Analyzing Literature

by: Kirt Shineman

1. IMAGERY: involves the reader “seeing” images or ideas as you perform. In order to do that you need to isolate and identify those images. Take your script and look at it (from the first word). On a piece of paper write what you see and when. While you may not have to write all the detail, you should be able to visualize in absolute reality detail. This skill will develop more clearly as you continue to work with the selection. If you see it, so will the audience.
2. Work on motivation. For each character in your selection find out line-by-line what the motivation is. Why do they do what they do? Don’t take them for granted- find out.
A. First, go through the entire cutting and transcribe all of the verbs. Find the verbs and underline them. Then on the side of the text rewrite the verb into an action you might do, or “see”. Then note where the shift in the verbs occur. Most of the verbs will be similar in their main foundation until they shift. Mark the shift.
B. Second, apply all of the verbs to an action choice. Alter the actions to fit the psychology of the character. List these actions and verbs on this sheet of paper. Find the character’s motivations by what s/he states, and s/he actually does.
C. Take these action lines and script an inner dialogue. Be concerned with the rhythm and tone of the inner dialogue. Draw out the rising action and changes of the action in a graph. Put the line at the points in the graph where there is a shift.

Example: From Playland by Athol Fugard
Verb Action Choice
Gideon:[a black man in South Africa speaking¨ speaking *to discuss to Marty, a white man] What did you do, Marty? What to pester What’s the charge the Big Baas is going to read charge, read to inflame out of the Big Book when the Big Day comes?  Come on, man, you can tell me. I know how to Come on, tell to challenge keep a secret. You killed somebody, hey. Spill keep, killed, Spill to incite the beans. What happened? Armed robbery? What to question No. You don’t look like that sort. I’ve got it! look, got to label Your woman. Right? You caught your woman caught to induce with another man? (pause) (Laughter) I’m hot! Laughter *to excite Who got it Marty? Your woman? The man? Both Who got to inquire Of them? (laughter) How did you do it? Knife? how-do, Knife to incite Did you get away with it? Come to this booth. get away,Come to provoke Two random shoots at a wooden ducks with shoots to invite a pellet gun. We weren’t shooting wooden ducks shooting to explain with pellet guns up there on the Border. Were Were to question we? That was Hell. Hell is right here and now in is to state this amusement park. It’s everlasting! And if you want to see the devil I can show you him as well. see, show to inflame He wears a khaki uniform, he’s got an AK-47 in wears, got to describe his hands. SWAPO. Kill or be killed… and Kill (Marty) *to attack don’t think about it. This is still a free country.
You people haven’t take over yet.
Psychology of character: Gideon is pestering Marty to tell us why he killed black men in a small war, but G. won’t forgive the white man.

Twelve Essentials of Interpretation Performance – adapted from Michael Shurtleff’s 1978 Audition.

I. RELATIONSHIP: Start with a question-What is my relationship with the characters in this scene? Facts are never enough. First determine if you are the son, the mother, the lover…then determine the Feel. Go further into the relationship than the mere facts. Ask feeling questions about the emotions and attitudes of your characters. Do you love him? Do you hate her? Do you want to help him? Do you resent her? These are the most important questions. The facts tell you only that- the facts. The emotions tell you about the character.

II. CONFLICT: What are you fighting for? All life is a fight. We all want to get something. “What is your goal in this scene?” “I want to get away from this person. I want to run out of this room.” “Then why don’t you run? What is keeping you there?” Plays are not written about everyday life or about peace and tranquility, but rather about the extraordinary, the unusual, and the climaxes. Performers must realize that what they must use in their performance is the opposite of what they have been trained to seek in their own lives. Peacefulness and the avoidance of trouble will not help them.

III. THE MOMENT BEFORE: Every scene you will ever act begins in the middle. Something always precedes what you are doing – what was it?

IV. HUMOR: Humor is not jokes. Humor is the attitude toward being alive without which you would long ago have killed yourself. Humor is not being funny. It is the coin of exchange between human beings that makes it possible for us to get through the day. Humor exists even in the humorless.

V. OPPOSITES: Whatever you decide is your motivation in the scene, the opposite of that is also true and should be in it. Consistency is the heart of dull acting. What fascinates us about other human beings is their inconsistency, their use of opposites. Opposites exist strongly in every human being.

VI. DISCOVERIES: Every scene is filled with discoveries, things that happen for the first time. No matter how many times it has happened in the past, there is something new about this experience, something different about this moment.

VII. COMMUNICATION: When a scene fails an actor will frequently say, “But I felt it!” If that feeling is not being communicated to the other characters in the scene, nothing has happened. You need to have it felt by the other characters. Communication is a circle (transactional)…not a one-way street (linear).

VIII. IMPORTANCE: Plays are written about the most importance moments in people’s lives. Never are plays about the humdrum happenings.

IX. FIND THE EVENTS: One of the chief roles of the performer is to create the events of the piece. An event can be a change, a confrontation, a consequence, a climax. Events can be overt or hidden, clear or obscure.

X. PLACE: Everything takes place in a bare place. It is up to the performer to create the stage. If the performer does not create the stage, how is the audience to see it? The performer must not only create the place but communication how it feels to live in the place as well.

XI. ROLES: Each character plays a different role in each scene. They might play the role of the teacher in one scene, the role of the parent in another and the role of a peer in yet another. Every scene is a new role.

XII. MYSTERY: Create a sense of mystery with your character. Add in what you do not know. There is always something intriguing about the person. No matter how well you know someone there is always something you don’t know. Your life is a work of art. You are artists, and your life is your work. Every moment is a moment of creation, and each moment of creation contains infinite possibilities.

Now that you understand how to better interpret literature, learn about characterization.