Method Acting: Theatre Wisdom for Writers

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I’ve never learned method acting. Oh, I’ve heard the term bandied about often enough, but no one ever explained what that really meant. Despite that, I’d like to think I’ve picked up a few things over the years.

Over the weekend, I chaperoned a group of pretty awesome high school students at the State Drama Festival. (If that sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve now done this four years running.) They always have a fantastic show, but this year? This year, they won. For the first time in over 20 years.

They did the Insanity of Mary Girard, which is a dark play that takes place in the mind of a woman who is – or at least becomes – insane. And the high schooler playing the titular Mary Girard is brilliant.

During the run of this show, she had a lot of people asking how she slept at night, if she had nightmares. (She didn’t.)

I don’t know her process – her method. I haven’t worked with her, and she has worlds of natural talent, along with phenomenal mentors and opportunities.

But I do know that both actors and writers have to figure out how to get into the heads of characters wildly different from our everyday selves. “Write what you know” only goes so far. I mean, none of us is a woman in an insane asylum in the late 1700s, but I’ve seen a high schooler make audiences believe it.

A couple years ago, I played Mina in Dracula. My fiancé went temporarily insane, a vampire murdered my best friend then stalked me, and we chased that vampire across Europe.

The funny thing is that people – audiences – tend to look at the big things. I, of course, have never done any of the things in that last paragraph, but in figuring out how to act and react as the character, I focused on the little things. Like worry for a loved one, or the fierce desire to protect a loved one. In the opening scene, I was just hanging out with my best friend.

At the end of the play, we killed Dracula, Van Helsing spontaneously married us, and good triumphed over evil. We all lived happily ever after. Those of us that lived, that is.

At first, the enormity of that moment stumped me. We’d just saved ourselves and possibly the world. As an actor, I had to kiss a man I barely knew who was not my husband – awkward enough in its own right.

But after we ran the scene, I knew the emotion. We did it. We made it. Finally. The relief, the love. I’ve been there and done that. At my wedding.

I think most of us feel that way when the wedding finally happens, rings and vows exchanged, or whatever traditions you may have. My husband and I spent the majority of our four years of dating in different countries. Half of that on different continents. Different hemispheres. It didn’t seem like our life actually, geographically together could possibly start until we married.

So I knew that feeling and I could work with it.

I do the same when I’m writing. I look for the little, human things like the sick, twisting feeling in your gut when you know you screwed up, or the relief of getting a good grade when you thought you bombed the test.

The little things make it real – make it believable.

At least, that’s my method.

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