What we want is driven by what we sense, feel emotionally, or think. We feel is driven by what we sense or think (yes, other things like hormones and chemicals influence these as well but for since this is a beginning class lets focus on what we see, feel, think, and what that makes us want to do. What we think will be discussed in the topic heading where discuss subtext and inner-monologues. This leaves making decisions about what we sense and feel like our character in response to this context we have created.
Does music slow down time or do we just not usually take enough time?
First, we need to discuss two different ways we can look at how music changes time. Why? Because if we are saying that what we do on stage should match the music and the text then since the music determines the timing wouldn’t that mean that the speed of our actions and emotions are also determined by the speed of the music? Making it all look natural and believable must be hopeless then. Right?
I have often heard the suggestion given that music slows down time. Therefore, we must slow down our actions to match the pace and timing of the music. This is one way to think about it. This seems to create confusion and awkwardness though. Sometimes we see it on stage as a kind of chariots of fire slow-motion effect with acting that just doesn’t work. It can also show in a really static and stylized form of expression.
If instead, we acknowledge that music is often representing the emotional state of a character or moment. The next logical step might be to assume that it is not necessarily the action that has to change speed but the emotion. And if we just said the emotion slows down wouldn’t that mean the action would too. Yes, possibly. But if instead of thinking that the emotion slows down you realize that the music doesn’t change the timing at all. The only reason it is different from real life is that the composer creates a natural length of time for a complete emotional arc to take place within each phrase. So, instead of rushing from emotion to emotion and only feeling fragments of emotion without time to feel and process them completely like in real life what if music finally gives us the chance to fully explore each emotion from beginning to end? In this way, the singing performer doesn’t slow down time they just experience each emotion to its fullest extent allowing the actions to come naturally from that experience. This might explain why music can be so cathartic and healing. As an audience, it allows us that same time to process emotions that might not have had the chance to be completely worked through.
The practical answer is that whatever works for you is the right answer for you. My experience is that singers are much more successful in engaging their audience and getting their bodies to respond in an expressive natural way by trying to let the music guide their exploration of living the moment as completely as possible. Either way, the process we use next is the same. The music and the text phrases express a single coherent idea and we have to decide what it is that causes our character to think and feel the thoughts that make them do what they do.
See, Feel, Do.
Acting is reacting. – Stella Adler, The Art of Acting
Often what we see or sense determines how we what we think and how we feel. What we think and how we feel determines what we do. I call this the see, feel, do sequence. This natural sequence of events can help us line up the structure of what our character is experiencing with the structure of the music.
You have already identified the structure of the music that delineates one musical idea from the next when you drew arrows in your music on day one of this course. Now it’s time to decide what you see, feel, and do at the arrows. Above the arrows that you previously drew into the music write what you see, feel, or do at each arrow. What you write above each arrow is concerning the upcoming phrase. We will talk more about this in future lessons. For now, just know that you will start to see, feel, or do what you are about to sing about on the arrow before that phrase starts. Not every arrow needs to have all three. The hotter the emotion the more that will start to happen at an arrow. For slower songs, it will be helpful to think of just doing them one at a time.
For example, phrase 1 would be something your character discovering something they see either in real life or in their imagination. Phrase 2 would be them discovering how they feel about what they just saw. Phrase 3 would be your character acting on how they feel about what they saw. And that cycle can continue. It does not have to be quite that formulaic but it is a helpful place to start. Most young performers are busy doing actions without helping the audience understand what they saw and how that made them feel. The audience has to see you discover what it is that makes you need to do an action. Consequently, it can be hard to understand why they did what they did on stage.
- Try to see, feel, and do all at once. SLOW IT DOWN! Take a whole phrase to see and discover something new. Take the whole next phrase to feel the entire arc of emotion that comes with discovering this thing you are looking at and to come to a strong enough emotion to make you need to do something about it. Then take a whole phrase to do the action the previous emotion requires.
- Complete each step immediately at the arrow. Remember, the arrow is just where you START to see, feel, or do not where you end it. You have an entire phrase to end it. Experience each moment to its fullest. Take time to discover what you are seeing, feeling, and doing.
- Starting with the Do or “how”. It should be clear why this is a problem now. If not, go back and read everything that comes before this point in the course.
- Trying to measure out actions to match the beat or tempo of the music. As soon as you start to do this it turns into dance. So, if that is what you want then great. If you don’t want it to look like choreographed highly unnatural dance then just do the action as you would in everyday life trying to experience each moment to its fullest. If the timing still isn’t quite right then don’t worry. We aren’t done with the course yet.