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Thursday, 17 November 2011

"Aaaah... Very passable, this, very passable."

I feel compelled to write this whoooole blog in Italian but I know that I don't have the skills to pull that off. Perhaps in a few months when I've revised my text books, I will give it a go.


I am cast in Harbour Theatre's production of Jane Eyre as Miss Miller and Mary Ingram in Act One and Diana Rivers in Act Two!
I am cast as THREE WHOLE DIFFERENT PEOPLE! Oh my goodness! I thought this would be a fantastic challenge and I was right about the challenge part!
You see, my dear, to play three different characters you must play three DIFFERENT characters.

(I realise I am overdoing the caps, I will stop now.)

As I explained to a friend that was silly enough to ask me about my characterisation techniques... Sorry, excuse me for a moment. (Fuck you, spell-check, I am spelling it with an "S".) Thanks, where were we, oh, that is right...
My friend was silly enough to ask me about how I find my characters. Am I method actor? Well, yeah, all actors are method actors in that they have a method that they use to act but I think he was asking me whether I subscribe to Stanislavki's method of acting. I couldn't remember everything that specifically comes from Stanisklavski (despite my other friend being AWESOME [oops, more caps] and giving me a book about it for my birthday a few years ago) so I deflected somewhat and just told him what I do so that he could come to his own conclusions. I shall do the same for you.

Regardless of how much I looked forward to being a part of this production, even to the extent that I would have volunteered to be part of the crew (Can you imagine me managing a stage? The correct answer is "no".),  I haven't been in the frame of mind to sit down and explore my characters mentally. Usually, I will write a biography. My character's likes and dislikes. Her dreams, ambitions, regrets, fears, secrets and masks. I would share her pasts and envision her future. I would make up little hypotheticals to see how she might react if circumstances were different. I mine the text for some of this information, in this case I have the book but because the play deviates from the book, as much as I love the source material, my character is better served if I stick to the play for my background. A lot of it is poetic license and that's fine by my character, she doesn't mind. Also, I'm always honest. There is no point in making my character a paragon of virtue or a cliche` because that won't translate as depth onstage and no one benefits. It's not in the least bit creatively satisfying. But I cannot dislike her, whatever her faults. If my Miss Miller is a coward (and she is) and tends to crush a child's spirit, or two, then I must accept that as I would accept my own faults. It is easy enough to relate such parts of my psyche to hers, it's a bit like using a pitch fork and just amplifying or minimising aspects of myself until it chimes in harmony with my character. I think. I actually don't know anything about musical theory.

After a few minutes of going into depth about my characters, it occurred to me that I had spent a bit of time thinking for them and getting to know them, without being really aware of it. This motivated me to take some time aside and work on their profiles.

On stage the first thing that I started with was the physicality of the women. They are all diverse enough that this is the optimal strategy for getting into their skins. Unfortunately, I did make some judgments that come from a place of prejudice and I will have to amend this after I've considered the implications of my women's profile on my embodiment of them. Posture is one way that I transport my character back 175 years. People have pretty poor posture these days so it dates you when you have a straight back and tucked in butt. My ballet teacher used to tell us to squeeze our bum cheeks together and pull them in while sucking in our little tummies and pushing our shoulders back and down. She would say, "Pretend that you are a little puppet and someone has a long string from the top of your head up to the sky. They are pulling your head up. See how your chin is up..." and now I picture her every time I'm required to sit or stand with decent posture.
The next thing that informs my body is class. My teacher is a rod and a nervous wreck, because she seeks to improve herself and prove herself to others. My governess is required to model proper posture and professionalism through her gestures. My adolescent socialite and heiress has been trained in deportment classes and sees the examples of her mother, sister, governess and other ladies how a women must carry herself but when she is not under the watchful eye of her mother, she is likely to relax as she has nothing to prove to those ranking below her.
The gestures of my characters must all be subtle and contained because I am not supposed to be the centre of attention. According to direction, ladies would have sat perfectly still and repressed every urge to express themselves physically. This is reinforced by period fiction, film and television representations and advice literature of the time but, historically, women were capable of all the same passions and frivolous gesticulating as I myself am. Certainly in particular periods and places there would have been restrictions but other than the effect of mimicking stillness, there would be no inherent quietness in the body of the female of the 1830's, no matter how much Queen Victoria would like to think so. Not to worry, this restriction forces me to express my characters' unique traits in creative and subtle ways.
In terms of facial expression, I am trying to find a default expression for each of my characters as well as a key feature that defines them. When I find it this feature will be off limits to my other characters and will be my entry into my character's identity.

Other than make-up, hair and costume, the only other external feature that can be used to differentiate my characters from each other and myself is voice. This is why I met my friend. To try and master the elusive "accent."
Like the unicorn that can only be captured by a pure maiden with a hand spun rope of grass, my accents seem to be something that doesn't exist that can only be captured by something that is rare with something else that involves a lot of bloody time and effort! Because I have mastered the ambiguous posh/proper accent of the upper classes (I can only assume) I have my lovely heiress all sorted. I don't really know what I want my teacher to sound like. I've decided that she has a deep voice with a subtle lyrical quality to distract from the fact that she doesn't seem to have come from anywhere in Britain. But it makes sense that a student-professional that spends their days educating children would have developed proper breathing and pacing habits in their speech and would avoid monotony in an attempt to keep their students engaged. My governess is part of a family from Yorkshire, who works in Manchester so it turns out I have to learn a Manchun...mancun... Northern accent (I made that same joke in a text message to my dialect coach- good old recycled thoughts)!
Now, as I type, I am reading these words with a Manchester accent. Not a full-blown accent because m'cotch tolt meh thaht m'cluss woulda trite ta hite ther origins, bah puttink on a'accehnt. I don't think I transcribed that very well, but you get the drift. Basically, it's like learning a whole new language and alphabet and so you may not have gotten that my coach told me that my character's class would have tried to hide their lower class origins by speaking with an accent closer to the Queen's English. However, it would not have been able to be completely hidden and this is what I have to demonstrate. It's a similar philosophy to performing as a drunk person: you do not act drunk, you act like you are trying to be sober.

I have a few pages in my little note book full of my attempt at phonetizising (not a word?) the Northern accent so that I can refer to it when practicising my lines. Another friend is going to lend me The Last of the Summer Wine which apparently is full of the Yorkshire dialect. I will listen to this and hopefully pick some of it up, but I do think I learn an accent, and all it's cadences, by interacting with a speaker and being able to mimic and respond with the accent I'm trying to learn. Because, after all, practice maketh perfect.

Or something like that.


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