Category Archives: Principles

THE ACTOR AND EMOTION

Unlike actors who benefit from a script by, say, Shakespeare, most speakers or presenters have to write their own words. This can lead to a common error among the less experienced of getting so caught up in getting the words right that they ignore the emotional connection they must make with their audience, whether one or a hundred.,

When we watch a play we expect to be engaged in an emotional experience but sometimes forget that an interviewer or conference delegate ‘audience’ also expects a level of emotional engagement. Professional actors know how to play on our emotions. This is how one answered some questions

Where does the emotion come from, the script or the actor?  cute-doggy

Emotion is a difficult word. It’s quite ambiguous. I looked up the definition and it says ‘A strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances,’ which I think is the perfect answer. It is neither the words, nor the actor, but the circumstances of the script that will evoke emotion in the actor, if the actor allows them self to be available to emotion. The given circumstances include: what kind of environment the character is in, what they are doing, what they want in the scene, etc.

The script tells the actor where the actor is and what kind of emotional dilemma they have, and then it is the actor’s job to find a way to make the emotional dilemma and the given circumstances truthful. So the answer is both. It is a marriage of the two.

Can you fake emotion?

You tell me. If you can fool your audience you are a very good actor. I can’t. Maybe Judi Dench can. I can only try to be truthful. I’m not very good at the craft of pretending but I respect those who are. I think usually my way is to focus on what I want in the scene and let the emotion happen naturally, for example: I want to get my dream job.

Now I think about what is at stake if I don’t get my dream job: I will feel like I have never reached my full potential, I will not be able to express something I need to express, I will feel complacent and cowardly for not trying, etc. If I think about this, I start feeling all kinds of emotions – passion, excitement, fear, inspiration, and joy. But it happens naturally. Focus on what you want and why you want it. Make it personal to you!

People try to be emotional in their performance, rather than just trying to get what they want and to affect their audience or fellow actors. Sometimes you don’t have to show any emotion, but you can make people weep, just by saying what you are saying simply and clearly with commitment and conviction.

“Only connect! Only connect the prose and the passion.” E.M.Forster

THE ACTOR AND ‘SPREZZATURA’

The challenge in most pitches or interviews is to rise to the occasion and perform at your best when it really matters. The experienced  will, or should, have worked on what approach for them is the best way to achieve this in term of preparation, mental and physical.

DECORO-NEW  The sixteenth century philosopher, an Italian, Baldassari Castiglione, described the ideal approach as having two necessary principles. The first, ‘decoro’, is the graft, practice, preparation and rehearsal, the essential foundations for any performance.

sprezzatura    The second is ‘sprezzatura’ a word he coined to embrace the lightening flash, the rehearsed spontaneity, almost a joy in improvisation that can bring magic.

What would sprezzatura mean to you as an actor?

When, after you’ve done all the work; learnt all the lines, made all your character choices, identified your objective etc, that you allow yourself to let it go and be free in the moment. When you are free in the moment, you are the most open to anything happening, because you are present and ready for anything to happen.

You take a risk, step outside your comfort zone, respond to what is around you; the audience, the other actors, the environment, and let the story take you. You stop trying to be a good actor, or trying to have something to prove and you give more of yourself.

Then, when you are available and free to play and feel, if you’re lucky, some sprezzatura will come along. I think that’s what art is. But you need to do the work first.

Is it something that you can bring to a performance everytime?

Some actors can, but no not usually. Your technique is your basis – for theatre anyway. Film is so revealing that in a way it requires you to give more of yourself, thank god you usually only have to do a scene for a days shoot. Giving so much of yourself can be draining.

The more you rehearse the more you work out how to access certain areas of your work, and how to hit those marks. The more you can live in the performance and be in each moment. Warming up can really help me get in that place of readiness and playfulness.

Essentially, being playful, not trying too hard, and being flexible are very good places to start if you want a performance with a bit of sprezzatura.

THE LASTING FIRST IMPRESSION

A recent article  by Craig Brown in the Daily Mail noted that many political biographers are attempting -without much success- to emulate thriller writers like Elmore Leonard and Dashiell Hammett, well known for their dramatic opening lines. Best of them, Raymond Chandler; “The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in the back of a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith…”

Apparently, Cherie Blair starts her In Speaking For Myself with “O.K, guys, that’s it. Let’s do the business.” While not the subtlest of phrases, you can’t question her intention to make a powerful, lasting first impression as important to the book, play, movie, speech, poem or song as to the pitch.

The film Patton grabbed attention with “Now  I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war  by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his.”

Gentler but unforgettable words from Jane Austen set the scene for Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Two contemporary songs capture instantly different moods, and personalities, Amy Winehouse’s “They tried to make me go to rehab /  I said no-no-no.” And Sinead O’Connor with, “It’s been 7 hours and 15 days / since you took my love away.”

Two rather different love poems, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How I do love thee? Let me count the ways,”  and Andrew Marvel (in pitch-mode) To His Coy Mistress ,” Had we but world enough and time/ this coyness lady were no crime.

Of course pitch teams do not number a Shakespeare to give them a “to be or not to be” opening but this is no excuse for not having any kind of planned start, a feature of many otherwise reasonable pitches.  It is a wasted opportunity and a final quote – if you have not yet watched the ‘winning movie’- “Remember, a winning start means a winning finish!”

 

 

 

THE JOY OF IMPROVISATION

BBC Radio 4 reminded us of the importance of improvisation when they played an excerpt of a sermon from 2007 by Tony Crockett, then Bishop of Bangor. He must have been an outstanding speaker, As well as a lover of jazz.

He talked about  the great musicians, such as George Shearer. He noted their willingness to play with a theme, to improvise and see where it goes, letting the rhythm take them. Improvisation he suggested was an exciting way to engage with life Continue reading

THE VERY BRIEF GETTYSBURG ADDRESS.

This is the 150th  anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, arguably the most important speech in American history. It is rightly eulogised and numerous writers have examined and extolled its many virtues. One of these is Sam Leith in his entertaining book on rhetoric, “YOU TALKIN’ TO ME?”

gettysburg 2Many of Abraham Lincoln’s skills are not easily acquired or applied in the average business pitch apart from two, both highly practical.

The first is to keep it short.

Lincoln spoke for a little over two minutes, his speech 272 words.

In 1863 people expected lengthy speeches. The speaker, Edward Everett, who preceded him spoke for over two hours .Lincoln defied the protocol of the day, he wanted to make an impact and his words to be listened to. Being brief was a strategy.

Most business pitches if the prospect has allocated, say, 40 minutes take 40 (or probably over-run) minutes, cramming in as much content as they can.  Few take a strategic decision to pitch in half the time, to be more explosive, more surprising and more rewarding for the audience.

Few heed  Shakespeare: “Where words are scarce, they are seldom in vain.” (Richard II )

gETTYSBURG 3The other practical lesson was the trouble he took to check out the venue, for this two minute ‘pitch’.

“The care with which he was thinking in advance is evidenced by the fact that a few days before, he asked the man who landscaped the cemetery to bring him the plans, so he could familiarise himself with the layout of where he’d be speaking.” (Sam Leith)