Improvise – like a playwright
IMPROVE SCRIPTED WORK THROUGH IMPROVISATION
I love the Meisner Technique as a tool to help actors (and people for that matter) become better listeners. The key is to begin listening to the subtext under the words rather than just the words themselves. However the mistake many actors and teachers make is to over simplify acting and forget the importance of the words. The great plays over the last few decades that have won Tony awards and Pulitzer Prizes demand our respect as actors. Then again at the same time any scripted material, when done correctly, should have a certain spontaneous element to it. The actors in a scene are memorized but their characters should be living the situation for the first time every time. The character doesn’t know what is going to happen, what they are going to say. The character… is Improvising. Today I’m going to share with you a simple exercise I’ve developed in our master class at Dearing Acting Studio.
Exercise: Improvise Like a Playwright
- Grab a great play
- Begin by taking a great play by one of the greats – Neil Simon, Edward Albee, John Patrick Shanley, Arthur Miller etc.
- Do a cold read
- Put two actors on stage in front of the class and have them cold read a scene. In the cold read ask the actors to breathe, project, connect and above all else highlight the writing. Tell them that the playwright is the star of this exercise and their job is simply to breathe life into the words. Many times these scenes are extremely successful because the pressure is removed from the actor “trying to be good”.
- Analyze the scripts
- Discuss with the actors what moments stood out the most from the writing and why. What moves the writer make to surprise us?
- Now take the same two actors and have them improvise as if they were playwrights. Tell them to connect first and then dig into their creativity to find monologues, non verbal reactions and non sequiturs.
- Finally the actors go back to a rehearsed script. They should transfer the same spontaneous feelings from the previous improvisation onto the script.
Hope you enjoy this exercise as a way to bring new life into your scripted material.