What’s NOT Being Said

February 28, 2010 at 12:01 am | Posted in acting, actors, auditions | Leave a comment
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Paul Russell

Photo Credit: JackMenashe.com

Rational people, unlike Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, refrain from verbally vomiting every thought. In our daily lives behind masked metaphors and parsed phrases we sometimes insinuate unspoken declarations, inquiries, motivations and/or desires. Adept writers seize upon this indirect communication characteristic and place unwritten sub-text behind what is being said. The actor that plays more than the words literally written on the page is the actor that succeeds.

When presented an audition side or a script for a project don’t be lulled into a false sense of security that what is written is only what is being said. It’s your job as an actor to dive into the currents that lie underneath the surface of the words that float upon a page. Ignore that advisory and you’ll drown in a career reminiscent of Gary Coleman.

So how to delve? You ask questions. How? Let’s take a look at material from an audition side of a recent screen project.

The set-up: A couple, now split; have run into each other for the first time since they ended the relationship.

DIANE

You were really good.

ANDY

Thanks…,

DIANE

Who’s decision was it to do that song?

ANDY

Mine. I’m solo now.

DIANE

I know. The group told me.

ANDY

I decided to do something different.

DIANE

I know… Miss me?

ANDY

Uh…, yea, sure…

DIANE

You wanna come over?

ANDY

No.

DIANE

Why not? What’s the matter?

ANDY

You put me out in the street.

DIANE

Andy, I only asked you to leave because you wouldn’t get a job. I couldn’t support you.

——–

Now ask yourself, What’s going on here in this scene? When the echo chamber in the cranium rings with response(s) move to the next paragraph below.

Back? Good. You move fast. O.K. now; let’s see what you’ve gleaned from this slice of a scene. Which of the following just took place? (Vote; then read the rest of the post.)

If you answered: əʌoqɐ əɥʇ ɟo llɐ ˙ə then you’re on the money for what is not being said. (For those of you who can’t read upside down the answer was: ‘E. All of the above’.  I didn’t want your ex cheating… again.)

Writers are not going to write the obvious which if we put the motivations into words the scene would have read as a sophomoric, simplistic snooze-inducing fest:

DIANE

You were really good. Sorry I tossed you out onto the street. But, hey you were a loser. Capital ‘L’. You’ve gotten a lot better and probably could make a living at this now.

ANDY

Thanks.

DIANE

Did you miss me? Because I’ve been missing you and my sex life just hasn’t been the same without you. Wanna fuck?

—–

O.K. So if we wanted to save time this would have been the way to go. But how boring for you and me as audience members to have every statement spelled out for us. (Will Ferrell flick anyone?)

When I teach and direct I am always asking the actor; “What’s not being said?” My asking is not a test. I ask so that the actor begins to think. Now if they come back at me with a direct line quote, well then yes, they’ve failed the test. (O.K. I lied about the test thingy.)

Let’s go back and delve into the original text and see what the writer was not saying directly in dialogue (sub-text in italics):

DIANE

You were really good.

(You’ve proved yourself. You’re not the guy that I used to know who spoke of dreams but couldn’t get anywhere.)

ANDY

Thanks…,

(A compliment? There’s something new for you. I appreciate that. What took you so long to notice and what is that you want?)

DIANE

Who’s decision was it to do that song?

(I really enjoyed what you did. You’re work is growing and yes, I’m intrigued now more than before. You’re independent. A little stand-offish. O.K. I get that because I threw you out.)

ANDY

Mine. I’m solo now.

(I’m no longer co-dependent. And I really don’t feel like talking much more so let’s just keep this short and polite, o.k.?)

DIANE

I know. The group told me.

(I’m sorry. I knew about the song choice. I just wasn’t sure if the others were covering for you by telling me you chose that song because I was here or if you really have made some positive changes in your life.)

—-

It’s your job to find and play the sub-text. If it were written out (as above) the audience would be bored more so than if watching dead grass grow.

This delving into the words (as I discuss extensively in ACTING: Make It Your Business) also applies to song lyrics. Unless of course it’s Tim Rice drivel like:

“Only goes to sho-wa,

Greatest man since No-ah”.

(Oh, Tim.)

So when approaching a scene, song, or monologue ask yourself, What is the writer not saying in the dialogue? What is being said between the lines? What’s the sub-text? What’s the objective? What are the layers I’m to add in playing this? What does this character need and/or want from this situation? It’s then you’ll discover what intent is being said behind the lines of what is actually being spoken. It’s then that you’re viewed as a more successful and intelligent actor. (And not a catch-phrase wonder… “What you talking ‘bout Willis?”)

Add your own sub-text to that last parenthetical.

===

The LAST musical theater Access to Agents for this season will be in April. The seats for the past three seminars have gone in less than a week of initial announcement. For details on this last chance (before the fall)  to present your musical best to a panel of agents visit: http://paulrussell.net/Access_to_Agents.html.

Besos,
Paul

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

 

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