A DISCUSSION OF CONGRUENCE vs INCONGRUENCE
If all you do at the audition, on stage or in front of the camera is act out the literal emotional, relationship and behavioral interpretation of the words, then all the audience experiences is exactly what they would experience in their mind's eye if they were home alone reading the script and your contribution to the production is generally received by the audience as underwhelming and predictable.
What does this actually mean?
Let's use this little script to prove a point:
"I'm going to kill you. You ruined my life. I hate you. You've destroyed everything important to me and now you're going to suffer the way you made me suffer."
Don't worry right now about who you are, where you are, what the circumstances are, what happened, who you're talking to, etc. Let's put that to the side for the time being.
Most untrained actors would read these lines and recognize that they are angry, aggressive, confrontational, combative, fierce, enraged words and then deliver a very predictable interpretation of those lines by stimulating in themselves a state of anger and rage so their angered emotional state aligns perfectly with the literal interpretation of the words. This is when the actor is working from a place of CONGRUENCE. The feelings and behavior are congruent with the words. It's logical and expected.
It's not that Congruence is a bad word or the wrong approach, but it certainly is the predictable one. And again, when an actor only feels and behaves as the words indicate, the audience does not really experience anything unpredictable. They get exactly what they expected to get. Angry words delivered angrily.
Now, what if the actor delivered those same lines in any of the following ways? How do you think the audience might respond or experience the moment now?
As if he was reading a picture book to a group of children in a Kindergarten classroom
As if she was standing graveside delivering a eulogy for her daughter
As if he was trying to talk a suicide jumper off the ledge
As if she was caring for her elderly mother in the Nursing Home
As if he was flirting and seducing someone on a first date
As if she was a CEO of a company and on stage in front of 1,000+ employees at a sales conference
As if he was talking to the Girls Scouts who are selling cookies outside the grocery store
I hope these scenarios trigger in you emotional, sensory, behavior responses that are perhaps opposite of or in conflict with or INCONGRUENT to the literal interpretation of the words.
When you approach text from an Incongruent point of view, what you say and how the audience perceives you are feeling and behaving do not align and this causes the audience to lean in emotionally and become an active participant in your character's journey (as opposed to simply remaining an uninvolved observer) because you force them to ask them question in their mind, "What is going on here?" - "Is something is about to happen because they are not behaving like I am expecting them to?" - "They're holding something back and I need to know what they are going to do next."
By approaching the text from an Incongruent point of view, you stand out from the herd. 99% of actors are going to say angry words angrily or loving words lovingly or condescending words condescendingly. You get the point. But if you find a reasonably appropriate alternative to the literal, then your Incongruent choice will be a breath of fresh air to the audience.
Of course, you need to still have your Incongruent choice make sense for the circumstances. If you're at gunpoint fighting for your life, perhaps the flirting or Kindergarten storytelling would be a bit too irreverent, defiant, disrespectful or illogical to the circumstances to show you understand what's going on in the scene, but you can find, perhaps not a true opposite to the literal, but rather something adjacent, that aligns with Incongruence but still logical enough that shows respect to the script as well as honors your unique interpretation to the piece.
Let's play some more. Here's you next line:
"I've loved you from the moment we met. You are my life, my soul, my heart, my everything. Will you marry me?"
Of course, your natural instinct is to go to the logical Congruent place of saying these words with true and pure love in a lovingly way to demonstrate your affection for the other person. But what if you're at the audition and this is the line and you know that 99% of the actors are going to deliver a 100% lovingly Congruent interpretation. That's hours of the same interpretation over and over and over for the auditioners. But then you come in and approach it with creative Incongruence.
How would those words come out if you shared them...
As if you're obligated to marry the other person because the wedding has been forced upon you by your parents, religion, culture and community
As if you're in the hospital with them and the other person has been intubated and they will die in the next 20 minutes
As if you've been pulled into a cult and you're obligated to profess your love to your sibling
As if it's the end of the world and you must share your heart with the other person before all of humanity is wiped off the face of the earth
The important lesson that I wish for you
to take away is this:
When you come across words in the script that strongly pull you into a predictable, logical, typical Congruent interpretation, stop, take a breath and step back for a moment to look at the character, relationship and circumstances and challenge yourself to explore Incongruent interpretations of the text so that you can find new meaning in the moment.
I hope this post has inspired you in some small way. I look forward to reading your comments.
Bye for now and Stay Safe My Fellow Travelers.
See you inside the Toolbox.