The performance of Prose
When you have prepared the excerpt or short story that you are going to share with an audience, it is time to consider the demands of the performance to make it live for the audience. As an author, you have the advantage over anyone else who may try to present your work because you created the characters. Who better knows them personally, but when you share them with an audience, they need to live, be real for them in their minds. There are ways that you can do this with your voice, face and body. The following suggestions are a few ways to achieve this:
Characters within a story should be VOCALLY DISTINCT from each other, and from the narrator. More specifically, each should have a unique and distinguishable
all of which are CONSISTENTLY RENDERED throughout the performance. Be sure that the traits assigned to a character are JUSTIFIED in the text: if you, the author, have painted the character as shy, then play him or her shy, but do not play the character loud simply to distinguish him or her from a vulgar acting character who needs to be portrayed.
SWITCHES from character to character, or from character to narrator SHOULD BE CLEAN AND CRISP. For example, Joe is talking to Jane. Joe has a distinct personality, attitude, sound and look. When Jane responds to him, the interpreter must instantly switch into Jane’s personality, attitude, sound and look. The change must be total and immediate.
Eye Contact and Character
You, the author, interpreter, should use your script, but more importantly, you must CONVEY THE SCRIPT, BRING IT TO LIFE; to this end, eye contact with the audience is most important.
Thus, expect that the performer will look at the audience more than at the script. When reading, the author/interpreter must continue to employ facial expression, must SEE THE STORY COME TO LIFE ON THEPAGE. The bottom line is this: the interpreter’s face must always react and respond—express—whether it is looking at the text, looking at the audience, or visualizing an event.
When rendering characters, the author/interpreter is expected to employ “focal points” or “focal frames.” How?
—BY ESTABLISHING FOCAL POINTS. When portraying the character Joe, the interpreter will look at a definite point either just above the listeners’ heads or at one particular audience member—the first choice is by far the better one.
--BY KEEPING FOCUS CONSISTENT. Whenever rendering Joe, the interpreter will always look at the same point/person.
—BY ESTABLISHING LOCATION.
Joe is talking to someone. The author/interpreter must convince the audience that Joe SEES the person with whom he is conversing. Joe should be able to see Jane’s eyes, hair, shoes, belt, briefcase or whatever is part of that characters persona. In this sense, the interpreter, while portraying Joe seeing the totality of another person, is establishing a location within a FOCAL FRAME.
When rendering Jane, the interpreter will look at another definite point, either just above the listeners’ heads or at another particular audience member. Whenever rendering Jane, the interpreter will always look at the same point/person. Finally, remember that when Jane speaks, she sees the person with whom she is conversing; she is not looking at an empty point in space. (If the interpreter envisions what each character looks like and is wearing, it is easier for him/her to have the characters PICTURE each other during dialogue.)
CAUTIONS: (1) The switching of focus and locus also involves the switching of a character body, look, attitude, and voice. Simply looking at a different point will not create the “reality” of each distinct person.
(2) When employing focal points, the actor should not have a character stare incessantly and blankly at a designated spot. As in a real conversation, the character must respond facially to the dynamics of the exchange and must address another realistically— staring unflaggingly at the eyes of another when directness is called for; averting direct contact while thinking or when emotions make a face-to-face encounter difficult.
Being able to do this takes practice. This is where, after several practices, a video camera can become a great tool to use. You can record yourself; play the tape back to see what you are doing, or what you are not doing. However, learning the techniques used by interpreters of literature can be a great asset to the author to help the sales of his or her works.