O Reform it Altogether

And now the advice to the players is coming to an end…

Now this overdone, or come tardy off, though it makes the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the censure of which one must in your allowance o’erweigh a whole theatre of others.

Overdoing moments might make a few people laugh, but everyone else may be rather disgusted. Think of everyone else before you ham up a moment for a cheap laugh. Remember again holding up the mirror to nature – an honesty is required. Once you lose that you lose your audience.

O, there be players that I have seen play—and heard others praise, and that highly—not to speak it profanely, that, neither having th’ accent of Christians nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and bellow’d that I have thought some of Nature’s journeymen had made men, and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably. O, reform it altogether.

This should sound familiar to you. How many times have you seen a movie with a famous actor who just, well, sucks? There are plenty of actors out there who are “big” whose abilities to believably play another person are rather small.

Notice that I did not say “realistically.” When you hold a mirror up to nature, nature is not in the mirror. It just looks like it. When acting it is not necessary to be “real.” It’s impossibly to be real, you’re pretending. So we, as an audience, must not think that what is happening is real, but we have to believe it.

And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them,

This is no small matter. And it doesn’t just go for clowns. It’s not uncommon for you to want to insert your own words and sounds here and there, and that’s not always a bad thing. What is bad is to deny the text you have been given. If you say a line with no effort into telling the joke, story, etc. but then make a huge funny gesture you have denied what the author so graciously gives you. I have played clown characters, and it can be tempting to add certain words in reaction to a scene for comic effect. Use what’s been given to you. For anything else, ask the director.

for there be of them that will themselves laugh to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be consider’d. That’s villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.

Don’t laugh at your own joke. Have you ever had someone try to tell you a joke but they can’t stop laughing at the thought of it? Then they finally get the joke out and it’s not funny anymore. Or they will laugh while delivering the punch-line. That’s equally unfunny.

And through all that laughing somewhere along the way the audience has missed some important words that might help them enjoy the rest of the play. That doesn’t make you, the actor, look very good. I don’t know if I’ve stressed this enough times yet: Tell the story.

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