The first thing every actor should do when they are preparing to play a role is read the script. But, why? In Shakespeare’s time actors learned their lines in isolation and were never given a full script. They just learnt their cues. So why should you read the full script? Well, here are my thoughts.
Actors are storytellers.
Understanding the given circumstances of your character and the characters you are in relationship with will give your performance depth and nuance. As an actor you need to make choices about what your character knows, and what they don’t know yet. What they discover during the scene. Knowing the full story will give you all of the information you need to play your character. That’s not to say you should play your character as if they know what is going to happen to them. But, the script will have information about your character and how they respond to information and changes in circumstances that will inform your performance.
Reading the full script will keep you on the same page as the rest of the cast. Remember you are all playing PARTS of the same story.
You Get to know Your Writer.
You are a storyteller, so you need to know your writer. Every great writer has a storytelling style. Their own flare. Their own genre almost. Reading the full script is the best way to understand the mindset of the writer. I would extend this to their other works. If I am preparing to play a role on stage I like to read other works from the playwright.
For screen work, I will watch other work from the writer and director to get a feel for their style. If you want to build a detailed understanding of the tonality of a writer’s story; read the entire script.
We recently interview one of the leading acting coaches in the country, Kevin Jackson. He urged actors to not only read the script, but the entire works of any given writer. Including works in other forms such as poetry, short stories and more.
Build your Performance.
You are a storyteller, so you need to build your performance. Structuring your performance to suit the journey of your character, as well as supporting the play as a whole, is what separates professionals from amateurs.
All the best stories follow some kind of narrative structure. So what is the structure of your journey? In general a character’s journey will follow a pattern of progressive tension. This means that the tension between your characters needs and the stakes related to achieving their goals will constantly progress. They will fight progressively harder and harder to win. With everything climaxing at the climax of the play.
We’ve all seen performances that peak too early and then go nowhere. That’s the performance of an actor (or director) that hasn’t fully read and understood the entire script.
Reading the script is invaluable for understanding the world of the character. If this article hasn’t convinced you, just give it a go on your next audition and see how it influences your work.
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