Check Your Heart: How Do You Celebrate The Victory Of Others?

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Being an actor simultaneously requires extreme vulnerability and an extremely thick skin. When auditioning for roles, you’re the product you’re promoting, and so it’s easy to take rejection personally and evaluate yourself against the other candidates.

This in turn, will make room for discouragement and comparison and ultimately transform into resentment and bitterness – not a place you want to get into, for your own sake and for the sake of others.

Because of this, it is important you continually check your heart and motives. A good way to check if you’re heading in the right direction is asking yourself the question:

Am I able to genuinely celebrate other people’s (or, in this case, actors’) successes?

We all know envy is not a positive virtue. Once it takes hold of you, it spreads like cancer. If you need a visual reminder, watch Amadeus and look at the effect envy has on Antonio Salieri’s character.

I can’t promise you its absence will be a guarantee for a successful acting career, but what I can promise is it’s necessary for the sake of your own heart and creative life.

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

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At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your own heart and actions. And as an actor you don’t want to numb your sensitivity through subtle jealousy.

I find the art of acting and creative storytelling so beautiful, delicate and precious. If done well, actors can change and heal the hearts of their audiences through their own vulnerability and honesty. They can explore, challenge and reform humanity like no other artform.

What I find inspiring about films and plays, is the teamwork it requires to realize a vision. The entertainment industry is all about teamwork and that is, in my opinion, what life is all about. Realizing dreams together through community, cooperation and relationship with one another.

This requires humility and choosing to love one another even if we don’t feel like it, celebrating one another’s successes and being united in an attempt to make this often cruel world a bit better.

I’d encourage you to be on guard against feelings of resentment and jealousy, even if they seem subtle and take action on your behalf to combat it with love and turning it into a motivation to pursue more excellence in your own creative craft.

 

Why Angelina Is One Of The Most Remarkable People

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Angelina Jolie is one of those actors who would have the ability, means and even the excuse to withdraw from any work or the public eye if she wanted. She could be satisfied with her success, after being deemed one of the most beautiful and rich women alive by the media, and having won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

She is an extremely busy and recognised woman, and I have no idea how she manages to balance everything. But all the awards and successes don’t seem to be enough to make her slow down.

Ever since shooting Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in Cambodia and her exposure to the worldwide humanitarian crises, she hasn’t stopped being involved in humanitarian causes.

Hollywood actress and Oscar winner, Angelina Jolie, looks at an Afghan refugee making bricks at a bricks kiln in the outskirts of Islamabad

Upon receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, she shared in her speech:

“[My mother] was very clear that nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others.”

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Sure, Jolie didn’t always have the best reputation or set a great example. She’s always been considered a bit of a wild child. She’s been divorced three times, was accused of being a homewrecker, and the list goes on…

She doesn’t deny any of this, instead she recalls:

“I came into this business, young and worried about my own experiences and my own pain. And it was only when I began to travel and look and live beyond my home that I understand my responsibilities to others.”

She has gone above and beyond to take her mother’s advice seriously. She knows at the end of the day, what matters is not how good you’ve been in what you’ve done, but how you’ve used what you had to do good and love those around you.

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It’s such a common trap for one in the entertainment business to be self-absorbed and see a powerful performance, recognition or fame as the end goal.

When talking about her past, Jolie recalls being “absolutely self-destructive.” She continues, “I think a lot of young people in this business lose their way. You don’t know what is of value. You don’t know where you are. And you know something’s wrong, because it isn’t life as it actually is. It’s like living in some warped reality.”

She’s been exposed to the ‘real world’ with its cruelty and injustice, and she’s thrown herself right in to do something about it.

Her humanitarian efforts include the fight against the refugee crisis, conservation and community development, child immigration and education as well as human and women’s rights. Rather than just donating money and raising awareness about the crises, she’s determined to go there herself, visiting the respective people groups and taking time to hear their stories and giving them a voice.

