Sunday, June 26, 2005

Reading Aloud

A friend wants to create his own audio-books and asked for advice about reading aloud. (I'm assuming that he's talking about reading stories with characters):

I'm a director (theatre), and I would urge you to approach this the way professional actors approach their work. Actors (since Stanislavsky) are trained to work from character rather than to make mechanical choices. By this, I mean that one shouldn't say "I need a two-second pause here and then I will raise my voice."

Instead, the actor thinks about what his character WANTS. For instance, in this scene, my character wants (say) to seduce a beautiful woman. I will then try different tactics in order to get what I want. The woman (or the circumstances of the story) throw various obstacles at me (if they didn't, there would be no conflict in the scene). When met with a conflict, I change tactics and try again to get what I want.

Eventually I either get what I want, in which case the scene ends (or my needs change and I now want something else) or I'm thwarted.

Actors learn how to go after goals (using tactics) with their voices just-as-much-as with their bodies.

As a reader, you will be playing dozens of characters, so you'll want to break down the text and learn what they all want. And I think you should think of the narrator (even if it's third-person) as an additional character and try to figure out what HE wants (to amuse the listener? to shock? to prove a point?)

This technique has been taught for years and their are dozens of books (classes, etc.) that go deeply into it and explain how to do it.

But I recommend A Practical Handbook for the Actor. It's the Strunk and White of Acting Theory. It's brief and to-the-point.

Recently, I cast an actor who had a lot of natural talent but had never taken an acting class. At times he would recite his lines without putting any emotion behind him. I loaned him my copy of A Practical Handbook for the Actor and in a couple of weeks he was on-par with the rest of the cast (all trained actors).

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