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Sometimes ‘the need to speak’ is mentioned when people are talking about speaking out in support of issues about which they feel strongly. This is not uncommon for actors – many have ideas they wish to communicate and they use either their work / their recognition to speak up.
There is something even more basic, though, about ‘the need to speak’ in acting – an issue that is very important indeed, and somehow manages to be overlooked all too often.
As an actor playing a speaking-part character, you cannot act, you cannot play that character, if there is no need to speak. That there is a script which includes your character having lines does NOT suffice!
If you do not know exactly what each word means in its context, you cannot speak your lines. You do not open your mouth to speak in life without having something to say, saying that something in YOUR words. You may get lost / confused / misuse a word, but you don’t try to speak with words you do not know / believe you know.
Nor do you speak if you literally have nothing to say. There will be some thought, some feeling, you wish to convey when you start to speak, whether or not you are capable of expressing yourself well at that moment.
Why is this so important in acting?
The lines you have are composed of the words your character uses to express his / her thoughts and feelings. If you do not connect those words to those thoughts / feelings, to the reason for the character speaking at all, you are not acting. This connects to intention / motivation / expression / target / emotion / thought, the lot.
If you cannot understand why you speak those particular words at that particular moment, you cannot play the role.
This is one of the reasons why time may be spent on breaking down a script and working over sentences. Often more attention is paid to lines when they are removed from contemporary everyday speech – older texts or those more ‘heightened’ in prose / poetry, with particular rhythms, pauses, speech patterns written into the script. But attention should ALWAYS be paid to the words you speak, no matter how obvious they may seem.
The language your character uses must become a language with which you are familiar and comfortable. It must become the vehicle by which you try to express yourself and affect others within the play. If you cannot connect to the language you will be speaking, you cannot verbally express the script you have been trusted with bringing to the audience.
‘The need to speak’ is the expression of thought and feeling in that moment which is the only way in which you can act at that time in that situation which you are playing. Without the need to speak those precise words, your character would remain dumb or your lines would have been written differently. Whether there is a huge psychological issue to be expressed, a major action and intention to be followed, or a little light entertainment sought, there are reasons for those words at that time. Understand this and you understand one of the most important basics of all verbal acting.
Any questions? What of quality of text? How can something that is poorly written affect the above?For the Need to Speak related to Shakespeare, see Remember that the present need speaks
An entry well worth reading for anyone interested in the arts and in society’s future, from theatre critic Joyce McMillan, on the legacy of Steve Jobs:
And above all, they would mean a revolution in education, not least at tertiary level; an end to the doomed effort to respond to every vague and fleeting demand of the labour market, a rethink of the ill-advised “commercialisation” of the sector, and a return to the idea of the university as a wellspring of knowledge about the finest achievements of humankind in science, philosophy and the arts – not so much a bestower of “quaifications”, as a source of wisdom, and of the kind of cultural richness and deep knowledge that nourishes creative inspiration, over a lifetime.
This is a fine article on teaching Shakespeare directly, bringing pupils to his language and not creating a barrier by having too low an expectation of how well his works can be understood today.
What do you think?
P.S. The quote is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream when the Mechanicals see Bottom made an ass. Are translations making an ass’s head of Shakespeare?