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Monday, June 24, 2019

THEME, or Why Are You Telling Me This Story?

A director may or may not provide the theme of the film or play in which actors have been cast.  The theme is a sentence that states the idea of the story.  It can be as simple as "crime doesn't pay" or "love conquers all" and is most profoundly expressed in the climax of the drama.  The climax isn't necessarily contained only in one scene, it can be part of the rising action over the course of several scenes.  I think it helps actors to extrapolate the theme through the progression of the rising action of the drama in which they've been cast even if the director hasn't provided it.  When you know the theme, you can then determine the actions of your character as they relate to the theme.  Actors shouldn't fall into the trap of forgetting that they're telling a story; their task doesn't stop at merely creating a character - "...the play's the thing..." still holds.

I've chosen climactic scenes from two films, "Capturing Mary," 2007, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, and "Tully," 2018, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman.  I think each film in its unique execution brought together very imaginative, innovative artists who created compelling stories.  Yet, in Capturing Mary the climax contained, for the main character, a profound recognition of discovery from the conflicting rising action, whereas, in Tully, the climax stated the conflict that was already known to the main character, and therefore, instead of a dynamic climax, a static climax ignored that non-repetitive forward movement is the essence of dramatic action.

The climax in Capturing Mary takes place over several scenes.  The clip below is the apex of the climax where the main character, performed by Maggie Smith, through recounting and reliving her experience, comes to the realization that although throughout her adult life she was certain that a particular man had power, control, had manipulated how she conducted her life --  in fact, she had given him, permitted him, that power.    

In the clip from Tully (below), the main character, performed by Charlize Theron, comes to terms with her subconscious self: a good mother practices self-care, showers every day, gets a pedicure once in a while, and concludes that she'll "do what you have to do and then you'll do it again."  That is, the marriage, as it's lived, and caring for children, none of which is undesirable, must nevertheless abandon that self prior to marriage, that free spirit she once was, because if she would pursue that self she was before becoming a wife and mother, she could die from it.

I think it's useful for actors to articulate the idea of the story they're telling in collaboration with the writer.  I don't think drama must find solutions to conflicts, but I do think that whatever the theme, drama requires movement in a series of non-repetitive, dynamic, rising actions. 

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