Talkin’ About Fake Stage Love
I want to acknowledge something you guys do well.
We are relatively good for a high school at complex language. It was the thing we got the most praise for with Learned Ladies: we understood what we were saying!
We are getting better at really talking to each other and responding to each other on stage. The kids who went through Improv Training last spring know just what it means to actually listen in a scene.
We are comfortable with each other.
It’s this last thing that is going to help us conquer one of the great hurdles of high school theater:
FAKE STAGE LOVE.
The fear that most high school kids have is that if they are too good at creating the illusion, people will think it is real. Worse, they fear that their scene partner will think that their actor’s feelings are real. Their best solution seems to be to not try very hard to create a convincing illusion. This is why so many romances in high school productions are so unconvincing. It may help the kids get through school, but it ruins the play. I was lucky in that our directors would've murdererd us if we ever started dating a co-star. (It's very bad for the reputation of the theater program and the respect for craft of ating, and they took that stuff deadly seriously.) My high school directors were super-intense, and basically treated us like young professionals. The expectations of high schoolers aren't that strict any more; which is both good and bad.
Then there’s another problem: most high school kids don’t have tons of dating experience, so there is not much life experience to draw from. They worry: “I don’t know anything about this! I’ve never been in love!” This rarely stops kids who have to play murderers. Fake Stage Love is a lot like Fake Stage Murder: you don’t need to have lived it to imagine it. Remember, we have a shared vocabulary from film and television and theater to draw from.
When I was a teenager, I found the hardest part of Fake Stage Love was also the most important: the eye contact. Oh, I was super good at garden variety eye-contact. But looking at a scene partner with love/lust/longing was REALLY HARD! I knew that my scene partners were seeing a look on my face that was both real (because those were my physical features following my emotional understanding) and not real (because I was in love with the character, not the actor.) It took me some time to get used to the emotional vulnerability, and I struggled with being generous enough to create the best illusion I could. I got better as I got used to the initial discomfort of the vulnerability. Full disclosure: I always memorized my romance/love text first, because I needed that text solidly in my head so I wouldn’t forget my lines while freaking out about having to kiss a boy. Escpecially when I was cast opposite my best friend since kindergarten, who was essentially my brother. That was icky. The only thing that saved us was that we were playing clowns, so our fake stage love could be more funny than romantic.
On the other hand, Playing romance as an adult was super fun. Everyone in the room was a professional. Plus I was older and more willing to be vulnerable and let people see my face in any emotional state. I tried to imagine how I could’ve convinced my teenage self to be more generous and willing to create a decent illusion for her audience, because it’s really fun when you aren’t tying yourself in knots over it. I don't think there's any magic thing I could say oher than: you look like a total boss actor if you can get over yourself and go for it. You know what to do in your mind, so do it. Finally, I was really invested in wanting our audience to root for us. I love sitting in an audience and seeing well-played Fake Stage Love.
You may have noticed by now that all my talk of Fake Stage Love centers on eye contact, facial expression, and vocal emotional resonance. That’s the part that’s actually hard. But it’s also the part you can practice (save for eye contact) in the peace of your own home. For a lot of actors, Emotional Recall/Image Transference is the most helpful technique. Here’s How: Picture someone you have a crush on/have dated/would date, etc. Concentrate on all the happy feelings, and allow them to exist on your face as you experience them. Don’t worry about what you look like. Think the thought, experience it emotionally and let it play on your face simultaneously. Then do that while saying your lines, and let your emotion exist in your voice. Cast anyone you like as your mental scene partner—no one can see inside your brain, so be honest! If you’ve trained yourself to mask your emotions, this will take some work. But once you are comfortable with the experience of thinking about romance and letting that play on your face while you speak text when no one is around, it will be easier to look your scene partner in the eye.
You can also steal like a bandit from movies and tv. What do your favorite screen couples do to create a good illusion? I’m always taken when a Fake Stage Couple remembers to play that they just plain like each other—it’s not all tortured passion; they actually are friends who respect each other. (that’s why I couldn’t root for Olivia and Fitz; where’s the friendship?)
Helpless Doorknobs’ “round robin romance” scene calls upon Mads, Brooke, Tommy, Montana, Maddy, and Bailey to each create (in very short moments) multiple convincing illusions of Fake Stage Love/Lust/Passion. Brian and Lydia have the even harder job of telling the story of falling in love and acknowledging it. But you are all up to the task, and you have scene partners you can trust to collaborate on really good illusions for the stage. Try to focus on the opportunity to create a difficult illusion effectively (as you do when it’s time to Fake Stage Murder), and practice until you have reached some level of comfort with the impending vulnerability. We will acknowledge that it's hard in rehearsal, and will focus on one question: "will the audience believe the story we are telling?" If we trust each other and are generous enough to pull this off, we’ll get mad points for level-of-difficulty at VTA. Remember that you aren’t alone in feeling nervous, uncomfortable, and vulnerable. And then think of your audience, which in this case is largely made up of teenagers, who—regardless of what they say out loud—are really invested in watching the illusion of two people in love, because they spend so much of their waking time thinking about romance/love/sex/affection.
As they say, “the unthinkable is undoable.” Do the homework to think about how you will create an effective illusion of romance, know that your scene partner is also nervous, and believe that everyone can do a really good job with this. It will be easier to do in rehearsal if you do some preparation now.