I’m fascinated by her not stopping her involvement in film entirely. Now that she’s been exposed to more pressing matters, she could have seen the film industry as less important, but no.

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She is still doing what she loves. She acts, directs (shedding light on other actors), writes, and tells stories which challenge and encourage her audience, while being dedicated to her many humanitarian efforts.

Jolie isn’t perfect. She knows this, but she’s  trying to be the best she can be. Let’s cut her some slack, and use her as a source of inspiration instead of a target of criticism.

Are you living in a warped reality? Is it possible that you’re focused in achieving something that doesn’t matter at the end of the day? What legacy are you leaving behind? Is your life/art/craft of use to others?

Even though you probably won’t have the same means and resources as her, there’s always a way to invest in the lives of others and get a shift of perspective. Use Jolie’s willpower and drive as an inspiration.

 

What is it You Really Want? Finding Your Objectives

BY ANNETTE LANGE

If you’ve had any training in acting, you’ve come across the idea of objectives. While I’m not a master in using them effectively, I’ve improved and found principles I thought I’d share in order for you to act as believably as possible.

Laura Bond, author of TEAM For Actors: A Holistic Approach to Embodied Acting, has a section in her book on objectives which helped me immensely. If you want further explanation, check it out here.

Objective – Something aimed at or striven for

Synonyms – aim, intention, goal

People are governed by what they want. Every human being has desires and acts accordingly – they are our driving force. The same applies to our characters.

Determining the objective of a character is a bit more complicated than thinking what your character wants in a scene. It’s easy to choose ineffective and weak objectives. Below are some guidelines to help you determine effective objectives:

Where are your character’s needs rooted?

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First of all, you will need to understand your character’s basic needs and motivations.

Is your character seeking to fulfill basic physiological needs (hunger, thirst, sleep, physical comfort) or is your character desiring security (shelter, order, stability etc.)?

How about their social needs? Is your character primarily seeking love, acceptance and relationship, or is he/she really looking for ways to satisfy his/her ego (achievement, independence, prestige, recognition)?

Is your character driven to gain more knowledge or striving towards beauty? What if your character can’t be bothered by beauty, but ultimately seeks spiritual fulfilment?

Try to determine which of these needs your character is primarily seeking after, bearing in mind their needs and values might contradict your own.

E.g. “My character wants to be loved.”

Are you referring to your character in first person?

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Rather than talking about your character in third person, identify with him/her as soon as possible by talking about your character in first person. This obviously applies to your objectives as well.

E.g. Instead of saying “She wants to be loved”, embody your character, bridging the distance by saying “I want to be loved …”.

Does your objective call for your partner’s participation?

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This is straightforward. Don’t forget to involve your scene partner(s). The other character(s) is normally also the reason for conflict. If there’s no conflict, you will not captivate your audience.

What is your character’s relationship to the others in your scene? What do you want from them?

E.g. “I want him to show me he loves me.”

Are your objectives focused on what you want?

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An easy trap to fall into is focusing on what your character doesn’t want. First, understand what he/she wants before you focus on the obstacles.

Figure out the positive aspects of your character’s journey.

E.g. Instead of saying “I don’t want him to fall in love with her”, say “I want him to show he loves me.”

What is the desired outcome?

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What would be the perceived victory of the situation in the scene be for your character? What could the other character possibly do or say in order for you to feel victorious?

Make sure that you have a clear picture of what that would look like. Be specific.

E.g. Instead of defining your objective as “I want to be loved,” try “I want him to say ‘I love you’.”

Is your victory difficult to attain?

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Creating a sense of urgency in the scene will aid you as the actor immensely.

Actors normally call this ‘raising the stakes of the scene’.

We have previously talked about imagining the perfect victory for your character. Let’s take it up a notch and make sure you’re selecting a victory extremely difficult to attain.

You might set them so high, the victory will never happen. Allow for the possibility, that way it doesn’t become unrealistic.

