The Work of Acting, Part 2

(L to R) William Moore, Jeff LaBonde, Nicole LaBonde, Carl Smith, Tom Irvin. Hedgerow Theatre's "A Christmas Carol" December 2010. Photo by Ashley E. SmithLast week, I began writing about the work of acting. That sometimes it doesn’t look like work. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like work! But, the difference between an actor who works and an actor who shows up is obvious to colleagues and an audience.

I gave a few examples of “work”, for some smaller parts I’ve had recently. However, my part in Godspell has much more depth, and has required much more deliberate attention.

For Godspell, I start the show as the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Research for this role went well beyond Wikipedia entries, and I’m pretty sure there are no YouTube clips. I spent a Sunday morning at Starbucks reading some of his work. I soon discovered that 8AM on a Sunday is actually NOT the best time to be reading existential philosophy, as it’s more of a Tuesday afternoon kind of task. But, it needed to be done. And it informed my work on my lines and mannerisms for that character. I also learned a lot about philosophy, that I never would have, left to my own devices.

But besides just learning about myself, I had to learn about the others I interact with. Sartre and Buckminster Fuller have a bit of a shouting match at the beginning. I had never heard of Buckminster Fuller before Godspell. So, it was not enough to learn about Sartre, I had to learn about Fuller. About why the writers found it interesting to juxtapose the two. If I had not taken the time to do that, our interaction would be lacking.

In the rest of the show, while I’m Nicole, (for those of you familiar with the show, I’m a combo Gilmer/Peggy) I’m a character, with a definite arc through the story. I sat and wrote my “journey”- where I start, what I go through, and where I end. I included what I feel at each landmark, who is with me and why and how it leads to my next step.

I find the “journey” exercise to be one of the most useful. As you focus on your own story, within the story, it clarifies your purpose. It helps you see how you serve goal of the playwright and director. Knowing your purpose, not your lines or songs,  is what will make your acting real and honest.