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How To Deliver Award Winning Lines – Advice For The Actor

First let me clarify that ‘Award-winning’ in this context refers to an effective and distinctive performance as opposed to the

undeserving awards that often compromise our events.

It is important to point out that new techniques of acting are always being discovered and explored. Acting can easily be compared to ICT where new software applications are the order of the day. It is therefore folly to insist that you have the best and most perfect approach and ignorant if you think that the approach you used in the past is still the most appropriate in the present. This is how our old school actors and directors get and remain stuck in a rut.

Acting techniques have been evolving since time immemorial beginning with our very own African ritualistic ‘theatre’ and musical performances to the patriarchs and matriarchs of modern acting techniques like Stanislavski, Sanford Meisner, Michael Chekhov, Utah Hagen, Viola Spolin, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Oh Sae Tuk…just to mention but a few.

As a continuation from the last blog post, here is a game-upping procedure that has helped me master my roles:

 Depending on how you want to approach the scripted story, you may decide to read the whole script or only read what relates to your character. I remember a script in which I decided to ignore the other characters and developed my own character in genuine empathy of his background and recent realities. I was properly shocked when I watched the show and discovered that I was actually the main villain in the show! Some directors may choose to do that intentionally to enable the actor explore the positive traits of the antagonist. All in all, you must understand the background of your character and the environment that affects him.

 After that, read your dialogue out loud. Look at the lines and read only as much as you can store in your memory. Look away from the script, breathe in and out and say it as naturally as you can. Let every word released be an honest reflection of your feelings. Do not worry about the words that you don’t connect with emotionally- say them as flat as they come out of your mouth. For example, if you are saying, ‘I love you’ and at that moment the word ‘love’ does not mean anything to you, do not try and emphasize it.

 Moving on, read out loud the lines of the other character as well. After you finish, repeat what the character said in form of a question. For example, if the character’s line was ‘I love you too’, you will say loudly, ‘I love you too.’ Then repeat the statement as a question, thus you say “Did you say that you love me too?” But before you look at the next line in which the character you are playing is supposed to answer, give your own genuine answer such as “Heck, now I’m in trouble.”  Maintain the emotion and expression you have used in your own genuine answer as you read out the answer offered in the script, such as “Of course darling.”

This technique has a little bit of Michael Chekov’s philosophy and Practical Aesthetic method. Although it might appear long and challenging at first (But you Try Meisner’s and you will think twice about this!), it enables the actor to avoid working from the intellect which only promotes secondary emotions. This is not to say that intellect is to be ignored but in order to redress the balance between intellect and emotion, emotion must take the front lead, if only for a little while.

It does benefit a hardworking actor who would like to dig deeper into his/her work. The most important and neglected part of learning text is preparation. You may do well to remember that during a performance, you are, as an actor, the piece of art. Only there is no canvas. The audience wants to ogle and consume every moment that you have to offer.

Feel free to share some of the methods that have helped you as an actor/ actress deliver on your lines in the comments’ section.

If You Cannot Deliver Your lines, You Cannot Act.Period.

The Schools’ Drama Festival begins this week. Soon the chosen venue will be a buzz of activity with each group being chiseled by their demanding teachers to fit into roles. Sadly this won’t be the role of the characters they are playing, but rather those demanded by judges who have refused to encourage the end of melodramatic acting. It is a pity that after school, actors who come from this style of acting will run to the audition rooms flushing their certificates and awards from the Drama Festivals- only to go back home without the role and not understanding why.

Some are wise enough to start from scratch. Most of us had to be re-schooled and groomed during set book acting. Here the directors and producers are usually kinder to the ‘cause’ and spend a lot of time and energy assisting upcoming artistes. The situation today is however grim as many actors in East Africa do not see the use of stage acting and therefore have no space to horn and develop their talents. As the demand for actors rises especially with the coming of age of digital migration, many directors and producers have had to contend with actors who either come from the melodramatic school of line-delivery, or those who simply do not have a reading habit and therefore struggle to relate with text. The result is that the audience has to endure dodgy on-screen and theatrical performances, cleverly disguised as ‘professional acting’.

I remember a short while ago how excited I was as I rushed into the cinema to see a much publicized film that carried high expectations since the producers had a good track record. The movie started on a high note;- the characters were really believable in their features and expression. The main protagonist looked the part and was very interesting to observe…until he opened his mouth to speak! It was clear that he could not consume the well written lines and translate them into believable moments. He made you feel like wanting to repeat the word he delivered on his behalf so that he could repeat it more effectively.