E.g. “I want him to say ‘I love you’ before the end of our date.”

Does your objective sustain the scene?

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In other words, do your objectives motivate your character throughout the duration of the entire scene? If the victory happens in the middle of the scene, your character would have nothing left to fight for.

This goes further than the individual scene.

E.g. The previous example “I want him to say ‘I love you’ before the end of our date” only works if the scene ends when the date ends. If the above victory happens in the middle of the scene, the objective does not sustain the entire scene.

Do you have main objectives and scene objectives that carry your character through the scene/film/play? What are the general unsatisfied needs your character is wanting to fulfil, and what are the scene-specific needs in need of fulfillment?

Are your scene objectives in line with your main objectives?

Know the story.

Of course you need to have a good understanding of the story and its intention in order for you to be able to choose strong objectives. Your objectives have to be in line with the intentions of the script and your character’s given circumstances.

Practice.

If you need to practice more, watch and analyze scenes of movies and other actors that were particularly engaging and see if you can find out what the objectives of the respective characters were.

I hope these guidelines help when you’re stuck and need a little inspiration.

Top 10 Movies Every Actor Should Watch and Why

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Who hasn’t deeply been touched by beautiful cinematography, amazing performances by actors and successful adaptations of extremely creative and ingenious screenwriting?

Films speak to everyone on a deep, personal level. They reveal, celebrate and criticize humanity and are therefore a powerful tool.

If you’re an actor, you’re probably driven by the same desire to tell stories worth telling. I’ve compiled a list of movies that will challenge, inspire and help you in your endeavour to become a better actor.

1. Sophie’s Choice

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There are so many reasons to watch this film, if you haven’t already. Pay close attention to Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline’s performances. Their characters are so multifaceted, complicated and emotional, and both are able to portray them convincingly. Streep nailed not only the Polish accent when speaking English but also when she spoke German.

2. Wall-e

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This movie is an excellent reminder of the importance of story. The immense impact this film has on the audience is incredible. The actor is not the most important part – the story is. And it can be told without words. Films should be made to create a connection with the audience. The actors are merely servants of the director who carries the vision.

3. The Descendants

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In this film, director Alexander Payne chose to leave the camera on the cast longer than what would be a good point to yell ‘cut’. It’s fascinating to see how the actors explore this opportunity. You often hear the saying ‘the magic happens outside of our comfort zone’ and this is a perfect example.

4. Drinking Buddies

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Drinking Buddies is an example of successful mumblecore. What this means is, the performances are natural and more realistic because there are guidelines instead of scripted dialogue. Watching this will inspire you to really listen and react to your scene partner and see what happens. Don’t be scared of improvisation, it’s a breeding ground for magic to happen.

5. La Vie En Rose

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Marion Cotillard’s performance blew me away when I saw this film. No wonder it garnered her an Oscar. Her commitment and dedication to portraying Edith Piaf is inspirational. It’s a perfect example of Ugly Acting. She does not look flattering in her performance, she masters the degression of age and sickness and makes very bold character choices. I’m a strong proponent for watching foreign films as well, and to start with La Vie en Rose is an excellent choice.

6. Bronson

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Confidence is a key lesson that improved my acting, and Tom Hardy’s confidence in this movie is incredible. He seems to have completely forgotten the camera. His performance is raw and unforgiving. Also, Bronson is just one bizarre human being, and to understand his psyche and wrestle with the character development must have been a challenge.

7. Sunset Boulevard

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This is a classic black comedy and, even though it is an oldie, it still shows the ‘behind the scenes’ of Hollywood/Stardom quite plainly. It shows the extent and consequence of Norma Desmond’s love for fame, herself and greed. Stardom is fleeting, the fruit of pride is disgusting. Mommy Dearest explores this topic as well. It is definitely a topic every actor needs to grapple with for their personal life.

