What are the challenges faced by actors when working with "neutral scripts?"

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“Neutral scripts” present actors with some of their greatest challenges – by design.  Defined by their absence of information, such as scene directions, neutral scripts are intended to allow directors and actors to create scenes using their own concepts of how a particular scenario should or could develop.  Often providing little or nothing more than sparse dialogue, they provide ample opportunity for interpretation and innovation, but can be stressful for many actors who are accustomed or dependent upon far greater levels of detail in a script.  Actors who thrive under such circumstances are those with backgrounds in improvisational theater, where the whole idea is to be able to think on one’s feet and create mood, action, and even dialogue on-the-go. 

Directors will frequently use neutral scripts to enable the creative process to develop freely, with minimal direction.  The following example of a neutral script is taken from the Folger Shakespeare Library:

A: You’re late.

B: I know.

A: What’s wrong?

B: Can we do this?

A: I think so.

B: OK, it’s time.

A: Wait, I’m ready.

B: OK, let’s go. [www.folger.edu/documents/DanRockscript.pdf]

Provided only this little bit of dialogue and little or no background information to provide context, actors are required to adapt it to a scene, the nature of which is left in their hands.  This particular example can be applied to a scene involving criminals planning a bank robbery, a couple heading out for a particularly strenuous hike, or actors preparing to go on-stage and perform a play.  Almost all details are left up to the actors to determine, and this can be very stressful for actors unaccustomed to having to create on their feet, especially if there is no prior experience working with the other actor or actors.  The more chemistry that exists among the actors, the easier it is for them to quickly develop a sense of scene and to react to each other.  The challenges associated with the use of neutral scripts are precisely the reason directors and acting teachers like to use them.  The more able or adaptable an individual actor, the more likely he or she will be able to endure the creative processes that are involved in even well-scripted plays that provide a great deal of detail.  Directors and actors frequently seek to incorporate subtle variations in performances, or even to radically reinterpret source material.  An ability to adapt to neutral scenes, in which all or most of the scene is left up to the imaginations of the actors, can be the difference between success or failure in the production of any given play.

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