore sometimes, but do it anyway, whether you feel like it or not.
Follow your Gut
Dave says that we should listen to our instincts, but I think our instincts have been confused, we’ve been cross-wired by all this ego-centric, me-centred, I-am-an-artist-too-thinking that is encouraged in higher education. I’m not sure we know what our instincts are any more.
So here’s the thing, most of the answers are in the play, including what you should be doing psychologically in the scene, but follow your gut, look across the space at the other actor, now THERE is your other help, there is the other beacon of hope, say the lines to land them on them, make it about them, stow your ego, speak the words to affect them.
Trust the writing, trust your partner.
Dave, I take my hat off to you man, while you may have received a great deal of vitriol in your own country, if you’re ever visiting Scotland, you will be welcome by our students, who know your words were spoken with kindness, and who take your words to heart.
To You, the Best
Mark Westbrook is the Senior Acting Coach at Acting Coach Scotland, a writer, director and artistic associate with Delirium Productions, Glasgow, Scotland and Little Spoon Theatre Company, Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Truth in Action, a second edition was released in June 2013. He is the creator of the Mindset Acting Technique. His clients include BAFTA, Oscar and Golden Globe winners.