When You Speak Words You Don’t Truly Understand, You Are Not Truly Acting

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  • When You Speak Words You Don’t Truly Understand, You Are Not Truly Acting

    So, pull out your dictionary or get busy on Wikipedia and find out the answer!

    (by Jim Webb)


    (Photo: Eliot Reyna/Unsplash)

    When you speak words you don’t truly understand, you are not truly acting.

    Sometimes a dictionary, encyclopedia, and, yes, Google, can be invaluable tools in the actor’s life. That’s because, often, an actor can receive sides or a script that has items that the average person can’t possibly understand. I mean, what language was Shakespeare speaking, anyway?

  • Ok, Shakespeare is complicated, due to the age of the material. But there are many other ways that the text of the script can be complicated. It’s typical to come across words, phrases, references and language you don’t understand.

    Some examples include:

    • Unfamiliar words
    • Old or rarely used words
    • Regional dialect
    • Slang terms
    • Unfamiliar adages
    • Unfamiliar stories and references
    • Historical events

    These are some examples of items that can be included in the text that the actor may not truly understand, at first. But the thing is: the actor must understand them. The actor must always understand exactly what their character is saying in order to bring truth to the role.

  • Research, research, research

    Without taking the time to research and analyze what the character means when he or she tells an old story, uses a “big” word, makes a historical reference or uses a region-based quip, the actor is merely speaking words. And only an amateur actor “speaks words”.

    A true actor takes the time to understand their character’s backstory, given circumstances, objectives, and so forth. And while doing extensive research on the character, the actor learns what the character is saying and why the character is saying it, in each sentence of dialogue.

    So, when you find yourself asking, “what does my character mean when they say this word?” or, “who are they referring to when they make that historical reference?” Or, “where does that funny story my character tells originate from?”, pull out your dictionary or get busy on Wikipedia and find out the answer.


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