8. Singin’ in the Rain

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Whether you are fan of musicals or not, you must have seen this movie at least once. Film is first and foremost entertainment and should appeal to your audience. Gene Kelly is a wonderful example for his standard of excellence. Only dreaming for a breakthrough in acting will just continue to be a dream if you don’t work on your craft.

9. Amadeus

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Amadeus discusses many topics worth mentioning. But what struck me while watching the movie was observing how both Mozart and Salieri failed to steward their talents well and as a result, both their lives end tragically. Instead of composing for the love of music and others, Salieri chose to let comparison and jealousy get the best of him. And Mozart indulges so much in the futile pleasures of life, it results in a disgraceful death.

10. Kramer vs Kramer

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What’s fascinating about this movie is, it refuses to take sides. Humans are intricate, complicated beings. Their personalities and decisions change. There isn’t always a black and white, right or wrong. The focus is not on the child who suffers from his parents’ divorce, but on the ‘grown-ups’ who cry out for just as much attention and identity as the child does.

Read Roger Ebert’s review for a further exploration of the film.

Bear in mind

This is a very limited list and not ranked in any way from best to worst or vice versa.

My advice to you – watch ‘em all. But be strategic with your choice of movies. Watch good ones, watch bad ones, popular movies and unpopular ones, independent and foreign ones – but watch them all with a healthy dose of skepticism and awareness and take away from them what you can and apply to your own craft.

How to Make talking to yourself genuine and authentic

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Fellow Actors, nobody wants to sit through a stilted performance of a lifeless monologue.

On the other hand, there is nothing more fascinating than watching an actor embody a character through monologue successfully. It’s incredible when he/she presents the character’s thoughts through his/her physical presence, imagination and inner activity – not just the words of the monologue.

This being said, here are helpful guidelines I summed up from legendary Uta Hagen’s take on performing monologues. By monologues, I mean any scene in which your character is alone in a given time and place and finds him/herself talking out loud for a specific reason at a moment of crisis.

First and foremost, it’s important we know:

WHY WE TALK TO OURSELVES

Talking to ourselves is always an attempt on our part to gain control over our circumstances.

These circumstances can look very different. They can be boredom or a tragic situation.

For example, when I’m in a hurry, my verbalisation of, “Ok, I’ve got my keys, my wallet… where’s my phone?” is merely my attempt at organisation. In the case of a dramatic monologue, Uta Hagen explains “it’s that you are in crisis and need the words to help you find answers.”

So, when you tackle your next monologue, make sure you determine and are aware of your circumstances – or your ‘crisis’.

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The next important aspect is observing yourself and others and knowing:

WHAT TALKING TO OURSELVES LOOKS LIKE

A big temptation for actors is putting too much emphasis on the actual words. Uta Hagen describes it as “mostly a subconscious procedure that makes you verbalize” because it is an involuntary process, most of the time we’re not even aware of it.

Because we are often so caught up in our thoughts, words are merely the byproduct of trying to figure out a situation, or an emotion we are submerged in. It is, in other words, an overflow of our thought process about the circumstances we’re currently in or an experience we’ve just had.

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This is why it’s always important to take into consideration that:

OUR WORDS NEED PHYSICAL PRESENCE

In her book Respect for Acting, Hagen emphasizes the importance of partnering physical action with words: “I strongly recommend that the scene be found physically before you approach the verbal action […] you do not come into the room in order to talk to yourself [emphasis added].”

Generally, people aren’t actually physically still when they talk to themselves.

You will make life much easier for yourself if your words are accompanied by physical activity. You don’t have to finish the activity, but it will help in your character’s attempt to gain control over his/her circumstances.

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Even though physical presence is essential, be aware of:

THE DANGER WITH PHYSICAL ACTIONS

Partnering actions with your words does not mean you have to physically act out the words. Or as Hagen puts it, “Don’t illustrate the life you are verbally fantasizing.” This is an easy trap us actors can fall into. You don’t need to show your audience what your words mean, which brings me to the next point of danger.

