Supertext

I am not entirely fond of this word. It just seemed to catch on among my students because it suggests something in opposition to the character's subtext. Psychologists have a term for something similar: meta-cognition. Sorry, that doesn't really help...

Anyway, "supertext" refers to the actor’s attitude toward being on the stage, including everything from career goals, to love of the playwright’s words, to surprise at where the audience laughed, to irritation with one's colleagues. It will always find some form of expression in a production, no matter how naturalistic the intended style, so should not be ignored. In fact, in a healthy production, supertext is the very source of its style. It is a micro culture growing out of the actors’ attitudes and needs, not something imposed from above.

An over-simplified example:

Emma is cast as Juliet. Larry is cast as Romeo. Juliet's subtext is: "What a hunk! Too bad he was born into that family." Juliet's text is: "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore etc..." Emma's supertext is: "If Larry forgets his lines again, I'll murder him."

No matter how deeply an actor goes into character, she unmistakably carries her attitudes and reasons for being an actor with her. It's best when the nature and expression of this can be an integral part of the production and not something she is fighting to hide from the audience.

When a group of actors share much the same supertext, an ensemble style becomes possible. When it is manifested as the actors taking emotional ownership of the production and carrying that attitude with them on to the stage, they are more than halfway to a success.

Many chronic acting problems are explainable in terms of supertext. However, trying to eliminate the supertext is not the solution.

"Hey guys, all those tissues! Clean up the dressing room, please! Take care of the show. One can always see the state of the dressing room reflected in your work out there on the stage!"

- Pablo Vela

‹ Glossary
Jonathan Paul Cook 2010