I’m currently working on a final draft of the script, which will be uploaded once finished. This week I’ve decided I want to talk about the actors specifically, and what I’m learning from them.
Firstly, I do realise that not all writers have the luxury of writing for a particular cast, and I think that this is a shame in some ways. I wrote a scene in which Gez forces Gwyn to sleep out on the balcony and originally I just wrote that Gwyn would go outside and shiver miserably. Ash, the actor playing Gwyn, surprised me by adding in a little pathetic cry. He just got onto that balcony whimpering like a coward and curled up into a ball and cried. It was absolutely hilarious.. honestly, hilarious. In another scene, I wrote that Gwyn walks off-stage (to the kitchen) and his line is simply “I don’t believe it!” Now, Ash did ask how we wanted the line delivered, and I just said to go with what felt natural. His line delivery actually almost killed me, for I could not breathe. In fact, I’m laughing out loud right now as I type about it. It’s such a simple line, one I didn’t even imagine to be remotely comical actually, and it’s now (in my opinion) the single funniest moment in the play. What I’ve realised over the weeks of rehearsals is that Ash is naturally hilarious. He has the ability to turn the bland into the comedic, a giggle into a bellow. He’s perceived his character in a way that’s different to what I imagined and is playing him so much better than the way I intended originally. If I’d had the foresight to write this part with Ash in mind I wouldn’t have bothered trying to write jokes into his dialogue, because this actor doesn’t need to be fed comedy in order to project it.
Tasha was a part I wrote with ease because I based her on someone close to me and I basically just wrote her as she is in real life. When I wrote her lines I imagined her to come across funny, because that’s who the real Tasha is. Unfortunately, the first time I heard the words read aloud I realised that the character (not the real person) comes across as quite boring in comparison to the others, weak even. In the end she turns out to be quite devious and manipulative, but the road to get there in terms of her character is actually a little tedious. But I didn’t know this until we cast it and started rehearsing. Luckily for me, I have two great things in my favour; Rob – the director who I can’t speak highly enough of. I’m learning a lot watching him direct, he just has a way of easing what’s needed out of the cast and he seems to pick up on things within the script that I was barely conscious of myself; Beth, the actor playing Tasha. She’s perfect for the part in terms of looks. She’s naturally pretty and quite sweet looking but with a smile that hints towards a devilish side! What I’m finding with her is that she’s added an element of sarcasm to Tasha’s nature. It’s very subtle, and it’s not always through her dialogue, but there’s a little ripple running through each scene that just about hints that maybe she isn’t quite the way she seems. Sometimes it’s just an eye movement that contradicts the tone of something she has just said, and it’s working a treat in adding a bit of mystery to the character. If I had written the part with Beth in mind, I would definitely have played more to this specific skill that she has as a performer, to make the character more three-dimensional. At the moment, Beth is managing with Rob’s help to create this interesting element to the character, and I feel that the way I’ve written the part is making this harder for her than it actually needs to be. Definitely a lesson I’ll be taking forward as a writer – if I can’t write with the actor’s strengths in mind then I need to clarify and emphasise the strengths of the actual character so that they can be brought to life.
Scott, who plays Gez, is also a naturally funny person who’s bringing a lot of comedy to his role in places I didn’t imagine there could be. The thing that works for me with Scott in this role though is that he is a very nice person, and this quality shows in his role. Of course, if Scott were supposed to be playing someone completely dislikeable I imagine he’d be perfectly able to (he’s a talented chap is Scott), but Gez isn’t meant to be that one-sided. There’s an underlying reason for his bullying tactics and it boils down to his self-esteem issues, which Scott manages to get across wonderfully through his line delivery. In fact, appropriate line delivery seems to be a real strength for Scott – very rarely does he need the inflection in the line explained to him as he’s already interpreted it accordingly. Gez originally was meant to be disliked but understood. With Scott in this role however, it’s impossible to dislike Gez, even when he’s behaving badly, but this adds so much more to the character than what I envisioned and I think it’s working out beautifully. I much prefer the character the way Scott plays him as opposed to how I wrote him. If I were to write this part with Scott in mind I think I would dare to crank his bullying up and tone his low self-esteem down (in terms of when this is expressed through dialogue), as I don’t think Scott needs to explain this to the audience – it just comes across naturally with him.
Kristy was the hardest part to cast for me personally, as this is the character I care the most about and the one I was most concerned with ‘getting right’. She’s the source of the majority of the conflict and is involved in all areas of thematic plot development, so she is very important. The main thing about the character is that she’s so over-dramatic, whereas the other characters are relatively believable. What I was concerned about was that the actor playing her wouldn’t be able to capture her sense of drama in a way that was both fitting of the character but believable to the audience as someone who could actually exist. I’ll admit that I was so stubborn about this character that I was reluctant to cast anyone at all (in the entire world), but luckily for me Rob wasn’t about to take any of my crap about it and then we found Elena. I was concerned at first because she’s so entirely different to what I imagined the character to be but I’ve found that her main strength is something she actually has in common with Kristy – she’s fearless. And she just gets things. She’ll deliver a line one way, but if you want it done differently it’s just a matter of a three second explanation and she just knows what you mean, and will deliver exactly what you want. Additionally, she’s obviously very hard working (as is everyone) and is already off-script the majority of the time, which impresses me because the play is extremely heavy with dialogue. Kristy was the part I wrote with the most intentionally funny lines, and although Elena delivers each and every one in a way that totally contradicts what I actually envisioned, she’s hilarious. She’s able to tone a line down so that it’s not over the top, but all the comedy will then come through her facial expressions and general manner. She never misses a joke – she simply conveys the humour in a variety of ways and this adds a lot more depth to the character and actually makes her more consistent (rather than ridiculous) as a person. If I were to write this part with Elena in mind, I think she would have a lot less dialogue. She’s incredibly skilled at making exactly what she’s thinking known through her face, so much so sometimes that if the dialogue wasn’t there, the audience would still understand and it would still be funny.
Finally, I don’t think I can talk about what the performers are bringing to Kill ’em in the Brain without mentioning the other people involved. I’ve mentioned Michael, the sound technician in previous posts so I need not repeat the level of creativity he’s already adding to the production. We have just acquired Josh, our lighting technician, who hasn’t been involved for as long but is very enthusiastic and has jumped right in to the work. Our stage manager Naomi has been to every rehearsal, and actually I think she would make a great assistant director as she’s often suggesting helpful things and has come up with some great ideas that have actually changed bits of the script, including crucial things near the ending. And then of course we have Rob, who has been discussed in more or less every post. I’ve rambled on enough I’m sure about how much I’m learning about writing and directing from him, but I just can’t stop talking about this as I just haven’t stopped learning from him yet. He’s managed to extract the best things to work with out of my script and hasn’t been afraid to discard the bits that are, frankly, rubbish.
Now that I know some of the strengths of the people I’m working with, I would love to create something new. This time though, I would write as we devised, building characters from the strengths of the performers and really utilising their skills, rather than handing them pre-formed people to inhabit. In future writing projects, I imagine that I probably will construct characters with actors in mind (even if those actors aren’t a sure thing). I believe in creating characters from scratch and using my imagination, but I’ve now learned the value in building from the strengths of the people you need to make these characters a reality.