An Actor’s Notebook: A Character Stuck in the Moment

This is part 2 in a three part series.  Part 1 and Part 3 are here…

“I still remember your role as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof”, said my friend last week.

“Yeah, anytime I can play a bearded, middle-aged, Russian, Jew I jump at the chance,” I said, “because it’s so much like me!”

Now if you know me at all, you hear the irony dripping off my tongue.  I am only close to one of those attributes.  So that begs the question:  How do you possibly play a character that is different from yourself?  That, my friends, is the magic of acting…

…but if we’re at all honest, we all are acting in real life from time to time.

So the goal is to live in the skin of another person for a time.

Some call this walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Some call it the key to negotiation.

Some call it selling out.

I call it acting.  But that still doesn’t answer the question…How?  HOW?…because the ways in which I am different from this other person seem bigger than the ways in which we are similar.  For example, my character in our upcoming play, Interval, is a man named Alan Mitchell.

Alan-Alan is time conscious…I’m not, but I’ve learned to be.

-Alan is an account executive and a numbers guy.  I’m not.

-Alan is methodical.  I’m not.

-Alan is separated from his wife.  I’m not.

-Alan has lived in two major cities (San Francisco and New York).  Fort Wayne is a big city for me.

But we are also similar in a number of ways that allow me to start to understand him.  This is just the beginning of my list…

-Alan likes cashews.  I like cashews.

-Alan has one brother.  I have 3 brothers.

-Alan is a lousy and hurting Christian (his words, not mine!).  I too am a lousy and hurting Christian. (my words, not his!)

-Alan lost someone he loved tragically.  I too have lost someone tragically.

-Alan never had an example of how to grieve or deal with crisis.  I did.  My grandfather lost his youngest child.  A son.

That still doesn’t answer the question though, does it?  HOW DO YOU ENFLESH A CHARACTER THAT IS SO DIFFERENT FROM YOURSELF?

A friend of mine recently posted an article entitled “8 Acting Techniques (And the stars who swear by them)”.  The article starts w/ the grandfather of modern acting technique, the Russian director, Constantin Stanislavski, and continues from there explaining the acting techniques.  I learned both Stanislavski and Meisner’s approach in college so I’ll start there.  Simply put, Stanislavski encouraged a realistic style of acting through “emotional memory, dramatic and self-analysis, and disciplined practice”.  Meisner took that and pushed actors to, ““live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances.”

Since then, I’ve added the GOTE method to my process which is similar to the “Practical Aesthetics” described in the article.  Basically, it gives you a simple acrostic to help you do what Stanislavski and Meisner were describing.  GOTE stands for “Goals – Obstacles – Tactics – Expectations”.  As an actor, you have to discover this for each character you play.  Here is Alan’s GOTE list…

Alan’s Goal is to live again.  He is dead on the inside because of a tragedy, being separated from his wife and then living in a new city with a new job.  The Obstacle is that he doesn’t really know how to get his life back.  He doesn’t know how to get his wife back.  He just doesn’t know…so his Tactic is to move to New York and start over.  His Expectation is to find love, find a job, find a missing shipment and find life or die in the attempt.  Would that be through suicide?  I don’t think so, but there is a level of desperation for him.  I think U2’s song, “Stuck in the Moment” is Alan’s theme song…

For now, Alan is trying to figure things out…trusting in second chances…trusting in God’s faithfulness…trusting in love…because this is just a moment.  This time will pass…

And when I think about it, that’s not so different than me.

*This is part 2 of the Actor’s Notebook series.  Click here for Part 1 and Part 3

**Interval is part murder-mystery and part relational comedy.  The all for One Production Fort Wayne premier takes place Sept 19-21 at the ACPL library theatre downtown.  Call (260) 622-4610 to reserve your tickets.

Early Bird Discount Tickets: Available up to Thursday before opening performance
Adult $15, Senior (60+) $12, Students $10, Groups of 10+ $10 ea.

At the Door Tickets: Prices take effect opening performance Friday
Adult $18, Senior (60+) $15, Student $10.
Group tickets are not available for At the Door purchase.

Performance Times:
Friday & Saturday performances begin at 7:30 PM. Doors open at 7:00 PM
Sunday performance begin at 2:30 PM. Doors open at 2:00 PM


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