One of the many things that intrigue me about acting is the art of using facial expressions. When incorporated into body movement, it can create the perfect portrayal of any character. In theory it shouldn’t be that complicated, because almost every one of us expresses their feelings with their faces, as well as their body language. And yet, giving facial expressions to characters seems like sorcery to me. I always feel slightly ridiculous when making “a face”, because I just feel it’s never quite right.
I’ve always been a rather animated person (much to my friends’ annoyance) and making faces, even (or especially) very stupid ones, is a way of endorsing what I am saying. Perhaps that is why being ridiculous comes easier to me than being serious. For example, I found the character of Puck in Shakespeare in the Park a fun role to play, partly because I got to be weird and crazy. He was playful and cheeky, and didn’t take the other characters too seriously but made faces at them behind their backs.
I played a maid in Thespians Anonymous’ physical comedy piece Chemical Imbalance last spring. If you have seen any pictures from the shows, you know perfectly what I mean when I talk about facial acting. Because the comedy was so over the top, the actors’ facial expressions are over the top as well. I, for one, look borderline lunatic in many of the pictures taken during the shows. But that was partly the point; my character was almost sick with fear. And once again, because it was a comedy, it was okay to look slightly ridiculous.
I think the hardest has been when I’ve had to be convincingly sad. In a musical two years ago I had to portray sadness at the death of a friend. However, my own sadness is usually expressionless. So how do I create a face for sadness when I don’t really have one to start with myself? In this case thinking about sad things could only get me so far.
Whenever I’m stuck with facial acting (and that’s often), I go to my two favourite sources: the mirror and my movie collection. Watching others act gives me ideas, and the mirror is a non-judgmental friend when trying to figure out what you can do with those 43 or so muscles in your face.
Facial acting, like acting in general, is about stepping away from yourself and into someone else’s shoes. Although I prefer being crazy and funny, not all characters are like that. And although I tend to turn into a stone statue when I’m sad, characters in a play have to show their sadness or fear on their faces, and I have to provide them with that face. It takes a lot of courage and readiness to throw yourself into it, and exercise those facial muscles. But once you do, you find new expressions (literally), and might just acquire a few more faces into your own repertoire.
So next time you stand in front of a mirror, go ahead and pull a few faces. See what you come up with.
Saga Arola is a crazy thespian who has been a member of Thespians Anonymous since autumn 2010. She sees herself as a female Peter Pan; she may grow older, but she will never grow up (much to her friends and family’s disappointment).
This is the second entry in a series of blog posts entitled “My Approach to Acting”. In the series, members of Thespians Anonymous write about their individual approaches to acting and creating characters.