#37 Create More Depth & Meaning In Performance

20 April 2021 - 08:37 BY Louw
Create More Depth & Meaning In Performance: Tool To Infuse


I have received scripts where the dialogue is so beautiful and poetic and well written, even so, that I don’t understand a word I’m reading. 


This might be because I’m just not a genius but I still had to know what I’m saying when I’m saying it. Otherwise, we become mechanical or un-clear in our delivery of these beautiful lines. 


Working with an incredible director like Marthinus Basson has taught me to know exactly what each word means. I did not know what my character means with that part of the scene but to understand each word’s meaning truly. 


I did a play called Koninging Lear, Shakespeare King Lear, adapted by Tom Lenoye and translated by Antjie Krog. Now, already we have 4 geniuses combined into one production. You can’t fake a meaning or performance choice without them knowing you don’t understand the subtext or the words you’re saying. 


Antjie Krog did such an incredible job with the translation, I had to buy a dictionary. No, seriously, I had to. I did not understand all of those beautiful and poetic words but I knew they had depth en meaning to them. 


So, I decide to use this exercise that Marthinus Basson taught me a few years earlier. 


Tool to try: 


Speak Own Subtext Exercise: When you get stuck with the heightened speech or words that’s not apart of your everyday vocabulary, this exercise can help you find the meaning underlined each word when you say it on stage or in front of a camera. 


We sometimes tend to try too hard to show an audience the character or what is meant. We try so hard to speak a certain way, move a certain way and look a certain way, but we lose honesty and truth; we lose the bottom-line and the WHY for your character. If you can’t understand what is being meant by your character, not being said, but meant, you’ll lack that honesty and truth. When you find yourself struggling to be present in a scene or struggle to feel comfortable saying your lines try this. 

- Take a short scene where both characters have strong needs. 

-       1) Do it the way you’ve rehearsed it with your character in mind. 

-       2) Now, only speak as yourself, the subtext, what is meant in the lines, and say it in your own words. Look at your line, think as yourself what is meant in your own words, then using your own words, say it out loud – what is meant. You can go as big and crazy and gangster as possible. 

-       3) Now, use that personal edge, work form yourself. Do the scene again, but this time say the lines scripted and remember what you felt when you spoke the subtext from yourself. 

- Take 1 might look and feel mechanical and indicated. 

- Take 2 will be crazy, energetic, all over the place and truthful. 

- Take 3 you feel yourself staying in the moment and speaking truth from within you, not trying to fake understanding or character. 


This tool has helped me so much. I do it to this day. Saying lines in my everyday speech to find the deep personal WHY or meaning within my character’s words. Make it personal. Make those lines yours. Truth and honesty will be jumping from those lines now. 


You know, young actors say all the time, ‘Should I use my own life experience?’ And my response is, ‘What choice do you have?’

David Mamet

How did you find the technique/tool/advice? Did it work for you? What was different this time? Share with the tribe and let’s keep on creating beautiful, honest and memorable performances. Let’s execute our best selves! 

Kind regards 
Edwin van der Walt 

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