Monday, August 11, 2014

Wisdom from Anna Deveare Smith: on acting and writing

In an interview about her groundbreaking play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, playwright and actress Anna Deveare Smith says, "You're not the character, and you're not yourself. You're in the 'not not' -- which is a positive. I think this is the most we can hope for. I don't think we can really 'be' anybody else. The actor is a vehicle of consciousness, projected through a fictional character, and the fiction displays great truth."

I think this sentiment applies to writing as well as to acting -- actually, I think it apples to any creative art. When I write a piece of fiction, I am simultaneously myself and the characters I create. I give pieces of myself to my characters, but as the story progresses something magical happens: they become their own individual selves, with their own identities and desires.

Often when I set out to write a story, I have a specific ending in mind, but sometimes the main character will decide to take the action in a different direction, or a minor character will pop up and demand attention. It's as if I am merely the vehicle for expressing these various voices.

Here's a writing prompt that you might try: When I'm stuck or the writing becomes stagnant, I place two characters in a situation and let them talk to each other on the page. Often the story takes form in ways I never would have guessed before I began writing.

I also love something that Anna Deveare Smith says about the actor: he or she has "a deep desire to connect and people come to the theater because they too want to connect. The actor does not produce the connection alone, the audience has to push forward also; the two have to meet in the middle." This is true for all types of art.

One of my favorite things about the medium of writing is that once a piece is published and unleashed upon the world, it is open for interpretation from all different perspectives. The meaning of a piece of writing can shift and morph as the times change and society's needs for sustenance and meaning through literature changes.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!


Whitney Biber said...

i like that idea of placing two characters on a page. never heard of it! :)

Dallas Woodburn said...

Thanks Whit! (For reading & commenting!) Love you & your blog!