acting, audience, christian blog, christian theater, communication, directing, stage, theater, theater education

It’s Not What You Say-It’s How You Say It

Meet Guest Blogger Anna Johansen Brown! I’m excited to introduce this charming, cleaver, talented writer to all of you! 
 
 
Anna Johansen Brown is a current journalist, former debate teacher, and eternal nerd. She writes for a daily news podcast called The World And Everything In It and the topical podcast Effective Compassion. In her free time, she creates fantasy worlds and plays DnD with her fellow nerd husband, Wesley. One day, Anna aspires to become a dog owner.

My husband has been educating me on Star Wars. I think he sees it as his duty to make me a well-rounded individual who fully appreciates cultural icons. And while I’ve seen the original trilogy, I’ve never watched Revenge of the Sith…or that one about the clones…or that other one whose name I can’t remember.

So we’ve been watching them together. And I have thoughts.

My first takeaway was that battle droids are adorable. Why did no one tell me this before? But my second takeaway was the dialogue. Like this infamous line, delivered by a mawkish Anakin: “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere. Not like you. You’re everything soft and smooth.”

NOBODY TALKS LIKE THAT.

Or if they do, you probably should be running away fast.

So I started thinking about dialogue, and how crucial it is in maintaining immersion for viewers or listeners or readers.

In real life, people are unscripted and say “um” and “uh” and “like” and “y’know”…and they really don’t drop similes into ordinary conversations. In real life, people fumble for words and speak in sentence fragments. They’re unscripted.

The way people talk also tells you something about their background. Certain words are unique to certain locations. (Y’all, anyone?) The words people choose indicate what they like to read and where they grew up and who they hung out with. So for writers, getting dialogue right is important. It’s important for general realism (your characters shouldn’t sound scripted, even though they are), and specific realism (your characters shouldn’t use words they wouldn’t know or have heard in their context).

When I started writing for a news podcast, I had to learn the difference between print and radio. In print, you can cram lots of details and clauses into a sentence. Like this frontpage Washington Post article from the mid-2000s:

“President Bush yesterday said he takes responsibility for the federal government’s stumbling response to Hurricane Katrina as his White House worked on several fronts to move beyond the improvisation of the first days of the crisis and set a long-term course on a problem that aides now believe will shadow the balance of Bush’s second term.”

Perfectly acceptable print sentence. But try reading that out loud. It doesn’t work.

For one thing, it’s too long. Normal people don’t speak in long, full sentences with correct clauses and subclauses. They use short sentences.

It also doesn’t make sense the first time you hear it. When you’re reading something, you can go back and re-read parts of a sentence or paragraph that you missed the first time through. If you’re speaking or reading to someone, you only get one shot.

So for stage and for radio, you have to translate it into something speakable. When I write scripts, I’m constantly saying the lines out loud as I type, to see if it feels natural. Once, my editor flatly refused to include “transmogrification” in a script because who says that in real life? (Well, maybe you’re writing a character who happens to be a super nerd. If so, you can use transmogrification in their dialogue. I’ll allow it.)

Bottom line: Choose words that your character would actually say. And that means you have to know who you’re writing about. Spend time with that demographic. Listen to how they speak, their sentence structure, their slang, their word choice, their pronunciation.

Kids don’t think in abstract terms, so don’t write in deep moral thought processes for your 6-year-old character. Women tend to say “I feel like [insert opinion here]” more than men do. Americans don’t call elevators “lifts,” and Brits don’t call an eggplant an eggplant. They call it “aubergine.”

So listen and mimic. But…only to a certain extent.

You want dialogue to sound natural, but the same time, you don’t want to write in all the ums and uhs and filler words so common in real-life conversations. That would bog down a script and sap all your artistry. There is a place in between ordinary conversations and scripted dialogue. That’s the sweet spot. National Public Radio calls it “speech that has been washed and pressed.” You mimic natural speech without being strictly accurate.

You can use rhetorical devices in scripts and dialogue. Scripted lines can (and should) have flow and rhythm and lyricism. But if you read it out loud (or have a 6-year-old read it out loud, or a Canadian, or a 40-year-old man, or whoever your character is most like), it has to sound like something they would actually say.

Whoever is voicing or reading your script will thank you. And if you do your job right, your audience probably won’t even notice, because they’ll be immersed in the characters and setting. There won’t be any sand…that coarse, rough, irritating stuff that gets everywhere…to distract them.

