By Matt Powers
We live in interesting times. Radio has made a comeback in the form of podcasts. The public has a desire to see how a show is created. Shows like Prairie Home Companion were popular in their day because they produced sound effects live, and now, with The Brass Lantern, we have the opportunity for a hybrid performance. Sure some of our effects are digital, but many we can reproduced live. But this isn’t about sound effects! Not yet! Back to directing.
Script Additions and Aids
While not a memorized show, it is still helpful to have some additional notes in a performance script. As my actors have requested, I’ve added several notes, cues, and other matters in the script so that they have a handy reference during the live performance. This isn’t so much that their memories are faulty, or that they didn’t take notes, rather there is an air of wanting to do very well, and they want to be sure to “get it right.”
Which is alright with me, it is a bit more work on my end, but this is worth it, and has an unforeseen benefit. It forces me to make my vision for the show much clearer, more potent. Not only is clarity beneficial for the actors, as it provides direction (ha, see what did there?), but allows them a solid foundation from which to build their character upon. Actors can piece together words, tones, and actions in unique ways – and I, for one, am the last to get in the way of that, but it certainly does help even the most seasoned actor to have a starting point. And, selfishly, this exercise helps my writing and my ability to communicate. Which is always beneficial.
Transitioning from voice acting to live stage performance is a bit tricky at times. Actors get used to the privacy, intimacy, flexibility, and reproducibility of recording in a studio. It is very similar to television and film acting – if you mess up, you just do it again. Don’t nail the line? It’s alright. Do it again and stitch together the best bits.
Performing live, obviously, takes away this safety net, and when that happens, some actors retreat inside themselves, and their charisma and entertainment subside. At times like this, it is the responsibility of the director not only to put the actor at ease with reassurances, so they can flourish and be their radiant selves, but to guide them through the show with a clear plan. Then rehearse it enough so everyone is on the same page.
At that point, it is important that everyone has some fun, and draws out their character. Acting is fun after all, and if that’s not happening among the actors and director, that will clearly be evident to the audience. “If we’re not having fun, they’re not having fun.” I’ve said this many times to my actors, have seen it to be truthful, and will continue to say it until I’ve been proven wrong.
Timing / Fluidity
Certain moments and beats need to timed well to convey the moment accurately, with emotional intensity and clarity. Really, it’s about what information the audience needs to understand at that moment. Our job is to make that very clear.
In drama, or more serious portions of theater, timing functions a bit differently. In comedy, humor is generated through quick pacing, expression of the dialogue, and posture (as well as an actor’s awareness of laughter). With more serious work, those same concepts are in play, but in reverse essentially.
In the clip above, we see Matthew Arnold (played by A.G. Devitt) talking with Elaina Dare (played by Laura Powers). Arnold is home from his stint in the war, where horrors have scarred him, has difficulty confessing the whole truth about Elaina’s father, St. John.
Much of the work that we focus on here is accurately conveying Arnold’s character, and the difficulty he has with opening up to people. Contrasting Arnold, Elaina needs to come across as fierce, independent, capable, and understanding. The scene also has elements of romance, as two characters, despite their foibles, are discovering they care about the other.
Its a dynamic scene with much to show to the audience, and great character development. The awkwardness, the risk-taking of emotional expression, and the wonder of discovering a new person (as well as new things about yourself), I think all of us can relate to. It becomes a matter of making the moment real. To that end, we opted for a slower pace of dialogue, with longer pauses to help show both the difficulty of being truthful and thoughts simmering below the surface. Character spacing also matters, we wanted the characters close to establish some intimacy, but far enough way to show distancing. Posture and mannerisms do similar work.
While the scene isn’t perfect yet, it is moving in the right direction. All it takes now is practice.