Advice to Actors: Just Give ‘er. Go all in.
Tomorrow is tech day for Dracula: The Musical1, with an opening performance on Wednesday at Chapel Arts. It is a ridiculous show, a delightful cartoon farce. While I assure you it also has a through-line that makes sense, here is a clip our marvelous director showed us early on, to get us in the mood:
For me, the greatest aspect of working on this show (aside from the marvelous, wonderful people involved), has been being told directly to go as large as I want, to make the big choices, to let myself get carried away. So when I, as Van Helsing, am startled by the sudden emerging of Count Dracula, I can do the somersault backwards and try to swim along the ground to get away. I can be a magniloquent proclaimer. I can prove the superiority of garlic by biting directly into a clove of the stuff.
We, as an ensemble, together with Andy Toth’s brilliantly sophisticated and childlike sense of humour, have built an entire show full of these large and comic moments.
But when discussing the show with others, I am unwilling to call the show ‘over-the-top’. Because it isn’t. Every one of our moments works as an extension of these characters acting in this situation in the kind of world they live in. Believe me, throughout the rehearsal process, we tried many other gags that were over-the-top, that were ‘too much’. How so? Because those gags weren’t honest; they weren’t grounded in the insane-asylum almost-panto-esque world of Dracula: The Musical.
But to have that freedom to just give ‘er, to go all in, to take my character and go DO what I felt like doing in that moment in that scene… not only has that been my favourite aspect of working on this show, but I think that every time I have crafted a great performance, this has been the case. The world of a silly farce and the characters within may vary greatly from Shakespearean heroes or theatresports concoctions. A procedural detective on a television drama won’t flop about the floor like a fish, for example. But I think I am at the point where I can trust in myself enough to let go of the ‘is this too large for screen’ or ‘am I hamming this up enough’ internal directorial comments and just breathe in the scene of that world.
I can trust my instincts and do what I want to do. Try what I want to try. And if it doesn’t work, the director will tell me. But so many of our wonderful moments in this play emerged from someone just doing what felt appropriate in that moment, at that second, as their character. They were rooted in their character and engaging with a ridiculous scene in an appropriately ridiculous manner. And yes, hilarity ensued.
We did an exercise in my final year at UVic where we recorded ourselves reading sides for various television parts. The first time around, cognizant that stage acting won’t directly translate onto a close-up for a camera, I pulled everything in, emotions, emphasis, all of it. The footage came back flat and unremarkable.
Last month, VADA graciously held a free film workshop where we all were given some sides, and had the opportunity to look it over for a few minutes, then get up in front of a camera, and deliver them. And while initially I thought about camera placement and whether or not I should get myself in the mindset of performing for an audience of one (the camera), as I have done many times before, for whatever reason, I went ‘screw it, I’m just going to have fun and be this person as best I can’. And they all loved it. Kept using the word ‘quirky’ over and over again.
There is great power in the idea of just give ‘er. Of going all in. Of being as honest and present as you can, and trusting in your own awareness of the world your character lives in. It’ll only ever be over the top if you’re not engaged with what is going on around you.
I genuinely believe that we have a hilarious, beautiful show here, and I hope you can come out to see it. Feel free to stick around afterwards and say hello. 🙂
1(note: the show is actually titled Dracula: The Musical?, but putting the question mark in every time just wreaks havoc with readability. Also, apparently I can do footnotes on my blog. Be wary. Very wary. For I am a Terry Pratchett fan.)