Thursday, September 25, 2014

Check out the actors' playbook

The NYC cast of Becoming Calvin--September 21, 2014
This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing my play Becoming Calvin performed in a staged reading by some very talented actors in New York. We were not quite on Broadway, but almost, in a lovely church space just off of Times Square. Some of the actors have been with this play from its very first readings, and performed in its 2012 run in Washington, D.C.  But others, mostly NYC-based actors, heard the script aloud for the first time on Friday night. I reprised my 2012 role as director, and worked through each scene briefly. By Sunday afternoon the cast was ready to present it. They were already starting to inhabit their characters, and the play came alive. As a playwright, it was quite a gift to see and hear the script work while being read by new voices!

When I wasn't in rehearsal (which was most of the weekend) I had chance to catch up with friends who have interesting jobs in New York working with some Very Important People. One of my them was telling me about a boss who had a reputation for being a poor public speaker. This boss speaks a lot, in very high profile situations. "What makes her so appalling?" I asked. It seems she reads what has been prepared (in her case, by a speechwriter), then, feeling her point has not been made sufficiently, goes on to extemporaneously restate everything she has said in the speech. So of course her speeches usually run twice as long as they should. And her audience is always either bored or confused! Certainly not the desired outcome.

In my speaker-training business, I hear variations on this complaint all the time. Often I am brought in to address this issue, to help clients climb out of this trap. I advise them to follow my actors' example and trust the text. Actors learn very early on that their job is to interpret the work of the writer, to clarify it, share the underlying meaning with the audience. They never, for example, would stop a scene to explain to the audience what just happened. Their job is to embody the playwright's vision so clearly that the audience experiences it, too. The only way they can do this is to start with the assumption that the text is their primary tool. 

Speakers need to take a page from my actors' playbook and trust the text. Even if a speaker prefers to be less scripted, looser, more like a stand-up comedian, preparation is key (see my post Giving Thanks for Sarah Silverman). Comedians have a rhythm to their sets, have rehearsed, have chosen what to do when. They gifted ones make it seem "spontaneous"--just liked gifted actors--but very little has been left to chance.

If you are going to be speaking, the time to revise a text or script (to simplify it, or put it in your own words) is not at the moment of performance or presentation. That is work done well before you share your message with the audience. You need to make sure your text says what you want it to, yes, but before you step up to deliver it. Then, trust your text, let its message filter though you, and let the audience be a part of that experience. Otherwise, why are you there? You'd be better off just passing out a copy of your speech and freeing your captives.

No comments:

Post a Comment