Saturday, 22 December 2012

Strength in Subtlety

The reason I haven't been able to write a diary entry as often as I'd have liked to recently is partly due to my work at a little theatre near my house where I've just started doing lighting and sound design for the plays.

I have been at the theatre for performances and rehearsals nearly every day for the last two weeks. But tonight was our final performance. The play we were doing was none other than The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde.

It's a brilliantly funny play about a couple of aristocratic young men living in England in the 1890s, who both adopt an alias in order to visit the women they love. Both adopt the pseudonym of Ernest, yet neither are actually called Ernest, which is problematic because both the girls they are in love with, have a complete obsession with the name, and it turns into a terrible catastrophe when they are both found out.

But what I noticed after months of rehearsals and six performances, is that while there are many good one-liners, and the script is deviously clever and witty; the moments that are truly hilarious, the moments that you talk about the rest of the night, and don't ever forget, are often not the ones written in the script, and are certainly not the large, boisterous jokes that demand laughter.

I noticed that the humour really lies in the subtlety. The widened eyes of a man in shock, the pouted lips of a girl on the verge of a tantrum, the devilish smile of a cheeky friend. It's these things that really make a show what they are.

While there is always a time for bigness and loudness, I think the most meaningful and important aspect of any performance lies in its subtlety, because it's easy to tell someone a story with words and dialogue, but it's much harder to convince them that the story is real based on your acting alone.

Because whether or not a person believes you are who you say you are, is not based what you say, but how you say it. And if one detail, one characteristic, one mannerism, is slightly out of place, the illusion is gone.

In fact, if you were to take out all the dialogue, and perform a play to an entirely deaf crowd with no interpreter, using only physical acting. You need to be able to tell them exactly what's going on without using your words.

I think that should be the ultimate test for any actor. To let them use only physical acting. Too many plays revolve around only verbal acting. But the real strength lies in subtlety.

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