Friday, June 04, 2010

All the world's a stage...

...and all the men and women merely players. (As You Like It; Shakespeare, of course)

by Jennie Bentley/Bente Gallagher

Back in April, I had the pleasure of attending the Southern Kentucky Book Fest, with such writing lights as Lisa Scottoline, Teresa Medeiros, Beverle Graves Myers, Jane Cleland, Trish Milburn, and others. And of course my buddy and yours, April’s Working Stiffs guest, my fellow Berkley Babe and Good Girl Laura Bradford AKA Elizabeth Lynn Casey, was there, as well.

I sort of knew Laura already, since we’d already been on a grog together and have lots of friends in common, including our very own Wilfred Bereswill. This was, however, the first time I got to meet Laura face to face. Over the day and a half that the conference lasted, we managed to spend almost every waking moment together, from the snack run to Steak n’Shake the second we set eyes on each other in the parking lot outside the hotel. It was like meeting a best friend I never knew I had. Totally comfortable and wonderful from the first moment.

But since we didn’t actually know each other, we spent a lot of time talking about this, that, and the other, including where we came from and what we’d been doing before we decided to take the plunge into writing.

I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I went from Norway to New York in my late teens, because I wanted to be an actress. I studied drama—I studied voice and dance, too—with a lot of different teachers in NYC for a few years. I even became a half decent actress for a little while. I enjoyed it. Learning the script, working out the character’s back story, her quirks, what made her tick, or why she’d react in certain ways to certain stimuli. Becoming someone else, just for a few hours.

You’ll notice I’m here, and not on Broadway, or for that matter in Hollywood. There’s a reason for that. Whatever talent I may have had, and however capable I may have been of getting into someone else’s head and conveying their actions, thoughts and feelings to an audience, there was one obstacle I couldn’t overcome, and that was auditioning. I hated—loathed, with a passion—having to get up and prove myself every day. Not on stage in front of an audience—once I got there, I was all right—but on auditions. Having to put myself on the line each and every day. And believe me, if you’re not a good auditioner, you can pretty much forget about a career in theatre, film or TV.

The reason I started this post with Laura Bradford is that at some point during those two days in Kentucky, she asked me, “So why do you think so many writers come from an acting background?”

And really, there are a lot of us. Kelli Stanley studied drama, and decided to be a writer instead. Tasha Alexander did some acting. Kathryn Miller Haines does theatre. Harley Jane Kozak does TV. So does Leanna Renee Hieber. Elaine Davidson and Joan Rivers are both writing mysteries now, with a little help from collaborators.

So it’s a good question, right? With so many people crossing over, there has to be a correlation, don’t you think?

For me, the reason is pretty simple, actually. I mean, acting and writing is pretty much the same thing, isn’t it? We get to become someone else, if just for a little while. Get to live in someone else’s head, get to experience someone else’s life, walk a mile or two in their shoes. Just what we always wanted, except the writing doesn’t come with that soul-destroying rejection-to-your-face that you get with acting. At least when your manuscript enters the world, it stands or falls on its own; its success doesn’t depend on how well you fill out your jeans or sweater, or whether you fit someone else’s idea of what the character should look like. It’s about the work, and whether the work measures up or is what is wanted. It’s not about you; you’re not being rejected, the manuscript is.

The thing is, having an acting background helps you in all sorts of ways when it comes to writing. If you’re used to memorizing and delivering dialogue, writing dialogue is gonna be easier for you as well. And if you’re already used to getting inside someone’s head, thinking and acting the way they do, it’ll help you get inside people’s heads in your writing, as well. Building the character, with its back story, its nervous ticks, its mannerisms, its internal monologue... it’s all the same process, whether you’re acting or writing.

This may be the reason why I’m more comfortable writing in first person POV, actually. I’m used to becoming the character. Third person just isn’t the same thing; you don’t think that way in acting. And I know I still work the same way as I did as an actress: out loud, making up and rehearsing dialogue in my head as I walk down the street or drive down the interstate. I see the book not as a movie, up on the screen of my mind, but as a play, with me in the lead.

So what about you? Does any of this sound familiar? Do you think there’s a connection between acting and writing? Have you ever tried acting? Would you consider giving it a try if you thought it could help you with your writing?

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I’m in Norway for a few weeks, so I won’t be here for comments. Play nicely amongst yourselves, darlings, and I’ll be back in July. Have a lovely, lovely month of June!


Annette said...

I agree that there's a connection. I've never acted, but I think getting inside the head of a character has to be the same (or similar) in both acting and writing. Plus, I've often thought that new writers who have trouble with POV should study acting.

Joyce said...

I never thought about it before, but you're right.

As a kid, I wanted to be an actress, but since I was too shy to actually get up in front of people, that was out.

Instead, I acted out the parts in my head or at home. When I was in 7th grade and the Zeferelli "Romeo and Juliet" came out, I was Juliet all summer. I had the whole play memorized. (Juliet's death scene was my favorite.) And one year, my cousin and I talked with British accents everywhere we went.

Maybe that's why I usually write in first person, too.

Anonymous said...

I used to write plays when I was a kid and enlist my bothers, sister, and friends to act them out. I was ALWAYS behind the scenes.

Patg said...

I took some acting classes and I am a major lover of live theater. There is a connection, I believe, of sorts and I think you are right about getting into a character's head. I think a few acting classes is a great tool for any writer.
I did find your comments about auditioning odd though. From my POV and outlook on life and careers, especially a published writer, I see putting our selves out there for judgement as a 24/7 thing. Writing all those query letters is just another version of an audition. And the judgement from agents and editors is from someone supposedly knowledgeable in the field. If you luck out and a publisher prints up your work, then you face the judgement of anyone and everyone with an opinion.
That's just me.