THE LINES ARE NOT “THE SCENE”
As psychological studies and experience shows, the communication of feelings is mostly a non-verbal affair. Supposedly 75 percent of all communication is non verbal. So much is communicated between people without words.
Yet, as actors we tend to rely so much on the lines. Of course the words of the playwright or screenwriter are important but they are usually just clues to what the scene is really about. Always remember a scene is not repeating lines, a scene is about human beings trying to influence one another! This is the drama! Drama is people trying to influence one another towards their ideal future.
Knowing the lines is crucial as homework. But it is not acting. Anyone can memorize lines! The following is an exercise I do regularly in workshops to illustrate.
A. What did you do last night?
B. Not much, how about you?
A. Had a bite to eat out
B. Anything good?
A. Well no, not really.
B. See you later.
Do the preceding scene as
a. A pick up scene
b. Husband and wife right after he has seen her with another man.
c. A prison conjugal visit given the one-minute warning.
d. A scene where one owes the other a lot of money
I love this exercise to see how the body language and intent of the actors alters so dramatically when using the exact same lines. This should wean us from a dependency on the lines and lead us to make strong choices about what the scene is about.
YET THE LINES ARE CRUCIAL
One of my pet peeves is when actors put up work when they don’t have the lines down, or have made some basic choices. This is laziness. No great actor was ever a lazy actor. Great actors may have gotten away with lazy work, but no great performance was ever a lazy one. In our rush to be “real”, we think that just picking our navels on stage should be interesting. It isn’t.
Actors have to stop depending on directors and coaches to get them to be better in a scene if they have not put in the work to memorize it and to make some choices. Memorize your lines! That’s homework. Get it down, but when you perform, make your decisions about what the scene is really about and play that, not the lines.