Have you ever performed in a play where the dialogue was difficult? Do you have certain authors that just make everything sound natural? I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time–this is just me-talking to you from the wings!

broadway, christian blog, christian theater, family, stage, theater

My Top Ten Favorite Love Songs for the Stage

What is it the first  thing that grabs you about a musical? Is it the storyline? The actors? The authors and composers?

For me, it is the music. If I love the music–chances are I will love the musical.

Last year at this time I wrote about the top ten love stories for the stage. You can read about it here: https://fromthewings.org/2019/02/13/my-top-ten-love-stories-for-the-stage/

This time let’s look a little deeper and discover the top love songs. Music. It speaks of love. It communicates and it might even tug at your heart and  at times make you cry.

10. Helpless  (Hamilton)

I didn’t know what to expect when I first saw Hamilton. I thought it was entirely rap music and I didn’t know if I would understand it or even  like it. Boy! was I surprised. I loved the story. I could understand far more than I thought I would be able to. And I was entranced by the love story and brought to tears by the same story. Don’t we all feel Helpless and weak in the knees when we meet the “one”? Listen, to the love story begin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRcC_COfWrI

9. All I Ask of You  (The Phantom of the Opera)

I will be the first to admit that I am not a huge Phantom fan. I have seen it three times and each time I liked it less. But this hauntingly beautiful song is something that declares our innermost desires to the ones we love.

Let me be your freedom,
“Let daylight dry your tears;
I’m here, with you, beside you,
To guard you and to guide you.
Say you love me every waking moment,
Turn my head with talk of summertime.
Say you need me with you now and always;
Promise me that all you say is true,
That’s all I ask of you.”

It continues, “Let me be your shelter, your freedom..” In other words, everything you need.
Yes, my love, please be my everything. (and if the lyrics weren’t enough to get you–the vocals and orchestra…perfection.)

8. A Whole New World (Aladdin)

In this musical Aladdin (with the help of his Genie) rescues  Princess Jasmine from danger from the evil Jafar. To our eyes he is common and should never be allowed to marry royalty, but that’s not the way true love works is it? Especially not in fairy tales. And in our favorite ones good always triumphs over evil. In this song, Aladdin “opens” Jasmine’s eyes to life outside the kingdom and together they sing the song that we all know means that lovers feel an out-of-this world experience when they fall in  love. The new world gives them a chance to escape reality together…..something we always want to do with the one we love.

7. I Can Hear the Bells (Hairspray)

The heroic Tracy Turnblad fantasizes about her perfect marriage to the gorgeous Link Larkin – every schoolgirls’ biggest fantasy. There is something in pop musicals that captures that feeling of longing. Maybe it’s because we listen to that music as we are growing up and feeling all the things we feel as we are finding out who we are and what the real world is all about. There were plenty of times when I was growing up that I fantasied that the boy I “loved” would love me back, that we would be married and live happily ever after. And it all starts with “he touched me” or “bumped me” or “looked at me.” Yep, this song tells it all.

6. Can You Feel the Love Tonight ( The Lion King)

This song is a beautiful arrangement of the beginning of love. There is nervousness, doubt, insecurity, sadness as friends realize that love will take their friend from them. It starts tender, but as the song progresses the music builds with energy and orchestration– the way love should grow.
Can you feel the love tonight?
The peace the evening brings
The world, for once, in perfect harmony
With all its living things.”

That’s the way true love should make you feel.

5. If Ever I Would Leave You (Camelot)

I would LOVE to do this musical, but feel that there is no way to make it “fit. ” Camelot is supposed to be the perfect place to live. It never rained until after sundown. It must not be too hot. The fog must go away by 8 in the morning…you get the idea. Ah! the fantasy and romance of it all.

There is a beautiful love story between King Arthur and Guinevere until Lancelot takes his place at the round table. He falls in love with Guinevere and  shortly after she falls in love with him in return. Lancelot realizes he must leave Camelot, but he can’t imagine life without her.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwuLkpJAcIY

4. Somewhere (West Side Story)

Set in a time of tragedy and conflict these two star-crossed lovers fall in love. Surrounded by heartache, after her true love kills her brother she begins to feel that their future is hopeless.  In this song they daydream of a place-a time-where race and families won’t divide them. You can hear the pain in their voices as they sing of a perfect place. It’s an oldie but goodie.

“Some day, Somewhere. We’ll find a new way of living.

We’ll find a way of forgiving.

Hold my hand and we’re half way there.

