Read the work! Read it several times. Get to know the
story. Then ask yourself. What is this playwright trying to
say? We know that some playwrights write plays simply
because they are interested in the subject matter, or
they received inspiration from something they heard
about or experienced directly. Some writers will say they
had no “intent” at all. "It’s art for art’s sake!" They say.
They lie! Maybe not intentionally, but, they lie. Those of
us who are students of the mind, understand this, and as
an actor you absolutely MUST be a student of the mind.
You must understand this phenomenal jewel the creator
has endowed us with. So, as students of the mind, we
know that the subconscious is the true creator on this
plane. Whether or not the author sat down and
consciously decided to write a play about a specific
person or group of people, caught in a specific web of
conflict, with specific choices of resolution, resulting in a
specific theme, which translates to a specific message,
is irrelevant. The writer has, perhaps unwittingly, but
she/he most definitely has submitted to the power of the
subconscious, and as the subconscious is the true
creator, it does not create in the void. Trust me, there is,
inherent within the work, an intent. Find it! Bring it to the
table! The intent of the story is the road map to the
lifeblood of each character. Each character exists to help
fulfill the intent of the story.

ACTOR'S FIRST STEP - "Bring Something to the Table"

This lesson focuses on the first step every actor must take
before attempting to portray a character onstage, and that is:
Is it possible for two different actors to walk away with
two different notions of the playwright’s intent?
Absolutely! The difference is a matter of perspective,
for you each bring to the reading your own biology and biography, i.e., heritage, culture, gender,
experiences, ideologies, philosophies, etc. How then is this rectified? How can all determine to
end up on the same page? I suggest two things.

First, all who are engaged in this process together must agree to individual analysis of the script
and not just wait for the director, or even the dramaturg, to empty your heads and fill it with
information. This analysis of the script, the initial reads, must include research. Research the
playwright’s life and other works she/he has written. Research the time period; yes, even the
present day. Step out of your circle, or box, and see the world you live in with open eyes, but
more importantly, an open mind. Don’t judge it; just observe it! Research the lifestyles presented
in the writing. In other words, approach the work as if you are approaching a world you have
never seen before. Emptying yourself of preconceptions and opening yourself to a new way of
seeing the world of the playwright’s work will allow you formulate the ultimate perception that you
must bring to the table, your perception of the playwright’s intent. If all agree to this process, and
follow it, there will be greater similarity in those perceptions and fewer differences.

Secondly, I, as an actress, stay with my own perception of the playwright’s intent as I endeavor to
internalize the work, until the final table read. It is at the final table read where it becomes my
purpose to grasp the director’s perception and vision, to find that place where our spirits meet. I
know this sounds a bit ethereal, but I am of the opinion that acting is quite ethereal. Think about
it. You are, as I often explain to high school theatre students, leaving 85% of who you are
somewhere back in the dressing room, entering the stage with 15% of yourself and 85% of this
person created in the playwright's mind. AND! Of that 15% of yourself coming onstage with you, 5%
is your “actor” self, the part that must remember lines and blocking, and pretend that the 4th wall
hasn’t been removed. The other 10% is that part of you that exists within the character also. (Keep
in mind, no character is purely original, only various combinations of many characters.) Truly,
acting is an out of body experience! You can’t get more ethereal than that; I don’t think.

So, character development becomes the offspring of a marriage between perceptions of the
playwright’s intent, the actor’s and the director’s. Let me state at this point; a marriage must have
more than one willing participant. Therefore, the actor does not come to the table, then relinquish
his/her perception, nor does he/she force said perception upon everybody else. As
aforementioned, if all have agreed to the process, there will be more similarities than differences
anyway. Still, a good actor seeks marriage, and a good director consents to a more perfect union.

However, the union cannot take place, if you, the actor, do not “bring something to the table”.
That “something” is your perception of the playwright’s intent, based on several solitary reads of
the work and purposeful research.  Then, and only then, SHOULD you attempt to translate through
acting what has happened in the created world of the playwright and the message it sends to the
other created world, the one in which we live.

Good Acting!

Norma J. Thomas
ACTOR'S FIRST STEP - "Bring Something to the Table"
What is the first step every actor should take before attempting to portray a character onstage?
Here is what experience has taught me.
Table read for the musical production, CHURCH LADIES.
Click here to see scenes from Church Ladies, 2006
Zilkha Hall, Houston Hobby Center for the Perfoming Arts.