The Technique of Acting

By F. Cowles Strickland | Go to book overview

Chapter 5. PROGRESSIONS

THE SKILLFUL playwright arranges any sequence of lines devoted to the expression of a single emotion or thought in such a way that the least important or consequential part of the thought is stated first and each following sentence is an extension or an amplification of the thought, with the most important sentence placed at the end of the sequence. In the Bassanio-Shylock scene, for example, the amount of money and the duration of the loan are of less importance to the plot and the character relationships than is the fact that Antonio is to be bound, which is presented as the third of the three conditions. In the Juliet- Nurse scene quoted in Chapter 4, only the stranger who would not dance, the subject of Juliet's final question, has any significance in the story.


The Need for Technical Progressions

Just as the author has taken infinite pains to arrange the dialogue in such a way that it constantly seems to be moving toward a climax, so the actor must constantly speak the lines in such a way that they always seem to be moving forward, to be advancing the plot or amplifying the characterizations. That which follows must always be made to seem more important and more interesting than that which has preceded. Theater audiences are intolerant of any lessening of interest or any sense of retrogression. Even an attempt to maintain the same level of interest will not satisfy an audience. A play that does not seem to be moving forward will tend to bore an audience almost as much as it would if it were moving backwards.

Actually, the dialogue of a play does not and cannot move constantly forward and upward in an unbroken line. What happens is that a thought is introduced and developed to its own climax and then a new thought is introduced, which must begin immediately to move toward its climax. Possibly there will be a drop in interest after the climax of the first thought, but this will not worry an audience, or even be apparent, provided the next thought is immediately introduced and the development toward a new climax immediately begun.

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