Between Truth and Artifice

While we’re on the topic of actorly attributes that contribute to a thoroughly-embodied performance:

On screen, an actor needs to stay corporeally true to their character only when their bodies are in the frame. On the other hand — and as previously detailed — a stage actor must remain in character for every moment they’re traipsing the boards within eyesight; if even the smallest gesture rings false to their character, this unintended artifice can hurt the audience’s immersion of engagement.

Apt elucidation of this idea can be found on Broadway right now.

Early in Between Riverside and Crazy, Stephen McKinley Henderson — a pro’s pro if there ever was one — accompanies another character to smoke a joint on their balcony. In the middle of a conversation having little to do with toking, out of nowhere, Henderson whips out a flawless French inhale.

Anyone who doesn’t worry about contracting lung cancer might not even notice; neither Henderson nor the production call attention to this flaunting of his smoking expertise. But it’s one of our first unspoken indicators that this ex-cop is an old hand at the party life; it’s a visual sign that he’s really about that life, without uttering a word of bullshit-expository evidence to back it up, which would be another form of — to all but quote myself from a few paragraphs ago — “unintended artifice [that] can hurt the audience’s immersion of engagement.”

Henderson’s oxidizing is the sort of hard-earned character tic that can be discovered only after a lifetime of trial-and-error experience to realize one’s smoking preferences, melding comfort(ability) and function(ality). It’s a real “if you know, you know” thespian flourish, an example of the infinite number of micro details upon which macro character creation is built.

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