The Hardest, Most Useful Technique for Actors: Identifying Actions
Time to start identifying and playing actions!
WHY CAN'T I JUST DO IT THE WAY I ALWAYS DID?
I'd argue that if you can get through the inital period of confusion and struggle that accompanies any new skill, playing an Action on stage will make you a much, much better actor in the long run.
GRUMBLE, GRUMBLE, OKAY. I KNOW THAT AN ACTION IS THE THING I WANT TO GET FROM MY SCENE PARTNER, BUT HOW DO I KNOW WHAT I WANT?
When an actor has no idea what s/he wants onstage, sometimes s/he'll look at a list of verbs to see if anything shakes loose. This is why there are published lists and books full of Actor Verbs. Armed with a verb, you can play the moment thinking "I want to CRUSH you," and that desire to CRUSH will inform how you say your lines, and what you do with your hands and body. And if you are playing CRUSH, and that turns out not to work in the scene, it's no big deal. In fact, playing something wrong is better than doing nothing, because now we've learned something about the moment. Here's a link to a good list. Make a copy and print it and glue it inside every script you ever work on for me.
WHY WILL VERBS MAKE ME A BETTER ACTOR?
Sometimes the character comes right out and says "I will crush your skull." Beginning Actors read that line and think "wow! that's a mean thing to say! I'll say it in my meanest voice!" To an extent, that will work. But by deciding that the line is "mean" the actor has entered the dreaded world of judgment, which is a limiting trap for an actor. A better way to approach that line is to ask the question "why." Every actor should look at every single one of his/her lines and ask: Why does my character use these particular words, at this particular moment to this particular person?? By answering all three parts of that crucial quesstion for all your lines, you may discover that your character is not being mean, but is making a skull-crushing threat in order to tease, frighten, contradict, seduce, squash... whatever. When you work with verbs, your work as an actor becomes more nuanced, because you are focused on getting a response out of someone else, rather than only focusing on how you were going to say the words. If you were there and can remember, it's the difference between The Crane Wife (where no one was communicating with each other although it was a production full of energy, craft, and star head) and Juliet's work in Shakespeare's R&J, or the mother in And They Dance Real Slow in Jackson. Both of those actors were focused on their scene partners.
We know that a good actor has the ability to make an audience feel what they feel, but it's almost always because the actor is actively trying to make another actor feel something, and the audience gets caught up in the transaction.
HOW CAN I THINK ABOUT MY ACTION/VERB AND STILL REMEMBER ALL MY LINES?
This, my firends, is why you have to know your lines early and cold. Your lines have to be the least of your worries, because there is this great big exciting and interesting world of acting out there that you can only get to if your lines are locked in.
You can do this! Let's all go for it!