This experience taught me an important reality. After all is said and done, as an actor you are on your own. When the audience “bears with you” as you struggle to deliver your lines, they will not know that you never attended drama school; they will not know that you competed in a drama festival which only required of you to speak as if you were presenting a choral verse; neither will they want to know if you are semi –literate or whatever challenge the average East African actor has to go through. For them you simply cannot act!

In the next post, I will give a tip that may help you acquire good line-delivery in time for your next break-through role.

Meanwhile I’d love to know how you prepare for your role 🙂

THE BIGGER PICTURE: How the whole production affects you as an actor.

Acting is a challenging profession; one that is guided by two paradoxical attributes: artistry and entertainment. Although these two share a lot in common, they are each inspired by different factors.

Entertainment as a business guarantees revenue. It develops a repetitive and consistent formula which will ensure that the client (in this case the viewer) comes for more, hence the different genres on TV. Artistry on the other hand has a deeper desire to cause lasting effect in the hearts and minds of human beings- possibly in an ingenuous manner.

In order for these two important attributes to be used effectively by the actor, several aspects of the production must be on point. Unfortunately this is usually not the case in East Africa; a place whose viewership expects “Hollywood” quality on a “Riverwood” budget. With the steady but sloppy increase of local TV and ‘cinema’ productions, the actor is the most vulnerable when it comes to viewer criticism. This is because the average East African viewer knows very little about the filming process and may easily compare an actor in a drama series to a singer who simply goes into the studio and produces songs with relatively less complex production. They are, after all, all artistes, right? I doubt you as an actor will have time to explain to all your viewers what went wrong on set and therefore you must be ready to take blame for every aspect of the production that will affect your performance.

I remember I once filmed a role in a family drama in which my character had come back home to his family drunk, angry and bruised. During filming, I did a couple of takes in which, with the permission of the director, I played slightly differently. The final product that was aired was however slightly disjointed and lacked continuity. It showed my character coming in with a limp, extremely drunk on one cut then appearing as not drunk and without the limp in the next cut. A friend later pointed this out and since he was not in “the industry” translated this to mean an inconsistency in the acting. I could not convince him that the problem had been in the editing. And how will I ever forget watching my friend give her best performance during the premier of a hyped movie; for her character to get into her bedroom with a bruised cheek dressed only to go back out to the living room with her cheek conspicuously smooth…the elastoplast vividly missing!

An actor’s final performance is affected by many things most of which (s)he does not have direct control over. Like me, you might at some point have been disappointed when watching the final production that you spent lots of artistic resources developing appear below standard when aired.

In order to avoid this, as a professional you must do your ground work before going for an audition or accepting a role – offer. First, you want to know who the producer of the show is. No matter how good every aspect of the show may look, if its producers have bad records or you are unsure over their ability to deliver, then accept that you are taking a great risk. As you may agree, we live in a region where the talented have no resources and those who have, have no talent. You also want to know who the designated director of the show is.

Directing is an art and just like any form of art, it is easy to identify one’s style and quality of work. Do not expect a miracle from a director whose last job was not satisfactory or up to standard. Many directors in our region are more keen on the cinematography (I’m being kind. It’s really, just declaring angles of shots to be taken) aspect of the film at the expense of character development. It is counted as good luck if you stumble into a director who rehearses with you before the shooting day or sets a one on one to discuss the character you are playing. You can tell of this scarcity by the great number of actors on our screens who cannot relate to the characters they are playing.

Due to lack of supportive structures in the young industry, an experienced actor will usually ask deeper questions that will also touch on quality of sound, set management (I know you have beef with being called to set early and shooting hours later or not shooting at all) and casting. For as you may know, a bad actor can easily make a good actor look bad. But this is a topic for another post.

Reflecting on a profound experience – Sundance Institute Writers’ Lab in Salt Lake City.

This year I came back home a night shy of the tragic fire that engulfed our Airport after almost a month of interacting with creatives at the Sundance Resort in Salt Lake City.There was no time to miss America or even encourage the jet lag since my production projects badly required my attention.Now four months after the dust has settled,I begin to nostalgically and critically compare the Sundance Institute experience to our own East African productions.The muse decided it should be in form of a letter of appreciation to the organizers.

Dear Sundance Institute East Africa team ….

This email had long been written in my heart and my mind but I came back home into production duties of our TV show. I want to really thank you for the opportunity granted to me as one of the East African directors who were able to meet together for a second time and also network with other practitioners outside Africa as we observed and participated in creation of magical work. I’m glad that you are still supporting this kind of work.

