“Words Fail.” Anonymous.
Words are never enough. That is why theatre is not creative writing. Theatre is not drama. Drama is the written word, the literature. Theatre is the art form that requires actors, an audience, and sometimes sets, lighting, sound, properties, and costumes. Once we start taking the plays out of the theatre we start to run into problems. An English professor will approach Shakespeare differently than an actor. Don’t let yourself be dragged down that path because the professor will make you intellectualize it. That is the quickest way to make Shakespeare boring. Theatre has to attack you viscerally. It should take you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Don’t believe me? Have that same professor describe a roller-coaster. Tell me if that sounds exciting.
Theatre needs a strong visual element. It needs action. The audience needs to see a real person trying to achieve a real something. Theatre can never be a narrative. It can never be a retelling of a story. Every moment on stage must be created then and there. The actor must show the audience a heightened real life. And he must do this through action. We have so many expressions that say the same thing. “Pictures speak louder than words.” “A picture says a thousand words.” “Don’t tell me! Show me!” We all would agree with this but on stage we tend to rely too heavily on the words.
So let us rely on action for a moment. Try to tell a story using just action. Use no words or sounds. Do not mime the story. Think of this exercise as a silent movie. You must tell the story physically. Once you get good at story telling, try nuance telling. In other words, try to express more than a basic plot line but how you feel about the story. How does the story affect you? Run through this exercise several times and try to fill each moment with a physical action that communicates something. As a final test, have someone take several photographs of you, at no predetermined time. See if the snap shot communicates what you were trying to express during that moment. It is better if the photos taken were of the low or “boring” moments of the scene and not the climax. Of course we will show something during the high moments in the scene, but what about when you are just sitting around?
Try taking this exercise into your scene work. I have found that this is a good way of being in the moment. You cannot show something about your character at every moment if you don’t understand every moment.