“An actor’s job is to excite, surprise, make one feel,” Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Blythe Danner honed in on as she critiqued the monologues of 12th grade Drama and Musical Theatre students preparing for college auditions.
On her third visit to NOCCA, Blythe again gave students a primer on acting, breaking down what worked in each student’s performance and helping them discover ways to take the character further.
She prodded, she urged, she pulled emotions out of students as they intensely focused on the every word from the master artist. With great care and honesty, she helped them understand the hard work, generosity and courage required of acting.
To one young actress performing a soliloquy from The Importance of Being Earnest, Blythe suggested, “it is always good to put something in your way, as an obstruction, to give you something more to get across.”
To another actress telling her love she plans to marry another, Blythe explained, “you’ve got to let it rip you apart. You were brave enough to come to him on the day of your marriage, but what you are doing is frightening, correct? I want to see that conflict in your body language.”
To an actor working on a monologue from The Glass Menagerie, “Tennessee Williams knew how to combine humor and heartache. Your mother in this scene doesn’t understand what you are saying. Torture her with what you’re going to do now. Get to her in non-linear ways. Have fun with your anger. You might not end up performing it this way but it will help you discover the character.
How do you start to develop a character was one of the many questions students asked. “If you go through the script and make every other character a part of you,” Blythe offered, “you will always have some empathy, even for people you hate. Having an understanding of all the things other characters are going through helps you develop your own emotions.”
“As a young person, it can be hard to find an experience in my own life to connect to what a character is going through. What can I do then?” asked another student. “You just have to find a substitution to get that emotion going, though certain roles without real life experiences are too difficult.”
“Should you choose roles by whether they are character-driven or leading?” asked young another actor. “You should be open to everything. Don’t limit yourself. Whatever comes your way, take it because you’ll learn something from it.”
“Acting is reacting. Surprise one another when you are working on scenes together. Do something different today from what you did today. The best actors I’ve worked with threw the ball from a different direction each night.” To answer a student’s question as to her most fundamental goal, “I want to let the play wash over me and take everyone in the audience with me.” She took every student to a deeper understanding of their craft that day.