In a monologue, your character is alone. He/she knows exactly what is going on and doesn’t need to explain to anyone the whole story. But, obviously your audience still needs to understand the context. This is why Hagen advises to “let the humanness of your behaviour reveal the necessary events” in order for them to understand the story.

I’m aware of the trickiness of partnering words with actions, so allow me to share:

HELPFUL QUESTIONS TO ASK IN PREPARATION

Similar to Hagen’s previous advice to start with the physicality of the monologue first, ask yourself:

“What would I do here if I didn’t talk?”

Start with the physical presence first, and at some point, as Hagen reassures us, it’s going to be easy to start talking.

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Consider what the real reason is of why you’re doing these things under the given circumstances in order to allow any verbal fantasy to take shape.

IN CONCLUSION

At the end of the day, don’t forget these guidelines aren’t meant to stress you out. They are there to help you make your performance as believable as possible in order to tell a story worth telling.

Have fun in your journey of exploring and imitating human behaviour, in order to let the stories you tell. Be an inspiration to your audience.

Barkhad Abdi – How to get awards without training

BY ANNETTE LANGE

In order to win the Bafta Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and get a part in popular movies, one must simply do the following:

 

  • Come from a difficult background in Somalia and flee to Yemen to escape sudden civil unrest and war
  • Win a Green Card Lottery and move to Minnesota at the age of 14
  • Learn English from TV shows and rap music
  • Become a limo driver, DJ and sell phones to make ends meet
  • Respond to a casting call for Captain Phillips and give the best performance out of 700 fellow auditioners to get the role of a Somali pirate
  • Co-star alongside Tom Hanks and give an excellent performance
  • Improvise iconic lines to add to the believability of the scene

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This, in a nutshell, is the story of Barkhad Abdi who made his major debut in Captain Phillips, without any acting training or experience prior to his role as ‘Abduwali Muse’. And, besides winning the Bafta Award, he got nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award as well.

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I love stories like his. People like Abdi are very refreshing. They haven’t been sheltered from the world, they had other things to worry about than staying in the loop with the latest trends. And when success comes to them as a surprise, it is an even more joyous achievement.

 

When asked about his response to co-starring with Tom Hanks, he recalled thinking, “I can’t believe I’m in a scene with the Forrest Gump guy.”

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I first noticed Abdi in Eye in the Sky and I was extremely fascinated by his performance. When I realized he hadn’t been trained professionally, I was even more impressed.

 

The little training he had in preparation for Captain Phillips happened in the month prior to filming. Abdi had to learn to swim, handle guns and operate a ship. He only met Tom Hanks on the first day of shooting, so I bet his nerves helped him to create such a convincing character.

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There was a lot of doubt whether he would actually be able to make a career out of it, or if it was just a one-time golden opportunity.

 

His salary for his first performance was only increased very little from the mandated Screen Actors Guild (SAG) minimum of $60,000 for a feature film. Even after his success, he was struggling financially.

 

He couldn’t even go back to work in his brother’s phone shop because everyone wanted to see him instead of buying phones. He seemed as if he was back to square one after reaching fame.

Perhaps his experience of reaching fame but finding it harder than expected could be compared to his experience of coming to the States:

 

“When I was leaving Yemen to come to America, things were tough. My dad had just been laid off, and it was a challenge. When I lived in Yemen, I thought America was a perfect place. Everything was bigger and better. I dreamed big. The American dream, you know? You have to work hard for your dream to come true.”
And he is working hard. I’m sure many directors have an eye on him after his performance in Eye in the Sky. And fortunately, his future looks promising as well. He has more acting projects lined up such as Hawaii 50, The Place that hits the Sun and the Sequel to Blade Runner. May the list go on and on!

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I am excited to see more of his acting. May he never loose that tenacious and creative spirit and continue to inspire fellow actors as he continues in his journey!

