The Website is Slowly Coming Together, but the writing doesn’t stop. Here’s another little tidbit to hold you over until launch – Colin
I’m a sucker for a good courtroom scene. The overly-varnished oak, the lofty prose, the everyman attorney and his wronged client up against the smarmy wealthy prosecutor and his cadre of good ole boys…mmm. The problem is, it’s all bullshit. All of it. Nothing happens that way in court, right? New evidence is rarely allowed, the trial’s ruling can be appealed to a higher court, and people lie on the stand all of the time. So why are they so compelling?
Recently I was trying to find ways to talk bout how the Stoic principle of Reasoned Choice relates to acting. There were plenty of quotes I could pull from philosophers and acting teachers alike. Still, nothing ever came together in a way that felt useful. Anything I wrote was like a courtroom speech: it was pretty, it was lofty, much like a courtroom speech. AND THERE IT WAS! The connection I was looking for.
Courtroom scenes are compelling because they show us characters in impossible positions who must nevertheless make a choice. What choice they make isn’t as important as the fact that they do make one. Check these two out from WILDLY different periods.
What I love about both of these scenes is that they put characters in impossible positions. Cordelia must lie to her father and gain a kingdom or be honest and lose everything. Tyrion must decide to accept his trumped-up death sentence or wade in and fight an unwinnable battle. Neither is in a desirable position, but each makes a desirable choice. Think about your own courtroom scene; would you actually have the guts to tell the truth if your death or banishment was assured because of it? Not likely. But these two do. How?
It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it. Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.-Epictetus
Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher born into slavery and crippled by his master. He lived a difficult life but obviously tried to make the best of it regardless of circumstance. In Epictetus’ eyes, both Cordelia and Tyrion realize that — though everything has been taken away from them in a moment — they still have their reasoned choice. The can always choose their attitude towards the situation. Each reacts in a very different way — Cordelia with the quiet resilience of love, Tyrion with rage at an unjust world — but neither ever denies what is happening. They accept their fates and try to move forward despite the rulings.
I feel like we get too hung up on emotions and moods when we’re acting. You can pull out all of the clichés at this point: mood is doom spelled backward, it’s acting not feeling, etc. I hate all of them, but they have a point. We ignore the actions we can take that produce an emotion, and become hung up on the emotion itself. I get it; we’re humans too. We worry about doing a good job or being asked to return or receiving praise. But there’s a better, more heroic way to look at it.
Every time you get on stage, you should look at it like the character is put on trial. Their decisions are judged not only by the other characters onstage but by the audience, just like in a courtroom. We talk about raising the stakes until they’re life-and-death, just like the stakes often are in a courtroom. We’re bound by specific rules and principles that we only break if the cause is merited, just like in a courtroom. So, instead of worrying about the effect you’re having, try to put your character in the shoes of someone like Cordelia or Tyrion. You are placed in a situation where you only have a few paths to choose from, and they all suck, but hey, you have a choice! Make it.