As two of my former acting teachers, Jonathan Silverstein and Carl Forsman, used to suggest: Finding the positive choice in a scene is the most helpful and interesting choice you can make. Always look for the agreement in the scene; it wins the day.
It is always more dramatic if you need, or use, the other actor in the scene. Use them to help you win the agreement that would best help your character achieve his needs.
As actors, we like playing the pain in the scene, we like to suffer, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone. However, what helps the scene the most, and us of course, is when we try to solve the problem in the scene. Given the option, most actors will pick fighting on stage because it’s easier and less vulnerable. Loving is always harder and more vulnerable in life, so why should it not be for the stage?
The moment you work for the agreement in the scene, you give yourself an objective—something to work towards. You begin to use yourself and your imagination in the scene. You almost have to because now you’re working towards the goal and not playing a general mood or emotional state.
It’s a much stronger choice when you work hard for the friendship in the scene, even when it’s apparent that the two characters hate each other. Remember, it’s useless to argue for the sake of arguing. As in life and on stage, you always get more with sugar that you do with vinegar.
It’s a more interesting choice, and scene, if:
A con man is trying to befriend an officer with charm instead of trying to be tough and mean.
A wife, whose husband has left her for a younger women, behaves sweetly and kindly towards him instead of yelling and being angry.
Two lonely and depressed people act as if they are enjoying each other’s company because they want to stop feeling lonely, rather than acting lonely and depressed.
What a lot of us will want to do is play the end in the scene at the beginning so that we can show we are “acting” in the scene. Instead, play the opposite in the scene and look for the conflict or problem and try to solve it.
On camera, this is even more critical that you look for the agreement in the scene and don’t play the end the whole way through. It ruins the pictures in the story and makes it difficult to edit. You have to see a change in the relationship in the scene and you do that though the pictures you create.
All scenes have to have a change, and if you play the end of the scene at the beginning, you don’t have that change. Playing the love in the scene, looking for the agreement, helps you create that dramatic transition in the scene, and on camera, gives editors and the director something to cut and edit.
Don’t look for the fight. Next time you get a scene where the two characters are either yelling at each other, don’t go for the obvious choice (hate and anger). Instead, look for the love between the characters. Try to get the agreement from the other actor you’re in trouble with.
Here are two questions you can use to help you win your next scene:
What would success look like for me in the scene? Then, how can I achieve that success? Then use yourself as you would in real life to try to win that objective. Remember, you get more with sugar than you do with vinegar.