I have difficulty keeping the history of a character. I lose it. I rely on the fact that the audience has seen what I’ve just gone through and I move on to the new event of the story. But, this week, through practice, I learned that expressing a transition in the life of the character CAN’T only be expressed visually; even if the transition is well justified within the structure of the play. For the audience to understand it and be able to follow the journey of the character, they must be able to anticipate it and feel it, it’s not enough for them to just see it.
This is how I learned the lesson:
"We were working on the device “push/pull from the right/left leg”. We were asked to create a story made up of 3 groups of ideas (3 packets – beginning, middle, and end) with 4 ideas each (4 acting beats). So I started creating. In my first packet I was pushing myself forward with my right leg for 3 acting beats until my left leg was involuntarily pulled to the left on the 4th acting beat. The 4th acting beat was an event. The character started in control of her world and her conditions going forward in the depth plane, and suddenly, she was involuntarily pulled to the lateral plane. Up to that point, the story was clear. Also, the structure I created for the story was clear too. My character would spend the second packet trying to regain control of her world and by the final packet she would win it back and push herself forward into the depth plane again. Nevertheless, having a clear beginning and a clear structure was not enough to inspire the audience to feel my transition from the first packet to the second. In that transition, my goal as an actor should have been to inspire the audience to feel that my character was in a new set of conditions as she was not starting the middle of the story in the same confident place where she had begun. Yet, when I presented the story, the feedback I was given was that the transition had felt jarring and arbitrary and that what they saw was an actor who after a short journey (the first packet) had gone back to neutral. Why was that? I did start the second packet with different conditions…
I learned that I wasn’t making enough time for the audience to anticipate the transition nor to keep the transition alive. In other words, I was ending the beginning packet as if it were the ending packet or the ending of the story. It was jarring to the audience because they felt that the middle packet was the beginning of a new story instead of the continuation of the first packet. So, what does it mean to create more time? I learned that I have to start the last beat of the first packet with enough momentum to not only suspend the last action throughout its entire duration, but also to suspend the new conditions (brought by the last action) throughout the duration of the transition. The transition might be very long or very short, but I must suspend the time if I want the audience to understand that I’m expanding on the journey I’ve already begun. The audience thought my transitions were jarring because I had only created enough time to keep the last beat alive but not the transition. So, first, they witnessed the journey of a character lose her power, then the actor stopping in a neutral state and finally the journey of a character who started from a wobbly place gain stability.
I’m happy I had this moment of discovery because it is often in the transitions where actors lose the attention of the audience. I must remember to sow all the acting beats together if I want to invite the audience in o my journey."
~ Elisenda Bassas