One of the actors taking part in the Palcoscenico di Carta/Paper Stage project made a very interesting observation.
It all began with a night-time message after the first of three meetings, in which he had read Faust(us) himself.
“This is a little awkward,” he wrote. “I’d like to be told I was good, but I don’t think I was… There’s no time, no room to work on the character – and I see that the PS calls for a reading, rather than a deeper identification… This is how it is, but still I feel inadequate. My fault, for never knowing how to keep to the golden mean.”
After telling him that he had been good – very good, in fact – and I was sorry for not telling him at the moment, it struck me that he was not fishing for compliments. This is something you tend to assume a little when you spend much time around theatre folks and are a bad person – but clearly this was not the case. So I asked F. what he had in mind, and whether he thought we could do things differently – and how.
Debate ensued about the nature of the Stage Paper – which F. ended by wondering if it was quite right to have “real” actors in it. “I see we definitely help give the rhythm – but still.”
This set me thinking. Il Palcoscenico di Carta was born with the help of the Campogalliani actors: they get to try out unusual characters, and provide the rhythm and spine of the reading – and, truth be told, the thrill of reading with the “real” ones… Really, it wouldn’t be the same without them.
On the other hand, F. is really very good, very popular with the readers, and we are good friends enough to chat about art and life late at night, and I dearly wish to have him on board – but not if he is uneasy. The Paper Stage shouldn’t be a chore. So I cautiously told him that, if he chose to give up I would understand…
And he was rather taken aback, because no – he most definitely didn’t want to give up. He says it is just very different from anything he ever did stage-wise. He was musing about it, trying to find his legs with something that is “like first reading and first night rolled in one, with nothing in between…”
Disconcertingly exciting, he calls it. You get the character, and then expose your first impression of him or her to the audience. An audience that, for the most part, reads back to you… From an actor’s point of view it feels a little raw, a little dangerous. Perhaps, I think, more than a little unfinished. But, despite that – or maybe because of that – exciting.
This was something we hadn’t expected, one of the things that cropped up as we read – and who knows, there might be further developments, because F. is also a drama teacher, and he says he is thinking of ways to use the practicalities of the Paper Stage as a teaching tool…
I’m really curious to see what he comes up with – and really, this is going to be one interesting unintended effect.
Jack Shalom said:
I have a friend who is a playwright, and he puts on staged readings at our local library. We get the scripts sometimes only a few hours before. Now these are light comedies, so the acting demands are quite different from something heavier, but I had the same concerns as your friend–I wasn’t doing enough preparation, not clear enough, our spontaneous blocking with scripts in hand, is hopeless, and so on.
But you know what? I think I’ve learned a lot from these performances. All the preparation that we actors think we have to do is often not necessary. It is all just a way to get ourselves into the creative state. And once we are in that state the intuition can take over. But we don’t like to think we can get something for nothing, so we feel guilty if we haven’t done all our preparation. But I think once you have been acting for a long time, the most important thing can be just to trust your instincts. These readings really give me a great measure of how far I can push something and when I have gone too far. And the stakes are so low, one performance only, that I’m willing to try anything.
I also think its very important for directors to tell actors when they’ve been especially good, because it is not always easy for an actor to know. Sometimes it’s the performance that felt very ordinary to the actor that is the extraordinary one.
la Clarina said:
Interesting perspective… Perhaps part of our trouble is that we are still very green at the game, and when we have a few more readings under our belt, the actors will come to terms with the nature of these not-quite-performances…
After all, we are doing this as a form of interactive discovery of the texts, more than anything else. Still, just yesterday, on the project’s Italian blog, one occasional reader expressed concern over her own “untrained” voice… I’m beginning to realise that there is more preoccupation with the level of the reading than I had anticipated – and this will need to be addressed as well.