24 July 2007

Not always the best skill

Back in film school, Directing II included some acting exercises. In one, two people sat in chairs in front of the class, knee-to-knee. One person would make a present-tense observation about the other, and the other would repeat what the first had said verbatim.

"You're wearing jeans."
"You're wearing jeans."

"You're wearing a t-shirt."
"You're wearing a t-shirt."

"Your hair is brown."
"Your hair is brown."

It's more difficult to do than it sounds. A lot of people would switch the pronoun to I when they were repeating and others would drop the "You are..." or "Your" format when they got into details.

"You're wearing a t-shirt."
"I'm wearing a t-shirt."

"It's green."

It is as dull to watch other people doing as it seems unless you happen to be among friends, and they're screwing up and laughing.

When it was my turn to make observations, I sat across from O, our knees interlocked so we were each touching the edge of the other's chair.

"You're wearing a blue shirt."
"You're wearing a blue shirt."

"Your hair is black."
"Your hair is black."

"Your hair is short."
"Your hair is short."

Our professor altered the exercise so that O was supposed to change the yous to Is.

"You're wearing jeans."
"I'm wearing jeans."

"Your stubble is black."
"My stubble is black."

"You're smiling at me."
"I'm smiling at you."

"You're repeating everything I say."
"I'm repeating everything I, you say."

If I couldn't think of something, I had to repeat my last observation to preserve the rapid flow.

"You're repeating everything I say."
"I'm repeating everything you say."

"You're repeating everything I say."
O started messing around with his inflections, getting ever more grandiose. "I am repeating everything you say."

"You're repeating everything I say."
"I'm repeating everything you say."

"You're repeating everything I say."
"I'm repeating everything you say."

I started to laugh and my professor called for the next pair, but just then I got it:
"You're making fun of me."

O grinned. I looked over at my prof and he smiled. The whole point of the exercise was to recognize quickly what someone was really doing in the moment. For a director, this skill is crucial for ensuring she gets the performance she needs. In life, it helps elucidate people's subtext.

I am a literalist, so reading people's suppressed moods and ulterior motives is not my forte, but every now and then my brain clicks back to that repeating exercise and thinks, "What is she really saying?"

It's good to know the answer to that question, but when it comes to my mom, it's better not to call her on her subtext, particularly when she's unconsciously dissing my education because of her unwarranted low self-esteem from never finishing college. Note to self: stop setting off that booby trap.

"You and your father think I'm a monster."

"No, we don't." Oh man, this took a seriously wrong turn. I had pointed out that she was implying I shouldn't like cartoons based on my level of education. All this because I had recounted some silliness from an episode of Futurama.

Mom's eyes were watering and my desire to convince her that I was right plummeted. "I didn't mean to upset you."

"I'm not upset."

Your eyes are watering, I thought to myself, but I let it go.

2 comments :

  1. Great post. The game reminds me of that song in A Chorus Line, where she sings about having to pretend to be a bobsled and an ice cream cone: http://www.nomorelyrics.net/song/
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  2. Thanks very much.

    Somehow, I haven't actually seen A Chorus Line, but I see what you mean.

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