Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Audition by Michael Shurtleff - Relationships

The following is the first in a series of twelve articles based upon the twelve guideposts listed in Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff. The author was the casting director for many of David Merrick's Broadway productions. He also worked with Bob Fosse and Andrew Lloyd Webber. His book is known as the actor’s bible. If you take a college acting class, it will likely be required reading. While Shurtleff’s book is aimed at actors, his principles are beneficial to both authors and directors as well. This series is geared toward authors.


An author’s life can be a difficult one in many respects. It is a career replete with rejection. With the regular merging of publishing houses, competition is fierce. Authors must maintain their language skills, enhance their creativity and balance this and all other aspects of the writing life with every other facet of their lives.

Actors must audition before producers and casting directors to get their roles. Authors must query publishers to get their publishing contracts. Shurtleff believes that actors waste a lot of time in their auditions searching for another character. He recommends they use themselves. It’s impossible to create a fully developed character in the ten minutes or less in which actors have to study the lines they are about to rehearse in an audition. While authors can take as long as they want to craft a scene and create a believable character, it makes sense to put themselves into their characters. The nature of storytelling requires characters to be put in extraordinary circumstances. Some refer to the initial scenario in which the character is thrust out of his or her ordinary course of life circumstances as an inciting incident. This is a great starting point for authors to write what they know and put themselves into the character. How would you, the author, react to this extraordinary circumstance in which you have just thrust your character? Characters can digress from the author as they develop.

Shurtleff frequently saw actors audition from a position of what their characters would not do. For example, ”My character wouldn’t kiss her, because of their horrible divorce.” Shurtleff encouraged actors to find the conflict within their characters from their own personal perspective. He encouraged them to refrain from such limitations of their work, to stop being less than themselves, imprisoned in a straightjacket of don’ts. Characters need freedom to feel, to behave interestingly in a scene. Authors need to feel this same freedom, and shed their own limitations, on behalf of their characters. Allow anything to be possible for your characters. Let them make choices that give them the maximum possible involvement in the scene.

Authors need to find a reason for their characters to be in each scene, a reason to express their fullest feelings deeply and to say 'yes' to the possibilities that are within a relationship. Since human beings are motivated by their dreams, dreams of love, fulfillment, success, health, acceptance, beauty and power, what we wish will happen in our lives motivates everything that we do. Authors need to find the dream in each one of their characters and put these dreams, latent as they may be at times, in each of their scenes to keep their characters motivated to give them a purpose and to keep readers turning the pages of their books. Authors don’t need to know every minute detail of their characters, their favorite ice cream flavor, which baseball team gets them regularly in the stands, etc., unless that specific information is going to be utilized in that specific scene. What needs to remain in the author’s mind are the dreams that move the characters forward in their lives.

Put yourself in the position of each character about whom you’re writing. Look at the relationships that comprise their lives. Relationships are at the heart of a story. They are essential. Concerning each character you’re creating in every scene of your story, ask:

  1. What is my relationship to each of the other characters in this scene?

  2. How do I feel about each of these characters

  3. Where is the love in the scene (not the absence of it)

Shurtleff feels that the “where is the love?” question should be asked in every scene, or else the deepest emotional content won’t be discovered. It is the emotion that keeps readers turning the pages of a story. This is not to imply that every scene is a romantic one. Sometimes the scene is about the absence or deprivation of love. Asking the love question in each scene helps provide the most immediate emotional involvement for a character. Even if love is not displayed in the scene, admitting the love and its reason creates immediate conflict within the character, its level dependent upon other factors in the scene.

Authors need to expand their concepts of love beyond that which they find chiefly idealistic and altruistic. Expand your concept of what constitutes love to include the various peculiar and perverse forms it can take in human relationships, and it’s easier to find emotional commitment in the scenes you’re creating. The desire for love, to give it or to receive it, preferably both simultaneously, is a primary propellant in human beings. Authors must learn that love comes in all forms, and in a multitude of forms that they may or may not individually admire. Characters are nothing without creating and developing relationships with the other characters in the scenes with them.


Anonymous Chronis said...

Interesting description related to relationship. Relations are easy to make but it is more difficult to handle in with care. It is more or less similar as Mirror, So it is better to keep relations "Transparent"

Thank you

8:08 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home