Acting is so a totally new thing for me. I love learning, so it’s perfect for me. I’m so surprised at how different acting can be from dance from musicals, considering they are all stage performances.
The only other time I had to speak on stage was for my part as Gloria in Bye Bye Birdie. I only had eight lines. Roque told me exactly what to do for most of it, the dancing badly part was up to me, as long as it was bad. This was great for my first time speaking and with such a small part. It was very doable and gave me a positive experience saying lines.
This time there is a whole play full of lines. I can’t even count them all. 70-something pages worth. I’m not on all of them, but Sylvia being a four person play, there aren’t many I’m not on. So there is no way that the director can tell me what to do and how to say every line.
So I’m learning how to do that on my own. I’m listening and watching my follow actors. I’m taking note of other’s corrections, like you should in dance. I’m trying to figure this new world out.
Right off the bat I learned not to put my spin on the words. Specifically, make sure questions sound like questions, and if it’s not a question, don’t make it a question. I also noticed from the others that punctuation gives you the key as to where to make your slight pauses in speech so that everything doesn’t run together. And, much like regular public speaking, one must not speak too fast.
Now I’m trying to figure out two other things; pace and intonation. Even though things much be said recognizably, that doesn’t mean all at the same pace. You can speak faster or slower. My character, Sylvia, uses this a couple of times. It delineates changes in her behavior. When she is yelling profanities at the cat, she goes at a faster pace. Then, when she’s done and turns back into the lovable dog we know, she slows back down. It makes her break in character from what we’ve been expecting that much clearer. Also, in the second act she starts having her moments of telling the humans what it’s really all about, she slows down even more than her normal speaking. She is at her most human-like, the humans she’s speaking to finally seeing the reality of her and the situation. Then she speeds back to normal pace when out of it and being her regular lovable dog self. These are little cues to the audience about how the dialogue is meant to be taken and helps their reactions to it.
Delivery is something I have just become aware of and am trying to work on. There have been lines here and there that the director has changed the way I say them, but this week there has been discussion on delivery as a whole that I found very informational. You can’t think of how you would say these lines, but how the character would say them. That seems logical, but I realize now that that was my mistake in the beginning, one that the director fixed by changing lines here and there. Now I see what she was doing. Also, a director might ask you to do something that you wouldn’t think would work, but they are thinking in the context of the whole play, including all characters. This struck home with me because when I first read the play I had thoughts about how I would play Sylvia. Now that we’ve been rehearsing for a while, that is not how she’s being played, and I really can’t see playing her any other way. I can’t even really remember how I would have played her in the beginning. I guess that’s the evolution of a piece of rehearsed performance art.
Back to intonation…the way I say the words can give my character depth. Not just what I’m doing while saying them, which is what my dancer-self would like to think. Some choices are easy; all my “hey”s are my barks, so they have to be sharp. Some are not, like anything I say twice shouldn’t be said the same way twice. I don’t think I was thinking about that at all, just went into doggy cruise control. Doing them all the same doesn’t really impart any emotion in them. I can say the second one slower, which I think shows I’m considering what has been said to me. There’s another time when the second one is more sweet, like I’m really trying to please. So I can see how this will help my character.
I don’t have many of them, but when I have long things to say, I have to do something with them or they will be flat. The director helped in one where I can look away for a bit, and then look quickly back to whom I am speaking for extra emphasis. And sometimes in long bits there is a change in the emotion of it, and that change has to be marked in the delivery, either pace or intonation, or both. I have to got through my passages and figure those out.
If you don’t mind the language, read A.R. gurney’s Sylvia. It’s the best modern play I’ve ever read.