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Three Chords and the Truth

By • Nov 16th, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice

“Three chords and the truth.”

No one is certain where this phrase, describing country music, originated. It is attributed to several stars. It has probably stuck,however, because of how much sense it makes.

Sure, it’s nice if a song has more than three chords. But without the truth behind the music, the authenticity of the delivery, a piece of music could contain 300 chords, and it would not be a song of note.

Truth of course is the active word in this proverb. And it applies to acting just as much as it does to playing country music.

There are as many methods as there are actors. All kinds of schools, conservatories and studios out there, each claiming to have the essence of what it is to be an actor. I even took a workshop some years ago with a semi-famous individual who offered his services to a local theatre.

In the end, despite the price tag, I didn’t get much from the experience. There was much said about what to visualize when breathing, the four questions every actor much ask before each night, and how to properly highlight a script. Some of it interesting but all of it seeming rather forced and gimmicky. Why? Because the truth seemed to be secondary to the method used to obtain it.

I don’t mean to knock any given school of acting. And certain skills can be taught. Teaching philosophies can be replicated. But for my money, (both figuratively and quite literally) an actor’s first duty is to determine the truth of what he is doing. Truth about character, truth about the scene, the plot, the words in the script. To be authentic to both what is written, but also to one’s own understanding an interpretation of same. To strive always to make deliberate choices on stage which will perfectly reflect the truth one has determined in regards to the production at hand.

Now, how does one do this? I have several ways in which I do it. Some of which I have talked about in this column as well as on my blog. Yet at no time do I consider any of my advice my “method” because that indicates that there is no room for adaptation. And when one approaches each character, each script, each scene with the same handy-dandy 12 step approach to acting, the truth is bound to be left in the dust at some point. Not because the method is invalid, but because it is prioritized. A method is only as good as the amount of authenticity it provides. When people bow before a certain method, and try to find the authenticity lying within, they are guilty of one of the biggest ironies going…forced truth.

So, go to school. Read books. Practice. Experiment. Those are all very good things that are quite useful. Yet if your goal in using them is to “be a good actor,” you will always be missing something. As soon as you challenge yourself to dig out the truth, no matter what method required, you will be well on your way to striking the perfect chord. Or three.

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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 (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

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