The Preconceived Idea

£ When my students are presenting a monologue for the first time, they < always want to memorize all the words, come in gangbusters, and present u a complete character ready for the camera. They aren't able to do this on the first try. They panic and freeze, because they don't know what to do to begin simply. I always tell them, "Don't worry, the Academy Awards aren't for another six weeks, and you weren't even nominated this year, so we have plenty of time to explore. Just relax and start breathing. Just look at us and breathe." They experience tension and anxiety because of their own expectations. All I want them to do is to look at us, breathe into the moment, and read the first lines. That's where they should begin.

The unconscious workings of an actor's talent are a vast field of contradictions. No one knows how it really works, but one can safely say that it works differently for everybody. One thing is probably true of everybody though: The things we want the most are most difficult for us to do. If you are up against an extreme desire to do well as an actor, and almost certainly you are (it tends to come with the territory), then you will experience the pressure to succeed. The desire to measure up to your own expectations will be very strong.

In the world of film, with its idols and enormous faces confronting us in the dark, the expectations that you have to measure up to these images can be very daunting. They take on the role of a god or idol, and you will always fall short of your own expectations. It is often the case that in the initial work on a character, these expectations will arise and impose themselves on your work. Your voice will not be connected to the present moment, because you are not connected to it. You are thinking about something in the past (your first impression of the character) and how you want it to affect the results of the future (your performance of the part). It is not the present moment.

When this happens, you have formed a preconceived idea about how the character should be played, and this will get in the way of your discovery process. A preconceived idea will cause you to get stuck in your head. These ideas start to enforce themselves upon your behavior. You find that you are dictating the moments to yourself to comply with your preconceived idea. It is possible to stop this from happening by simply concentrating on the breath and going back to the body and your own organic reality of the moment. The breath will breathe life into the moment, »g and you will start the process of discovering the parts of you that the | character has inspired. 03

Very seasoned professionals can create characters that they have played -g in various incarnations almost instantaneously. Comedians do this all the 12 time. They have done their groundwork, and now, they are just delivering ^ the goods. Students and actors who are trying to expand their instruments ~ have to go back to the discovery process. Even seasoned professionals, ^ if they are worth their salt, continue the discovery process instinctively at g every chance. They have learned through experience how much more exciting their work is when they do this.

THE INNER MONOLOGUE WITH TEXT

Let's go back to sitting in the chair. You have just read the first line of the monologue. If you find that your preconceived ideas about the character are already at work, then just stop, take a deep breath, and try to do the following:

1 Believe that your inspiration will make sense of all the things that you are trying to do, and just stay in the moment. You must trust yourself. Don't try to answer all your questions at once. Remember, at this point, it's not about right and wrong, it's just about doing and investigating.

2 Check the eyes and the back of the head for rising tension, and release this tension by sighing or making the AHHH sound.

3 Speak your thoughts aloud as in the Inner Monologue. Place all judgments of your performance of these exercises on the character. In other words, if you are very critical of yourself, then the character has a critical nature. If you feel too big and strong for this moment sitting in this chair, then it is the character who has these feelings about her environment. Whatever your thoughts, speak them out loud.

If you find yourself getting stuck in your head, try Gibberish.

Make loud AHHH sounds to release the buildup of mental and physical tension.

If you feel nothing is happening, then do the same thing you did in step #3: Put the way that you feel on the character, and make very loud AHHH sounds. Speak your thoughts out loud.

Occasionally, look down at the text and say whatever line your eyes see. Don't be concerned with order; the page has the order, and it will be there for you later. Allow your inner instrument to use your breath and your voice without your interference.

Keep going back to checking the breath. Make sure you are getting enough air.

9 If you are a trained stage actor or a singer, try not to fill your chest with air and support before you speak. Speak softly, so you don't need as much support. Be diligent about checking for tension in the upper body region.

10 Go back and forth between the Mental Relaxation, breathing, sighing, the text, Gibberish, and the Inner Monologue, until the text is just another part of the discovery process, no more or no less important than the other things that you are doing. Give your own words the same power as the words of the character. Keep moving forward into the next moment.

11 If you feel the need to get up, move around, or lie on the floor while you are doing these things, please feel free to do so, but stay in the chair for at least twenty minutes before getting up. If you get up and move around too quickly, you can miss some of the more subtle impulses that are very useful to this process.

12 After at least forty-five minutes, pick up your Journal and write. Write whatever you like. It's best if you can write an assessment of the exercise, adding your thoughts about the character as you go along. You can also include any revelations you have had about yourself. However, many times you'll want to write about something that seems, at the time, totally unrelated to the exercise you have just completed. Don't worry about it, just go ahead and write whatever comes to you first. There's usually important information there that you will be able to use later on.

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