“Lentulus becomes white with terror and a shade of green flickers in his cheek for a moment.”
I was meditating on this moment written in GB Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion. It seemed an odd stage direction for an actor. How can one manage that? How can one directly fulfill that stage direction? I don’t think one can, directly. But it can be used as a guide post. “Ah, this is where the man (Lentulus) gets to in his experience with Ferrovius.”
I thought of earlier in the evening when I was reading about the differences between contour drawing and value shading.
Contour drawing is about the lines. Defining the space with lines. Direct and by name linear. Now, Contrast this with Value Shading, where the object in question is defined by shading. It is defined by the lights it catches and the shadows it creates. My brother Scott, a natural born artist, drew this way instinctively. He sculpted his drawings out of rendered shadows. As a kid I used to look at the drawings he did in the margins of his schoolbooks, notebooks and wonder how he did it.
This particular evening, however, I was drawing from a photograph, the head of a lion. It was actually a sculpture of a lion’s head from the side of a ancient Roman Temple outside of Lebanon, in a place called Baalbek. At first I was working in contour drawing, a sketch really. I caught the shape and the sense of it. There was no mistaking it. It was indeed the lion. But it lacked the personality of the sculpted lion in the photograph. No doubt, this was partly due to my lack of skill as an artist. I am proficient enough, for hobby. But there are no galleries knocking on my door. However, I think some has to do with the limitations of the technique.
Begrudgingly I switched. I am much less skilled at value shading in drawing. In fact I am intimidated by it. There seems so much less control of the outcome and my fear is that the whole drawing will go out of whack without establishing the outlines first. The proportions and body parts will be all askew and fall willy nilly where they may, An ear where there should be an eye, one side of the face twice the size of the other.
I did switch however, and the drawing that emerged, this drawing definitely emerged out of the paper as it came into being, was a much richer portrait. There was subtlelty and nuance and unmistakenly the subject I was hoping to represent. I was much more pleased with this drawing. It had life in it. The contour drawing was technically proficient. However, this second drawing although a little messier, definitely had more going on. It caught the three dimensions more fully.
For some time now, I have given students the note, "You are only giving me the shape of something" perhaps it was anger, misery, joy. Like my contour drawing of the lion, it was unmistakably what they were trying to portray. But it was hollow, unfilled. Even though, I gave the note, I didn’t quite feel I fully understood what I was saying enough to get my point across. After my experience with line drawing and contour drawing, I understand my own point of view more clearly.
These actors were giving me an outline of what they wanted to represent but not filling it, living through the moment. In trying to fill it directly, they only made the outline darker, which in turn simply highlighted the emptiness within. The approach was limited. (Usually I have found that it comes from trying to play an emotion rather than an intention, action, task...whatever you want to call it.) However, if the switch is made to playing the intention, thinking your way through a problem at hand. The value shading that I discovered in drawing begins to happen in acting. It is part of a greater whole.
An actor following his stage directions in a linear fashion can not suddenly turn his cheek green. But if he is following a path akin to Value Shading and building his personage, his character from the stuff within himself as an actor? ... he just might turn green. OR it might flicker there for a moment. If that is the kind of fear he is actually experiencing in the moment. So, we find our way to the experience of it through the action we are playing. It is drawn out in us rather than muscling it up or trying to achieve a flicker of green in our suddenly pale cheek