Shakespeare: Background

The Modern Actor and
Language Driven Text

There are some basic foundations actors should follow when working with classical or language driven text. Simply put, they are as follows:

Familiarize yourself with the world of the play and the style of theatre utilized in that play in order to identify the playwright's intentions. Do not take "the world" for granted and impose your own modern or personal ideas onto time or culture. A great example of understanding the importance of a style of theatre you are performing relates to subtext: Shakespeare, for example, had his characters speak their innermost thoughts out loud, and therefore the text itself IS the subtext. This is quite different from a Tennessee Williams' play where you are asked to live in those silent moments in between and the audience feels your innermost thoughts.

Always read the text out loud — and don't rush to make choices as to meaning. Listen to sounds and rhythms and listen for repetitions of sounds and words. As you read out loud, allow the integration of language into your voice and body. Explore your actions physically and vocally, think about how circumstances might affect your movement, how costumes restrict or give freedom, how temperatures of a place in a particular time inform your character and how the confines of gender or sociological behavior might affect what you can and cannot do.

Play your objectives with specificity and intention and listen to what another says to you. And always remember to be aware of the stakes, especially in terms of status and relationship.

Lastly, give yourself time for all ingredients to sift in, and don't rush to conclusions as to who you think your character is or depend on stereotypes — trust your homework and what goes on in rehearsals, and inner life will be stirred.

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