With all of the big shows being done all the time, it is a wonder that anyone can find originality anymore in their character choices.
"Originality, the ability to express oneself in an independent and individual manner." That is the definition available on www.dictionary.com. But what does that mean? How can you, as an actor, find that individual meaning and place with everyone doing the same things? The answers may surprise you. Look, I don’t pretend to be right all the time and I don’t pretend to have all the answers—what I do is draw on past experiences and I use those experiences to try to help other actors find their place in what is arguably the most competitive business on the planet. And in that business, you have one thing—YOUR craft.
Let’s face it… In today’s day and age, we live in a world where, 99% of the time, we are doing a role that someone else created, then revived… then revived again. Even in the media, we read reviews and it is hard to spot a review that doesn’t compare an actor to the original portrayer of a role. To me, that’s an insult… to the current performer and the original performer as well. Personally, I have been honoured to have been given the role of the Phantom in Geelong Lyric Theatre Society’s production of The Phantom of the Opera. I’ll tell you what… In no way do I want to be compared to Michael Crawford or Anthony Warlow. They are amazing performers… They are amazing because they choose their own ways to portray a character. I don’t want the stigma as being compared to anyone else. When I perform, I want you to see my choices and my director’s choices. Unfortunately, that is the world we live in. So what do we do about it? We fight the pressure to be a copycat of actors who have come before us.
At the end of the day, I will be the first to admit that I look to the stars for inspiration. I look at their choices and I try to figure out a way to work it in to what I want to do and, of course, what my director’s ultimate vision is. But that has to be as far as it goes. We have to find ourselves as performers. Now, I could sit here and tell you how to pull life experiences to make it your own but I am not going to. I could tell you to find what it is you want from the person you’re playing opposite to… But I am not going to. I’m sure you already do that. Keep doing it and don’t stop. I am simply going to give you some simple tips on how to stay away from becoming a copycat.
The first and probably most obvious– Don’t listen to the soundtrack or watch clips after you have been cast in a show—unless you are specifically told to. Listen, I am all about research and preparation leading up to an audition. I will absolutely get hold of every copy of CD, dvd, etc. I like to see what possibilities lay ahead but I stop with it if am lucky enough to get cast in the show I am prepping for. I make sure that from then on in, I don’t watch anyone else’s rendition. That is the easiest way to start sub-consciously making decisions that mirror that of what you are watching or listening to. We as human beings adapt; that’s how we survive. We see what is being done and we see that it works very well so we think ‘hmmmm must work for me if it works for this person.’ WRONG. Yes, due to the nature of some roles, many of your choices will naturally be the same… It’s a fact but I am talking about word for word, action for action… You would be surprised how many times I see this on stage. At the end of the day, I can buy the soundtrack or DVD and be quite content in watching it, but when I watch LIVE theatre, I want to see something different, something original. The word “re-imagine” is not a four letter word so it’s time to take chances.
The second thing I recommend is simply this—read through the text. “No kidding, Andrew”. I’ll bet that’s what you are thinking. But how many times do you really analyse the TEXT. Not just the scene… Yes, break down the scene but break it down by breaking down the text. Read through it and graph out your journey on the script or the score. One of the best pieces of advice I have been given is to read my songs as a regular conversation rather than sing sing sing sing. It’s so much more powerful to watch someone with intensity and intention than just someone singing notes and making it sound pretty—though that is not a bad thing! Text is everything. Again, this is my humble opinion and in no way should replace years of training! But, as with a script, you can take way from this what you want. Start to understand what you are saying and/ or singing and you will find that you see a very original piece of art come out. I’ll use “Alive” from Jekyll & Hyde as an example. I know I said I would steer clear of stars but I have to use one as an example. Again, Anthony Warlow… He is brilliant. Full Stop. He could be singing twinkle twinkle little star and make a masterpiece out of it. He took a song like “Alive” and just gave it everything. It would have been easy for him to sing it with his usual angelic voice but he made choices… He had a journey—an intense one. Guess what, sometimes it wasn’t pretty but it worked. It worked so well! Every word he sang had a meaning and we felt his journey through the anger, the sadness, the brink of insanity, etc… Now, I do not pretend to know how he prepares for his roles but that is the kind of outcome that can happen when you use your text and make your own choices.
Finally, have fun! That’s what this profession is all about! Take chances and go over the top! Don’t worry about someone thinking it’s silly. I have found that when performers think they are going over the top in a rehearsal, many times they are not even close. Don’t be afraid to be wrong but go for it. Show us what you can do. You didn’t get hired because you were like everyone else… You were hired because you had something that the others didn’t. This goes for ensemble and principles alike. Find your story and tell it. If it’s the wrong story, your director will let you know, but have a starting point. It’s always better to give too much than not enough.
When you are performing, you have no one to rely on but yourself. So why try and be someone else? We all love the professional legends but what would the theatre be if there was no new talent re-imagining things? Use the stars as inspiration but find your way. It’s much more interesting seeing something we haven’t seen a million times. Again, with certain roles, the choices will be similar. People do want to see a certain tradition in many of these classic performances… But don’t be afraid to be different. Hone in on your craft and make us, as your audience think about YOUR portrayal after a performance. I am not here to tell you my way is the best way. I certainly would not tell you any of these things and say that it is written in stone.
After all, who am I? I’m a performer… like you. Remember, my choices might not necessarily work for you.