We can make words mean just about anything. Think of the phrase “I love you.” That can mean anything from “you are nice” to “I’m going to kill you when we get home” depending on how it is said and in what context. To make the accented syllables and words we identified with lines and the most important words we marked with boxes in Day 1 come to life we have to decide what the words we are singing mean. It isn’t just a matter of definitions of words or translations. It is identifying what our character is intending to communicate in its most unrefined simple form.
Subtext and Inner-monologue
Subtext and Inner-monologue are what our character is thinking in its unfiltered form. In the case of subtext, it is what they are thinking as they are singing. The subtext is the true text lying under the spoken text. In the case of Inner-monologue, it is what they are thinking while they aren’t singing but the music is still playing and they are still in character on stage. If there is no text there can’t be subtext and thus why we call it “inner-monologue”. Inner monologue is the stream of consciousness or natural sequence of unfiltered thought that is constantly going through our mind.
To identify what your or your characters subtext or inner-monologue answer one of these two questions. First, “What would I or my character say if there was no mental filter for my words.” Second, “what am I really saying in my head.”
To identify the subtext or inner-monologue answer one of these questions:
“What would I or my character say if there was no mental filter for my words?”
“If someone would plug into my mind and record everything that is there what would they see and hear?”
How to use subtext and inner-monologue.
- Start by trying to identify what your daily inner-monologue is. If you had to write down or say what you were thinking unfiltered what would that look like or sound like?
- Once you identify the context of the piece you are working on try to re-live a similar experience. Can you remember what you were thinking? Even down to the silly seemingly irrelevant and maybe illogical thoughts that happen in between more relevant and logical thoughts? If you don’t have a similar experience then use your imagination. What do you think someone in that context would think?
- Write it down. With each phrase of text and/or music, you should have one subtext or inner-monologue thought written down underneath the actual text or music where that thought belongs.
- The real challenge comes with matching a natural sequence of thoughts with the existing text and music so they all match to communicate the same thing.
- Describing what you are thinking instead of just saying what you are thinking. Example: “My character would be thinking about how they just at a big piece of chocolate cake and how they want more because it was so good.” versus. “BEST CAKE EVER!” “MORE!”
- Making it long and complicated. Keep it simple. The more simple and direct you subtext the easier it will be to use as an actor. The goal here isn’t to capture every detail of your research and understanding. The goal is to get you to jump to the truth of what your character is trying to communicate at that moment. The depth will come from a string of simple and direct individual thoughts and not from one long abstract thought.
- Making it too emotionally neutral. The goal of the subtext and inner-monologue isn’t just about getting to the truth of the words but the truth of the emotion. The more potent and strong the emotion the easier it will be to act out. So instead of trying to subdue your character play your character as emotional as possible while still keeping it believable. Especially at the start, err on the side of too emotional instead of not emotional enough.
- Worrying about it being proper or correct. The subtext and inner-monologue is a tool for you. When you do this in real life no one but you will know what it is. Don’t worry about what anyone else will think or if you are doing it right. If it is honest and gets you to react authentically as that character at that moment to the audience then it is right.
- Speaking in complete sentences. How often do you think in complete proper sentences in real life? You might think in sentence fragments, mental pictures, sounds, colors, or a variety of different ways. What you are thinking is what we are after. Don’t get tripped up by the words.