Hold my hand and I’ll take you there.”

Perfection.

 3. On My Own (Les Misérables)

Eponine wanders the streets imaging the life that could have been, if only her beloved Marius hadn’t fallen in love with someone else. I have had my share of unrequited loves in my life and I guess I love this tragically beautiful song because it speaks so honestly of how love is in our own minds, but how painful it is when reality hits and you are standing….on your own….alone.

2. As Long As You’re Mine  (Wicked)

My favorite musical ever is Wicked. I’ve seen it 8 times and can’t wait to get the chance to see it again. There is a moment that is almost heart stopping for me. Hiding in the woods from those who pursue them, Elphaba and Fiyero finally succumb to their mutual attraction, which has been building since the first time they met. Chemistry at it’s finest.

Aren’t these beautiful?

“And just for this moment
As long as you’re mine
I’ve lost all resistance
And crossed some border line
And if it turns out
It’s over too fast
I’ll make every last moment last
As long as you’re mine.”

Making each moment last is what it is all about!

1. Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine (ShowBoat)

Since this is the musical that made me fall in love with theater it just makes sense that I should have my top love song be from this musical. This is a classic and second only to “Old Man River” from the same musical.

Julie sings this song in an attempt to explain why she continues to love her man even though he comes home late and leaves home unexplained yet she adores him. He might be lazy or slow, but she loves him.

Don’t we all wish we could love and be loved exactly the same way? At least in our dreams.

For this Valentine’s Day, why not listen to some of these amazing songs. Or maybe even have a weekend of musical watching!

What are some of your favorites love songs from musicals?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Until next time, this is just me, talking to you, from the wings!

acting, artist, audience, christian, christian blog, christian theater, directing, entertainment, family, stage, theater, theater education, theater professions

Why Do Theater?

This week I looked out over an audience of only 38 people. We are allowed 50, but Illinois had a huge snow storm and some of our audience decided not to come.

I always stand in the corner of the balcony at curtain call and glance over to see the audience’s reactions. Will they give the cast a standing ovation? Will they grudgingly stand or enthusiastically reward the cast for their performances? Were they moved by the performances or bored silly?

This past Saturday the cast of Noah! finished the first part of an extended run. We had performed for three weeks. We will now take three weeks off and then come back ready to perform again. Covid restrictions has reduced us from allowing 198 audience members to only 50. It is really empty in there.

(Photo by Francisco Montes)

This show is emotional and tiring and these eight characters give it their all. In fact, so does the technical crew, stage crew, box office and front of the house. So when I saw the audience enthusiastically stand to applaud, I was thrilled. We all worked as hard for 38 people as we would have for 198.

Still….

I felt a little badly for them. As an actor, director, we all want sold out, full houses. It is so quiet in the theater with such a small house.

Don’t get me wrong! We are super thrilled to be able to perform! But, what would it be like if night after night we could have the audience of 198? It might not change the performance, but would it change us?

Acting involves a great deal of collaboration from many people. As you build/create your characters you also build/create a relationship with the other cast members. The costumes add a layer to your performance as the hair/make-up and tech also does. Live theater is important because you must be FULLY PRESENT with another group of FULLY PRESENT people to truly be authentic. And especially after this past year, I believe that live theater is not only good and enjoyable, but also necessary for the human spirit.

Why?

  1. Theater reminds us that we are not alone. We share each experience with the audience and actors. We connect. Actors and audience agree for a time period that we will take a journey together.  Perhaps we will laugh, perhaps cry, but we will do it together.
  2. Live theater is never the same. The script is the same and the actors are consistent. But acting is reacting so if one actor has a little different emotion or reaction it might cause the next actor to react differently. It is a unique experience each night.
  3. Live theater allows us to forget, laugh, weep and many other emotions. For just a brief moment in time we are insulated and can forget the troubles of our days and lives.

So why do we do theater?

Because we want to be that person that can share that experience with a room of strangers. I heard recently that audience’s hearts beat together as one. I’m not sure how that was proven, but if it is indeed true it is a beautiful thought. We are sharing a moment that is so unique that will never be the same. We also want to be that performer that makes the woes of the world disappear.

If that is true, then changing even one person’s life is worth it all.

Large audiences might be a rush, but there is an intimacy in a smaller one. The person is the same. Let’s connect. Let’s take this journey together.

Why do you do theater? How do you feel about performing for small audiences? How does it make you as an audience member feel?

I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,

This is just me-talking to you-from the wings!