One of the traps in discussing media products is treating characters as if they were alive. Students love saying that Buffy thinks something in a particular scene or that Xander was feeling jealous when he lies about Willow's second attempted casting of the re-ensoulment spell in Becoming. But Xander is not "feeling" and Buffy isn't "thinking". They're two-dimensional patterns of light, shadow and color. They don't have feelings. What happens to them does not matter. What matters a great deal is how they affect us. That's the point: characters are catalysts constructed by writers and actors to create particular emotions and thoughts in the viewing audience. When we say "Buffy feels sad," we're summarizing a half dozen or more techniques used by Sarah Michelle Gellar to convey that particular meaning. And that short-hand is fine when you're consuming fictions, but when you're training people to make them, they have to get out of that habit. After all, how are they going to be able to give direction to actors if they can't observe acting techniques? This assignment should help you to look at the creative contributions of an actor to the series.
For this assignment, students write a 3-5 page paper precisely describing a single actor’s techniques in any episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or “Five by Five” and/or “Sanctuary” in Angel. While students may make reference to other episodes, you should do so only to show how that context reveals something about the actor’s techniques in this episode.
A close observation of performance is what is desired here. What does the actor physically do to convey the meanings you ascribe to the moment? How do they use their hands, faces, bodies? How do they deliver their lines using rhythm, pitch, volume, and tone? How do they interact with the sets, props and costumes? How do they move? How do they interact with others? With whom do they work well? Papers that rely exclusively on scripted lines are doing half of the assignment AT BEST.
There are few high-quality comprehensive analyses of performance in film and television studies, and even fewer specific to Whedon studies. Still, if you want a guide, two articles assigned for 10/27 might help:
· Ian Shuttleworth, “‘They Always Mistake Me for the Character I Play!’: Transformation, Identity, and Role-playing in the Buffyverse (and a Defense of Fine Acting),” Reading the Vampire Slayer. p. 233-276.
· Gwyn Symonds, “‘A Little More Soul Than Is Written’: James Marsters’ Performance of Spike and the Ambiguity of Evil in Sunnydale,” Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association. 4.4, 15 pages http://slayageonline.com/PDF/symonds2.pdf .
Feel free to use those articles to provide a critical frame, but you should note that even these works, fine as they are, could use much more detail in describing the “how of characterization.” Your job is to talk about the embodied meanings that an actor contributes to an episode independent of the writer and director’s contributions.
Papers will be evaluated based on the following criteria:
· Title: Does the title prepare the reader for the argument to come? Does it describe the paper? Is it catchy? Or is it a simple statement of the topic question answered?
· Quality of Introduction: Does it have an introduction that directly declares the thesis, briefly states 2-4 premises that the paper will use to support its point, and indicates the impact of the argument (i.e. why the topic matters)? Does the reader know what to look for in the body of the paper or are they uncertain what the author is trying to prove?
· Writing and Rhetoric: Does the paper undermine the author’s authority by having basic writing errors in spelling, word choice, paragraph transitions and grammar? Does the author craft an argument that demonstrates their insight into the question posed or do they simply provide a summary? Does the author anticipate reasonable counter-arguments, summarize them fairly, and refute them?
· Evidence: Does the paper use concrete examples or does it simply refer to the episodes in question? Does the paper precisely describe the acting or does it use empty adjectives like “interesting” or “meaningful”? Does the paper describe the actor doing things on screen to create meaning or the character?
· Impact: Does the author impact their analysis or are they trapped on the screen? Media is one of the more social human endeavors, made and consumed by a great number of people. The media arts are social and thus political. What is the social result of encouraging these ways of seeing, listening, feeling and thinking?
· Variety: Does the paper understand the entire work or do they understand only a part of it? Each media product works on several levels at once:
o text (narrative, character, form)
o viewer (individual perception, audience, social use of the product, author’s construction of preferred readings and viewers)
o author(s) (intention, previous works, influences)
o genre (patterns of pleasure, narrative and formal expectations)
o art history (genre across media)
o economic (placement within industrial, national, and global economic structures of production, distribution and exhibition)
o medium (means of communication)
o culture (ideology, myth)
One goal of this course is to foster your ability to discern the entire meaning of a media product.
· Mastery of Course Content: Does it demonstrate fluent understanding of the theories, evidence and arguments raised in class and the readings, or does it ignore them?
· Citations: Do the citations follow the MLA format such that readers can verify claims made by the paper?
· Quality of Conclusion: Does the paper have a conclusion that briefly restates the main points and best evidence to leave the reader with the best understanding of the argument? Or does the paper just end when it reaches the page minimum?