TV comedy writer par excellence Earl Pomerantz nails it for all us up-and-comers:
by Earl Pomerantz
“My mind alights on the memory of Robert O’Neill, who taught at and ran the “Actors’ Workshop” which I attended when I lived in London during the 60’s, the “Actors’ Workshop” specializing in teaching the “Stanislavski Method” acting technique.
England is not the natural terrain for “Method Acting.” That’s growing watermelons in Kansas. In contrast to the “Method’s” introspective methodology, the English acting approach is traditionally of the “outside-inside” variety. Slap on a mustache and you’re Hitler.
“Method” actors are indoctrinated in the “inside-outside” approach. For example, actors are instructed to write extensive biographies so they can better understand their characters’ innermost motivations. (English actors simply put on the costume. “Oh, look! I’m a general!” And they immediately straighten up.)
Many writing professionals also recommend preparing character biographies. I never did that myself. Partly because I am congenitally lazy. But also because the process seems to me to be precariously arbitrary.
‘He attended a good college.” “He attended to a bad college.” “He attended a good college but dropped out.” “He attended a bad college, later transferring to a good college.” “He never attended college.” “He attended college, but it had nothing to do with his future success as a professional bowler.” “He attended a great college but he set it on fire.”
And that’s just about college.
My summarial conclusion on writing character biographies recalls the elderly hotel porter, who, when my mother refused to share a queen-sized bed with her two young sons replied,
“Well, some does and some doesn’t.”
The same goes for “Sense Memory”, requiring actors to remember seminal events from their personal lives, to help invigorate their performances. The character’s loved one succumbs, you remember the day your dog died, and you cry….