Me: I’m glad you did too. You’ve really found your voice and you have an effortless natural talent for improvisation. It’s enviable.
Student: I almost didn’t come. It was quite out of my comfort zone and I was also expecting you to be a real flakey, hippy, air-head type. But you’re not. You’re really down to earth.
Me: Aren’t I just a little bit weird?
Student: <laughs> Yes, Danielle, you’re weird, but you are also down to earth and what you have to say makes a lot of sense.
Conversation with a senior student at the end of the academic year.
It’s amazing how often we let expectations stop us from experiencing new people, places, and knowledge building opportunities. Imagine how limited our lives would be if we allow these expectations to be our guides.
You expect you’ll not like a food because it looks or smells so different from what you normally eat? I would never have discovered that mushrooms are my favourite food if I’d gone with that philosophy. You expect travelling overseas by yourself might be lonely or even unsafe. No-one is willing to travel with you so you just don’t go. I would never have adventured all over the northern hemisphere in my twenties if I’d thought like that. Nor would I have met some amazing friends and learnt some extremely important life lessons. You expect you won’t get along with a person because they dress so differently, or like heavy music, or smile a lot, or not enough… imagine the friends you’ve missed out on? The lessons their acquaintance may have offered up? Like the man I watched TV with in a tiny hostel in Venice Beach. Everyone else thought he was scary. I thought he was interesting and imposed myself on him and his mini black and white TV. Once he got over the grumps and realized I wasn’t going away he started chatting to me. He’d had a really interesting life and was actually a lovely man.
Expectations about narrative and character can also limit the actor.
If you expect a character should act a specific way in response to a situation, you will never give yourself the opportunity to explore possibilities. You will miss an opportunity to add colour and depth to a scene.
You will bore your audience because you have not challenged your knowledge, skills and performance, in turn, you have not challenged them.
I don’t know about you lot, but as an audience member I am sick of having every little detail over explained. Exposition in dialogue should be cut. It’s “show, don’t tell”, not “show and tell”. I like to be challenged when I see theatre or watch a film. I like to take part in the story-telling journey and bring my deductions together with the storytellers at the end of the play. It adds to the pleasure of the experience, makes me use my brain, my senses, my creative and critical thinking processes. It’s fun and, in theatre, makes me feel alive.
So, too, when I work with a character do I want to go on that journey. I take mental note of my first impressions of the story and the character. However I lend these impressions no more weight than any other conclusions born of my character development and analysis. An actor should never stay and live within the first analysis of their character. This analysis is often tainted by our uninformed expectations and should not be wholly trusted. They are merely the first step of many in an exciting journey to breathe life from a page.
When I am casting a play I will develop expectations of what I might be looking for in my actors. I will make note of what these are and then I will discard them. If I stuck to these expectations I am sure I would have missed out on the most interesting options each and every time. When I audition and actor I want to see what they might be able to bring to the story, what they might be able to teach me about their character and how it can add to the rich medium of storytelling in live theatre.
When I am writing for my students and their audience, more often than not their family, I begin with the most obvious ideas and the natural expectations attached to them. And then I “what if” the hell out of them. I think, as a teacher, firstly about my students and how these narratives and their characters might offer them ways to practice and develop the skills we’ve been working on. How I might challenge them vocally and physically, and take them slightly out of their comfort zone. I also think of our audience. How can I give these people something interesting to watch. How will it engage them and allow them to engage with their children in character.
It’s about acknowledging the expectations and then journeying well beyond them to experience the unknown. How exciting is that?
So, if there is one thing I can urge people to do this year, it’s to challenge your expectations and choose to grow. You never know what you might find.