How to raise Shakespeare from the dead

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Shakespeare is a name we’ve all heard of, probably several times, at least in popular movie adaptations of his work. The actor, playwright, dreamer and entrepreneur is seen as a source of inspiration and creativity – or considered boring and foreign.

 

Most couldn’t have gone through high school without reading at least Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet or Macbeth. And in high school, I think I can claim that not all of us have approached him with the best attitude and could have thought of better ways to spend our time instead of sitting in a classroom and not even attempting to understand the complicated language.

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The fact that you are reading this article is a small indication that you are either:

  • not completely opposed to the idea of reading Shakespeare,
  • you know there must be some reason for this fascination about Shakespeare
  • you recognize that as an actor, you can’t really get around it
  • Or, you are just a very nice person who decided to read my article – thank you.

 

So, how does one even tackle a Shakespearean sonnet, monologue or play without standing on stage tensely, sticking out your chest and attempting to deliver the lines, hoping not to trip over them?

 

PUT ASIDE WHAT YOU THINK IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE

 

When it comes to well-known pieces of literature like Shakespeare’s works, you are bound to have some kind of expectation of what it should look like, or what it has looked like in the past.

 

I’d encourage you: make it your own, do not try to copy any previous attempts.

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One common reason why Shakespeare is so widely celebrated, is because of his extensive, even revolutionary understanding of the human condition. He explains how humans think and feel, he discusses the human psyche – which is timeless.

 

And this is why Shakespeare is ever so relevant.

 

Don’t let any previous perceptions or adaptations of his work take away from the journey and joy of chewing over the subtext and topics his works bring up.

 

HAMLET WAS A HUMAN TOO

 

Well, not really. Hamlet is a fictional character… but going along with my previous point, don’t allow the age, setting or language of the play to prevent you from identifying with the character you are portraying. Treat them as fellow human beings full of surprises, complexities and tumultuous emotions.

 

WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, HOW

 

It makes it very hard to perform Shakespeare authentically if you haven’t put in the research yourself. Answer the usual background questions of your character, identify objectives, relationship to other characters, etc.

 

What is extremely helpful is to research when Shakespeare wrote the play, what stage of life he was in and why he would’ve written the respective play/sonnet at that particular point in time and history.

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USE THE RESOURCES AT HAND

 

“When I was your age, I had to walk all the way to the library and find all the appropriate books in order to do my research – and now you just sit in the living room and have all the information at your fingertips.” My mom somehow felt the need to mention this over and over again during my school years.

 

While she would point out the lack of resources she had, I would moan about the overload of information I was exposed to for my school projects. But, it’s true, we have access to so many resources through the internet – use them.

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If you don’t understand the context of the play or the dialogue, look up sites such as Sparknotes to find ‘translations’, plot summaries, character analysis, look at Youtube, find TED talks etc.

 

Just make sure you don’t rely only on the interpretations you find online – personalize your character, add your imagination and pizazz.

 

WHAT DID SHAKESPEARE ACTUALLY SOUND LIKE?

 

Seeing that London was already a melting pot of different people and accents in Shakespeare’s time, English had a very different pronunciation too. When performed in modern English, many jokes, rhyme schemes and content gets lost ‘in translation’.

 

David and Ben Crystal (Father and Son) have worked together in finding out what the ‘Original Pronunciation’ of Shakespeare must have sounded like.

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Here’s a video to show how this idea was developed and what the ‘OP’ sounds like.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPlpphT7n9s

 

Not only does the OP give clarification on the content of Shakespeare’s works, but it also changes the demeanor of the actor. In comparison to modern English, OP is automatically delivered at a faster pace, a lower voice and a different demeanor.

 

Now, whether or not you choose to actually perform your piece in Original Pronunciation or not, give it a go in your preparation as this might help you to understand the respective piece better…and it’s a lot of fun to try out this weird mix of Scottish, American and Pirate accents.
Fellow Actor, Dreamer and Creative – I wish you all the best in your endeavor to bring your Shakespearean character to life, make it your own through your unique understanding and implementation!