So, I know I am posting this blog right on the heels of the other blog, but they really kind of go together.
Acting between the lines. What is that? What do I mean by that?
Well, in my opinion (other opinions may vary), this is the thing that separates saying lines you’ve memorized in a funny way from creating a real life character on stage that’s funny to watch. Acting between the lines is simply what it sounds like. It’s what happens BETWEEN your lines.
When I watch performers, they often fall into a trap of being a specific character ONLY when they are speaking. When they speak, they gesture, they have energy, they convey emotion, and when they stop speaking—they don’t do anything. They drop their arms to the side. Their emotional life stops. They disengage from what is going on onstage. Their character disappears. And then, suddenly, when they speak—BAM! Their character is back! They are re-engaged.
In my opinion (and again, this is just my opinion), I feel like the best acting shows up between the lines. It shows up when they are listening and reacting to other people. Acting between the lines is what makes a character “come to life” as opposed to simply having someone on stage “playing a character.”
Now, this is NOT permission for people to steal focus (read my previous post). “Chewing scenery” and being distracting is not staying in character and acting between the lines. It’s mainly rude and inconsiderate to your fellow actors. (Unless the script calls for you to chew scenery. Then, by all means, go for it!)
The best way to help actors act between the lines is to help them find out what their character “wants.” For instance, if your character wants to eat a pie that is on the kitchen table, then every word and action is all about getting that pie (until he’s convinced otherwise). And this want, for the character, in that moment, is the most important thing in the entire world!
When an actor discovers what their character wants, it keeps your lines from just being lines. Now, when the character knows what he wants and keeps that in the forefront of his/her mind, their lines and actions are all focused on one thing. They have direction (or what snooty actors call “motivation”). AND, it keeps actors from stealing focus, because instead of doing something random and silly to fill time, they have a purpose for their actions. Having actors know what their characters want helps the directing process as well. Now, all the characters’ wants are crossing paths and bumping into each other and—it’s a beautiful mess. You may even find hilarious/meaningful moments when no one is saying a word.
Also, sometimes a character’s want changes in the script. But, the character is always wanting something. They could go from wanting to make peace between two characters to suddenly wanting to rip both their heads off. They may want to show off their singing skills, but after everyone laughs at them, they may want to hide from the world. Every character wants something. And that “want” will help the character stay alive in between the lines they say.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you done anything with your actors to keep them from only acting when speaking? What kind of things have you done to help an actor bring a character to life OR bring your own character to life onstage?