​© 2017 by Holly Shaw.

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Performers & Creators Lab

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Actors, How You Can Breathe Life Into Bad Writing

May 31, 2017

Have you ever had this happen at an audition or reading?  

You find yourself faced with having to act out writing that makes you squirm when you read it?    

As actors, most of us are taught that text is king.  Especially if we've been theatre trained, we are likely to hang on the writer's every word and look for clues into the mystery of our character there.  So, what happens if that relationship breaks down and, as you read the words of your character you feel lost, confused, or even angry when you look down at those words and think,


 

"What am I supposed to do with this?" 


Well, first let's just take a deep breath. . . and exhale.

It happens every now and then that you come across writing that doesn't land well with you. But I find that best possible thing you can do is to - hold on - it's gonna sound crazy, but

 

You Must Make Them Right



Yup. No matter how bad you think it is, how inconsistent, how halting or confusing, you must find a way to make this words on the page come to life.

Remember, the script is just words on a page. . . you - oh, great actor! - and your unfailingly creative imagination are the ones who are going to be able to breathe life and dimension into these words.  The words are just a starting point.

I think the biggest mistake that actors make when they are faced with the challenge of writing they don't understand or is difficult to interpret is to make the writer wrong.  Ahh, noooo! Do your best to refrain from those nasty little judgements because that will lead you nowhere fast.  And, it just screws up your vibe, man.   

 

 





Here are a few tips for how to get through a challenging script or sides:



1. Ask questions.  If you have the opportunity, choose one or two questions that you think would be the most clarifying.  For example, "what am I supposed to do with this?" is not a good question. "Where is this character from?" is a more clarifying question.  


2. Do try to work with what you've got in the script.  Just because you think it's bad doesn't mean that you should go totally rogue and add an accent that is clearly inappropriate or ignore the clues into your character that you've been given.  


3. Try think outside the box.  Could these words make sense with pauses in-between them?  Or said sarcastically? Or as though you're distracted? If your character was saying them while chewing on their fingernails? Maybe the line reads sappy to you, but could actually work well as a joke.


4. Use your body.  Having a hard time intellectualizing the words? Then don't.  Move with them.  Allow yourself an opportunity to focus your attention on your hips and let your hips say them.  Or let the sound come from your shoulders. Try moving with a gesture before saying your line to see if the words can come organically out of that thought, experience, movement.  "Breathing life into a character" sometimes means simply that.  You have to breathe and move in order to give it life.


5. Make them right.  Above all, do your best to make the writer right. Make the situation right. Make the casting director right and of course, make whatever you do right.  Try to be kind with yourself through the process.


When you can hang in there with a "bad" script and find imaginative ways to make it right you might be totally surprised to find the work elevated to a whole new level. . . 

And yourself doing some of your most genius work yet.

 

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