How do you stay faithful to the script yet keep the acting truth in your performance through wind, rain and illness 8 shows a week for a year?
I came across a paper in my research (more on that in another blog) from Helga and Tony Noice that put the problem (and the solution) in a nutshell.
“The overall picture that emerged from these studies was that actors regard their primary job as doing “for
real” whatever the character is doing. So, if the dramatic situation calls for character A to plead with
character B, the actor playing character A actually pleads with the actor playing character B. He or she does
NOT try to look and sound “pleading,” the plea must be genuine and made at the moment of utterance
Furthermore, the actor must pursue that intention truthfully at every performance (or
during every take in a TV or film studio), which requires that the actor allow himself or herself to be
influenced by the behavior of the other actors. This keeps the scene alive. The chemistry between the actors
will vary subtly from performance to performance and affect how the intentions are played.
A further point that emerged from the protocols was that the fulfillment of the intention had to be “doable” at
every performance. That is, the actor had to choose intentions that were not only implied by the script, but
that could be executed regardless of circumstances, when feeling sick or well, on opening night with a career
possibly riding on the outcome, or at the 300th performance of the role when torpor threatens.”
Artistic Performance: Acting, Ballet and Contemporary Dance
from ‘Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance’
So the next time you have a particularly difficult duet or scene to learn and you need to find your acting truth, experiment with the idea of communicating with the actor playing the role opposite you. You can keep to the script but include anything new, unusual or spur-of-the-moment that you both decide to include within the framework of the piece.