In any given system, the better the input, the better the output. You ask the right questions, you get the right answers. You give the right note, (in theory) the better the actor is able to implement it. Now granted, when you’re trying to communicate something you may think you’ve described it with absolute clarity but your recipient may have no idea what you’re talking about, so a dialogue between both parties is clutch for ensuring that the message you think you’ve sent is actually the message that’s been received. This whole process works better if we are specific with our language.
One particular concept which might feel specific but is actually incredibly vague is the word “sexy”. This includes any note like “do you have anything sexier?” (with regard to audition material), “she needs to be more appealing”, “can you seduce him more?”. (This is just one example. The word “funny” is another. I’m sure there are many. But for this post I’m going to focus on “sexy”.)
There’s no one set way to be sexy. If there were, we would all just do that and everyone would sexy to everyone all the time. Which sounds kind of fun until you realize that this would mean your husband/wife now finds that person you can’t stand equally as attractive as you. Suffice it to say, sexy comes in many different forms. When the feedback that goes into the system is solely “be sexier”, it often results in attempting to do our best imitation of someone widely considered to be sexy. Maybe we speak a little lower or we make our voice a little breathier. Maybe we twirl our hair, or make more eye contact, or smile more. But those are general attempts, rather than a specific embodiment.
I would argue that people are not sexy. People exhibit certain qualities which we as the viewer (or the scene partner) then find enticing. If you’ve read Robert Greene’s The Art of Seduction (not as steamy as it sounds, but very interesting food for thought), this is largely what he’s talking about. Sexy is the result, but not the cause. It results because of other characteristics. Perhaps the character is sexy because of their confidence, or their innocence, or their intelligence, or some kind of impressive skill. They can be sexy because they’re the life of the party or they can be sexy because they’re dark and brooding and just out of reach. So when we’re looking to arrive at a desired destination (sexy), we need to provide directions on how to get there. We can tell someone “bring me my pogostick” and let them hunt for it or we can say “bring me my pogostick – it’s at the back of the closet by the front door”. How to find the pogostick is crucial information. If we can articulate how a character is sexy, then achieving that becomes significantly easier.
I would also argue that sexy is a defined relationship, similar to a chemical reaction, where are parties are in agreement with regard to what the triggers are. If you pour vinegar on baking soda, there will be a reaction. You’ll see the foam bubble up instantly. If you pour vinegar on powered sugar (something that looks a lot like baking soda), all you’ll get is a really gross mess. But that doesn’t mean something was wrong with the powered sugar (or the vinegar). It just means we haven’t paired up the right chemicals to create a reaction. So, if we’re not getting the desired “sexy” effect, perhaps it’s not because the actor (male or female) is doing it wrong but because we haven’t agreed on what the make up of “sexy” should be within the given world. It has to be equal parts what-one-character-is-doing and how-the-other-character-is-responding. Both parties have to be on the same page with regard to what sexy means specifically. We want to create a situation, which is true to the text and suited to the actors, that tells the story of two characters being drawn to each other.
If you’re getting general output, refine your input. God is in the details.
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more the merrier!