One of my favourite directors is Laurence Boswell. We worked together on the RSC’s Spanish Golden Age season back in 2003 and he often teaches for my school, ICAT.
Laurence is an ‘actors director’. He just loves what we do and what we bring. When teaching a set of our students recently, he said these words…
‘The character is a metaphor for the actor’
My ears just pricked up, this sounded like a bit of wisdom that I want to hear. What did he mean? Well, he had just spent some time thanking the group for a wonderful reading they had done on a play that he had written and one of the aspects he most enjoyed was ‘when the actor brings their soul to a part’. This was a quote from Spanish playwright; Lope De Vega but Laurence feels the same.
He doesn’t want or expect an actor to change who they are per se, he wants you to bring your unique essence toward a role and shine through that lens. This is an immensely freeing idea if you think about it. I think we can go down the pan when we don’t completely transform into another being. The act of trying to convince ourselves that we are not ourself can twist us into all sorts of mental knots.
I don’t think this is necessary and, apparently, neither does Laurence. An example, one of the students was reading the role of a robot/servant.
It was brilliantly and boldly executed and even I as their teacher saw new and wonderful qualities in them as a group. When Laurence was assessing their work at the end he said to the young man/robot/servant..
‘Who knew they had a robot in them? BRING YOU – YOU BE UNIQUELY YOU! You will do it in a way that no one else will, you will express YOU uniquely and fully. Your perspective on what it is to be this thing/person’
Isn’t that a refreshing thing to hear? That it is ok to embrace who YOU are and indeed, bring who YOU are to any part you are playing.
In this way, we might think of the character as a lens through which we look and shine our individual beams.
We don’t have to BECOME something else, we engage the IDEA of being something else and explore how we as individuals might live and breathe in that situation.
I find that this idea releases me into far greater freedom. I am not busy trying to convince myself that I am someone completely other whilst trying to hold relationship in the scene. I am free to get on with developing that relationship and allowing my responses to let loose with little self criticism or censorship.
My friend, the brilliant actor; Joseph Millson says ‘I am an artist, I paint pictures using MY ugly mug’. Always starting with yourself as the canvas gives you grounding, foundations and confidence.
Here is the thing, an audience should accept that you are whoever you say you are until you give them justifiable reason to doubt it. That is the beauty of acting. If you commit to the role, you can play anything!
I used to take part in a brilliant initiative called Scene and Heard when I lived in London (https://www.sceneandheard.org/). It is the most fantastic experience. This charity works with children in and around the Camden Town area, taking them through a play writing process. A selection of pieces are chosen to be rehearsed and performed in public under and by professional directors and actors. You get some seriously great people involved (not me!).
The most fascinating thing about the shows they do is that they are SO raw and left field. I have seen stories about the moon losing his mother, a sofa spring having an argument with a carrot over the washing up and a million other whacky set ups. What never ceases to amaze me is the power of an actor playing a role so seriously that we can’t help but buy it.
The trick to Scene and Heard (and they are very clear about this) is that we are not to take the work any less seriously than a play at the Almeida or the National and, when you do that, the stories and the characters are fully rounded and totally engaging. I actually wanted to cry when the moon’s mum passed away. It was one of the greatest lessons for me as an actor, the power of the ‘agreement’ between the audience and the actors.
Anyway, every one of the actors in Scene and Heard has had the unique privilege of making themselves into 1000 different objects and characters, using their cunning and creativity to find the ‘essence‘ of that role, allowing the audience to invest totally and fully in who they say they are…until they say otherwise.
Who knew they had a robot in them?…
By the way, if you are a director and want to work with and learn directly from Laurence, good news! There are just 10 places available for his upcoming DIRECTING PLAYS – THE ESSENTIALS? Workshop which runs online; 3 hrs per evening Wednesday’s 16th, 23rd, 30th Sept and 7th, 14th Oct 2020.
Laurence is an Olivier Award winner and associate at the RSC. He directed Madonna, Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Casey Affleck and more in their West End debuts.
There is an early bird discount if you book before August 25th, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to register interest.
To you, the artists.