Acting After Illness #15 Backstory

My backstory is everything from the moment I was born to now, this moment, writing this blog.

I, all of us, carry our backstories around with us, in our heads, 24/7.

In training to be an actor, time was spent on building backstories for the characters I was playing.

The hope is that an underlining of the dialogue from the script, with a backstory, would bring about truth to my performance.

It was like being back at school, doing “a school project”, on say, Winston Churchill.

Scissors and glue at the ready.

I enthusiastically gathered info from various sources: the script, Wikipedia, books, magazines, photographs and films.

Print, cut and paste.

I handed in my “backstory”.

My teacher said very good.

Alas, I didn’t get any gold stars nor did I get to stand in front of class and proudly show off my A3 notebook.

In real life we don’t need to cut out and paste things into an A3 to make up or build a backstory, because our backstories start to take shape as soon as we are born and live in our heads.

Everybody’s backstory, A3, is different and unique.

I feel though, and this is my view, building backstories for playing characters, is akin to jumping off a high cliff on a wing and prayer, in the hope that you land safety.

You try to get it right, the backstory, the character, the lines, all of it, right.

Often you don’t.

But, you try.

If you are acting in the theatre there is the chance to have another go the following night. In film too, to a degree, you get another take or another 20 takes.

In real life, we don’t get another chance. The moment is the moment and once the moment has gone, it’s gone.

We don’t get the chance of “take two” or performing again the following night.

Playwright Sarah Rhul writes that actors can’t possibly think one thing and say another without ending up in a muddle.

I agree with Sarah, how can I think one thing and say another.

Likewise, with our real lives too. More often than not we use language to cover the truth of our backstories which ends up in a muddle. Even lies.

These jumbles happen because our brains make up stories outside of the facts and the truth of what really happened, gets buried in our thoughts, our made up stories, and the language we choose to use.

When we repeat these junk thoughts we turn them into beliefs – we believe our own garbage and use it as a bold underline to prop up what we say or do.

To get out of these muddles and mix-ups, we can choose to put our made-up backstories and our beliefs to one side, to the left or to the right or even high above our present thoughts, our sentences, and our dialogues.

Imagine that. If you put your backstory and your beliefs to one side, into the long grass, you can then think and say what you’re going to say, without that heavy and bold underlining, the influence, of your backstory.

This opens the door to freedom and choice.

You are free to make choices – a choice to say things that are useful, a choice to say things that make your life and the life of others better.

Back to acting.

I see the language, the text, from the script, as the truth.

If the character says it is. Then it is. The dialogue in the scene is the truth.

There is no need to underline the dialogue with a backstory.

There is no need to do a “school project”.

The truth is there, written in the script, word by word, sentence by sentence and scene by scene.

You often hear actors saying this in answer to the question “How did you prepare for the role?”. More often than not, they say something along the lines of “It’s in the script…” or “It’s in the writing…”.

We cannot get rid of our backstories but we can put them to the left or right and above our daily lives which will open the door to opportunity and the chance of making our own lives and the lives of others better too.

Byron Katie, speaker and author, teaches a method known as the work of Byron Katie or simply “The Work”.

In “The Work” she asks “Who would you be without your story?”.

That’s a powerful question to ask yourself and opportunity for you to put your backstory to one side and find a path forward for a better future for you and others.

David has completed his first short, A Pinprick of Light, since the bleed in his brain. You can see the trailer here.

You can contact David via Spotlight.