Stories in Song, Caitlin Beckman
In Disney’s The Lion King, Jr. three different African languages are used: Swahili, Zulu, and Xhosa. We all know that famous Swahili phrase, “Hakuna Matata--it means no worries!” And we probably have also all belted out the Zulu introduction of “The Circle of Life” millions of times (who’s with me??):
In Caitlin’s workshop, performers explore three questions: What do these words mean; why is it important as an actor to know what they mean; and how do actors (us!) get the audience to understand what they mean?
It may seem underwhelming, but Rafiki’s above-mentioned epic and renowned opening line from The Lion King translates to “Here comes a lion, Father. Oh yes, it’s a lion.” Your first thought might be, “…Uhhh yeah, we can see that.” But put on your actor helmet: when you consider the line you might recall a time when a new sibling, cousin, or friend was born and others would exclaim “Aww, look at the baby!” in a similar celebratory and adoring, yet “Captain Obvious” fashion.
Making a connection in your own life to something more familiar than a monkey with a blue bum holding a lion over a cliff helps you show the same awe-filled eyes, cooing smiles, and loving body language as when you saw that baby for the first time. Understanding the words and making their own connections can also help directors and choreographers design specific movement for actors to give audiences a more thorough comprehension of the story.
When audiences can’t see subtitles running at the bottom of a screen like they would watching a foreign movie, they rely on actors’ physical and vocal expression to help them understand each detail of the story. An actor’s job, then, is to deeply know and understand the story and use their body and voice to get the audience to understand.
Actors in Caitlin’s workshop develop their own story from the translation of a Zimbabwean song and work as a team to develop choreography and blocking (positioning and movement of actors onstage) that demonstrate key points in their story. Groups then perform their dance for another group to interpret.
The first step of an actor is to know and understand the story they’re telling. So take a look at the glossary (p. 128) in the back of your script to learn what you’re saying! Think about what the words mean to your character, then make a connection that shows up in your physical and vocal expression.
Hela, hem mamela!