I love the theater. No, I mean, I love it. I love doing it. Now I love teaching for the same reasons. They come from the same place.
This kind of love isn’t a casual one-off statement thrown into dinner conversation. It is core for me from a place I couldn’t begin to verbalize which is what knocks me out about large ideas—love, belief, and sacrifice—those ideas. They are bigger than words and their origins mysterious. Even undefinable they are an engine that can keep you in motion.
Though I no longer act I shifted into some place equally fulfilling by teaching. And not teaching acting, but teaching writing. I had no idea this is where I would land but once here, it felt like meeting an old friend who had been waiting for me. I began to see how my years as an actress donated to this transition.
The other day in class my long time pallie Mitch Ryan who has spent a life time acting in almost anything you have ever seen said, “You know, I don’t care a fig about TV and movies. Theater is where it has always been for me. Writing feels that way too. ” Mitch is someone who, after a long career in acting, dipped into writing and found it wasn’t such a stretch. In fact, many of the people I work with are theater actors, already sharing practice and principles with writing. We love the theater because we get to slow down and find what works and why. We get to make it ours and it’s easy to love writing for the same reasons, process being the glue between disciplines. You will find if you have been spending time in one, you can borrow from it for another.
Okay. Think about this: when you are doing play, all you have is the script and the story on paper. Then you begin to say the words. Throughout rehearsal, you add movement, and intention reflected bythe behavior of the character. You are bringing the words to life by interpreting them with your body, your inflections and your expressions. That same element of behavior is key to good writing. The actor “behaves” in person, in writing, your characters must “behave” on the page.
Try these examples on:
“Bill reached down the whiskey bottle. His big hand went all the way around it.”
“Dennis carried the drinks outside then, the plate of sandwiches on top of one of them.”
–Alice Mc Dermott
“He went into the kitchen and drank two glasses of water. He turned off the living room light and felt his way along the wall into the bedroom.”
“He put his hand on the dead boy’s wrist. He was quiet for a time, as if counting a pulse, then he patted the stomach, almost affectionately, and used Kiowa’s hunting hatchet to remove the thumb.”
…and then, probably my favorite and certainly most charming…
“Wherefore, the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of strong imagination, he failed.”
Look at your lines of dialogue and see what you can offer the reader by way of gesture, attitude and movement to demonstrate a feeling. Show it with behavior. It’s fun. If you find this puzzling, then sit down and remember one big family dinner. Go around the table of aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and describe how everyone eats; now that’s behavior!