Defensive Driving On StageBy Ty Unglebower • Mar 10th, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice
You know what defensive driving is; proceeding with caution when behind the wheel and being prepared for the event that the other driver(s) are not going to do what is expected of them. We don’t assume that they are certainly going to do the wrong thing, because then we would be distracted. But we try to minimize any shock we might experience should the unsafe, surprising, or just plain stupid choice of another driver on the road confront us.
I am a defensive driver. And I am also a “defensive actor,” so to speak.
No, the metaphor is not perfect. But it is similar enough to guide us during our time on stage.
As with driving, there are ways to be prepared for goofs. Ones that either we ourselves are guilty of, or ones that other people may perpetrate. And while we cannot predict every possible scenario, we can focus in on the things that are most likely to be problematic, and prepare in our minds for that contingency, should it arise.
How do we know what to prepare for?
Ask yourself if there is a specific scene or a specific segment of a scene that gives you or someone else a problem more often than not. Common culprits are entrances and exits of large groups of people, small stunts, handling of complicated props, specific sound/light cues from the booth, working with animals/children, and consumption of food or drink. These are tricky for all actors.
Not an exhaustive list, but you get the picture. Each production is different, so each list of potential problems will be different. Identify such for your production.
Then, when you are far from the pressure of rehearsing, quiet your mind and consider each problem area so you can determine how you will need to respond on stage should the need arise. To determine your action, (or in this case REaction) ask yourself the following things about each problem:
- What goal, if any, of the scene is the problem likely to derail if it occurs?
- What, if anything can I do to prevent the problem from happening if it begins?
- If the problem does occur anyway, how can I do my job in spite of it?
- What, if anything can I do on the fly that will point the scene right back in the direction it was headed before the problem occurred?
The 4th question I think is the most important, and the one you should master if you can master no others. Getting the unfolding action headed back towards what the scene is intended to reveal. Audiences are forgiving, and in fact don’t often notice a snafu very easily. If you can establish the same amount of information by the end of the scene despite the error, chances are it won’t even affect the audience’s enjoyment of the play. You may have to repeat a line, or make one up, or cue someone subtly. But you can get back to where you need to be.
Thinking like this won’t guarantee you a save. But as with all things in theatre the more prepared you are, the more likely things will fall into place for you. Even once they have started to briefly fall apart.
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Ty Unglebower is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and tooxyz.blogspot.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.