VICARIOUS EXPERIENCE ASSIGNMENT
B43-2 January 5, 1961
Every role must give the illusion that it is a “straight” role. That is, if you are playing a 60 yr old banker, the audience must believe that you are a 60 yr. old banker. That is, your age may be 18, but you give the illusion that you are 60. To create such illusions, it is necessary to live the part, as far as it is possible with your equipment, physiological and psychological, to live the part. It is not necessary or even desirable to live the part fully during performances, but in order to create a plausible illusion, it is necessary to live the part through certain stages of rehearsals. If you have done so, habits of body and mind and speech -- behavior -- will carry over to performance and motivations will be discovered which add depth to this dimension of character creation.
A playwright can only deal with dialogue and with stage directions wihich give major pieces of business and action. He cannot give you the subtext, the stream of consciousness which initiates the lines, which is unspoken, which flows past and beyond lines -- that is he cannot create the inner life of the character. He can only give you the outer manifestations of that inner life. It is the actor’s function to discover that inner life, that unvocalized activity of mind and emotions. To discover how to go about this -- one way to go about it -- is to study the novelist’s methods. Actually every actor must in part be a novelist. That is: he must create what the playwright may write: Regina stops on the stairs: “why don’t you all go home?” The novelist writes the same words, but before he writes, and after, he may reveal in several chapters the events of Regina’s life up to this moment and thus give the most complete motivation for the speaking of the line. So the actor, like the novelist, must create this past, which leads to the present moment, to discover the inner motivation for this line.
The prededing pages give the objective of the assignment. It may be summarized: to discover fully the experience of beiing another human being; to live someone else’s life; to lose yourself in someone else.
Select a novel which reveals character fully, which deals with motivation for human conduct, which deals with psychological development of character with inner changes of character, which is concerned with inner changes of character, which is concerned with inner action rather than outer happening. Stay away from thrilling plots, sensation for the sake of sensation, etc.
Having selected a possible choice, read a few chapters, stop, think through what you have read. After a few moments, do you find yourself thinking, not as you: but as the character in the book? Read on, repeat the thinking process. do you find yourself seeing things about you, not as you but as the character might? That is: does your chair become another chair, does the atmosphere, the light, the room itself, change? Read on and repeat the process. Do you find yourself thinking thoughts you never would think? Do you feel these thoughts, pushing you into the action the novelist had described? If your answers are yes, you are on the way vicariously to live another life. Daily even before you finish the book, improvise in situations which the novelist gives or which he suggests. Try flashbacks. Do you find your attitudes changing, your walk is changing, your carriage, etc. Try it out in class. Add new improvisations every day. Enlist someone to be another character of minor importance. Improv with him -- what new traits developed? Habits?
Take new situations which require growth, deterioration, development, change. Put your character in situations witha minister, an artist, a doctor, a teacher, the opposite sex. Is an inner direction developing? Are compulsions developing? Desires? What is most important in this life? What road is this person traveling? Where is he going? Why? When behavior and words become inevitable you have become another person. Try all of these stages in class.
FINAL PRESENTATION: Onstage: this character in a situation from the novel which reveals the character with another person. Objective: audience belief that you are this character: to lose yourself in the role.