Oh What a Rogue and Peasent Slave Are You (For Not Understanding “High Art”)

Screw. You. Shakespeare

This isn’t an open letter to good old Bill, mind you, I hold, and have always held, a deep love for all (Most) of the Bard’s works. Even still, screw you, Shakespeare, for ruining shakespeare for me in high school. Its not the words I hate, its not the writer, its not the content, its the way that people read them.

Nothing in the world can possibly be more sexually deadening to me than a perfectly enunciated Romeo and Juliette said in a perfectly iambic metronome. Its something akin to imagining the sweaty effort your parents made that earned your little white tadpole a seat on the 9-month egg express.

The joy of acting isn’t found in the words, its found in how they are said. I am of the firm belief that anyone can be inspired by Henry V’s “St. Crispin’s Day” Monologue, or that anyone can know pain by hearing Titus lament the destruction of his daughter. The power of those words isn’t as much in what they say, its how people say them. That seems obvious, doesn’t it, that the power of the Bard’s words are in how they are said. But we have a habit of taking ourselves out of the equation when it comes to Shakespeare’s works.

The joy in seeing one of Shakespeare’s works isn’t watching a perfectly rendered period reproduction with original accents, its in seeing an actor take words we have heard thousands of times, and saying them so we listen like its the first time. Like that first time that we actually heard the words spoken with emotion, not from a high school teacher, not from a monotone reading, the first time we heard someone actually MEAN those words.


Monologue as Music

So this is a thing I discovered via the usual route (being Stumble, of course), and something in it struck me. Zander, herein, talks about Impulses. This is best seen, he says, in young piano players pounding out a sonata or prelude. They hit every single note as an impulse, and the key to exciting and interesting classical music is to take one impulse, one thought, one motion, and use it to carry the entire piece. Some similarities between this and acting intrigued me.
It is increasingly common to have a director tell you that you should know every motivation for every single line you say; each line has to have a motivation. While I don’t doubt the validity of this statement, it leads to what Zander might call “two-cheek” playing.
Think of motivation as Impulse. Having a different impulse, and a different motivation for each line leads to a way of reading lines more befitting a nervous high school student than an actor. Find out where your impulses are, and use them sparingly. The longer you can carry a single thought through a monologue, the better. Big simple thoughts are more easily transmitted through a piece than hundreds of small ones. In an audition monologue, for instance, you should only ever use one impulse, one thought. And that impulse carries from your first words, until you walk off the stage.