The Character No One Hears – Acting for Real Part 2.1

Simon Keenlyside, Hamlet

Know Who Your Character is When No One is Listening

To my Beloved Tenor who is working on expression, this is for you.

During an aria or even an entire opera, we won’t see every aspect of a character. In life, no one sees every aspect of you; have you ever thought about how much time we spend sitting in silence? I think over-achieving opera singers forget about these quiet moments when all they can hear is the music. Know who your character is when no one is listening- when not even your character is listening to herself/himself. Understand that REAL people are constantly using filters, and in acting for REAL, you have to get to know even the filters that your character would use.

Even in your stillness when sitting on the A train and staring off into space, there is no doubt that you are a REAL person.

A REAL character has so much more UNSAID than SAID.

UNSPOKEN STORY + FILTER + SPOKEN STORY = REALITY

It is your own reality that informs how you introduce yourself -or not- or how you tell a story, how you react to bad news…indeed, it is your own reality that informs how you sit in a silent moment. Yes, as our acting teachers have all told us, “this is the most important day of your life!” during any given scene, but as an opera singer we actually have to show very little because of all the layers available to us that contribute to the unspoken story.

The little that we do show is informed by this REAL character that has come to life in our table preparation. Further, the little that you show allows the voice to radiate out of your character in a very specific way, and you will perform the role unlike anything else your audience has ever seen.

Christine Ebersole, Grey Gardens

In It

Don’t settle for acting “as if”. Have a purpose for every detail in the music.

  • Prefer an internal “gesture” to vocal “gesture”.
  • Prefer a vocal “gesture” to physical gesture.
  • Use cadenza and other stylistic devices to illustrate intention.
  • Play a game of hide-and-seek between context and subtext.
  • Obsess over  the culture and language of the work.
  • Use your own body, your own voice.

TIP!!! After you have done all your table work (who, what, when, where, why), discipline yourself to sit in the long silent moment that proceeds your character’s speech, as if you were sitting on the subway train. I do this for 30 minutes at a time several times over the course of preparing a role or art song. Sit alone and still as the character, then jump right into the piece from that stillness. Alternate between jumping into a spoken monologue and into the sung version.

Joyce DiDonato in Don Giovanni

None of the major Method teachers of the 20th century was completely correct or incorrect, and not all acting styles will work on an operatic or musical theater stage. I sincerely believe that every actor – singing or not – must make sense of his material through an honesty about the world around us.

Mandy Patinkin, Sunday in the Park with George

I developed my own personal acting method primarily from two people: Michael Gelb and Anthony Hopkins. More on this next! 😉

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