I have a long list of experiences that were beneficial to my artistic knowledge.The ones that stood out were observing the relationship between the playwright and director in developing a story.I realized how helpful it was to the writers to “hear” themselves. The talented directors had a unique opportunity (directors rarely work with writers in East Africa ) to dive deep into the playwright’s artistic pool and even re – discover what the playwright “meant” but was not able to articulate.These incidents were magical and eye-watering.

I’m still impressed by the extremely high level of organization that was maintained through out the workshops. From the time a wonderful and kind volunteer assistant came to pick me up at the airport , to the running of the rehearsals and even making sure we retired comfortably in our designated rooms. I’m still amazed at how the leadership was able to manage the crew so efficiently and still be able to make everybody feel cared for and significant in the success of the project.

After (and due to) The workshop at Utah:

I have made friendly and professional contacts with some of the artistes from the workshop.First , the East African directors, who are now a family.We try our best to keep in touch and encourage each other in our individual projects , and with other great participants that I met at the mountain. I guess I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart 🙂


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Philip replied:

Thank you so much for sharing what you learned at Sundance and for your gratitude. As I’ve said before, it works both ways. All of us at Sundance are grateful for your participation, for getting to know you as an artist and person, and also for your lovely warmth and generosity. This bond between the people of our Institute and the other artists you have met will only continue and grow. Sending much love to you,

Philip

Philip Himberg, Artistic Director, Sundance Institute Theatre Program

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Roberta also replied:

Dear Rogers, Thank you very much for taking the time to write down these valuable thoughts. I’m glad to hear that the connections you made at Sundance are continuing to develop. We’re all looking forward to hearing your updates!
It’s a joy to have you as part of the Sundance family. Your contributions continue to enrich our program and the experiences of everyone involved. Thank you! Roberta

Roberta Levitow

Co-founder and co-director, Theatre Without Borders

IGNITE GUMZO-Fun club for kenyan workers.

Need a break after a day of meetings and proposals? We’ll get you back to the madness later but meanwhile, join us for our regular 1st Thursday of the month evening conversations.

FREE and open to all, our talks will revolve around a range of lively topics affecting professionals and organizations alike.

You can stage a skit with your colleagues.
Sing about an outrageous news story.
Engage others in discussing the latest world crisis is how you unwind, why not?

Ignite Gumzo is an informal session to escape the merciless clutches of your demanding job and a chance to network with other professionals, our evening presents a chance to explore passions that you ditched after college.

It will be light, easy and casual and anyone can participate.

Come along and let your guard down and don’t forget to have FUN!!

Alien in my own country

This morning I was listening to a radio link. My first thoughts were of the American accented girl, whose voice was eloquent and hyped up. I smiled wryly to myself as I thought about how western culture has been so engrained into Kenyan culture even when it comes to the dialect we use when we speak English. Having an American accent is not only a cool thing but nowadays it is associated with the bourgeois class, the upper echelons of Kenyan society apparently should be speaking like a yank. With this in mind then those who speak English with a Kenyan accent are regarded as either strange or from an inferior background. Of course it is not said but it is felt.

I remember about two decades ago when I was a kid and I could watch people practice the American accent either by cramming lines from a movie or a popular rap. I must say even I am guilty of this in the past and man, could I pull it off! Little did I know that years later the urban culture and indeed that of the whole East African region will be determined by old movies, cd’s and magazines cheaply dumped or pirated into our country from the west.

These media products penetrate individual and collective domains of African lives, impregnate their tastes, their reflexes, their modes of thought and even everyday decision making, manipulating people to conform to capitalist requirements and to superfluous or illusory needs.

The Rugged Priest Premiere

Last night was the opening of the 5th Annual Kenya International Film Festival. The film shown was The Rugged Priest, the story of Father John Kaizer an inspirational Catholic Priest who stood up for human rights in Kenya.

The film was a refreshing advance in the Kenyan Film Industry. The actors and storyline were sensational. The picture looks good (including stunts and action). Well done to the cast and crew.
Make sure you attend the Kenya Film Festival. There is going to be something for everyone so click on the link to the KIFF website for the schedule.

Informal interview…nice overview

As far as interviews go, this one had to be the most informal but probably the most comfortable.
Ugandan-based-Australian journalist Laurie May and I met for a chat a few months back for Studio Edirisa.
It’s a pretty good interview about My Moving Home, worth having a read of. Click here to check it out!