Last weekend I was invited to serve as a judge for my son’s high school debate tournament. I should say speech and debate tournament, because the last event I adjudicated was something called “duo dramatic interp,” a competition wherein a series of two young actors present a ten-minute scene. For this event, we—the ten competitors and I, the lone judge—were squeezed into a small classroom. So small, that the “stage” area was about three feet from where I was sitting. If the actors hadn’t been careful, they might have stepped on my toes. It had been a while since I’d watched high school-age actors. As you might have guessed, there was a wide range of ability. What struck me the most, however, particularly from my intimate vantage, was that what distinguished the actors the most was whether they were in character continuously or only when they were speaking.
For the actors who only seemed to be in character when speaking, it was as if they had to start their acting engine again and again and again. The other actors, those who never left character, were riding the energy of the scene, an energy that sometimes asked them to speak and sometimes didn’t. When they did speak, it was with an energy already in motion, giving their words a momentum that no amount of thrashing and screaming by the re-starters could match.
The difference, it seems to me, was trust. Individual lines may have belonged to this or that actor, but the full energy of the scene belonged to both actors, was generated by both actors, and so was both a part of the actors and separate from the actors. Writing has always felt this way to me, a story like a current of energy that I may have summoned but over which I have limited control. Every time I try to “make something up” it feels like playing the piano in winter gloves; every time I ask for and then follow an energy called a story, I feel grateful, as though I have been allowed to attend the most interesting party in the world.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.