Constant Havoc

Yes, I thought about this stuff before I put it here.

Category: acting

Art

stairs

January 4, 1958

A work of art should not show. It should not teach.

IT SHOULD BE.

It should be like a fact that has many meanings, all as complex and mixed up as life itself, contradictory, unfathomable, mysterious. The meanings should be here. But the audience should feel — as they do in the presence of a work of nature, that they have to find them, dig them out, and interpret them for themselves, each putting on each his own meaning.

from Elia Kazan’s notebook for Face in the Crowd

as quoted in Kazan on Directing

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Dimensions

I like creating theatre that fits.

A Definition

greek amphitheatre

We can thus define the theatre as “what takes place between spectator and actor”.

Jerzy Grotowski

Towards a Poor Theatre

Even More Thoughts on Acting

To bring an audience the revelation of the failings and aspirations, the dreams and desires, the negative and the positive aspects of human beings—this is what we should set as our goal as committed theater artists. Then we will be respected and have respect for ourselves and respect for acting! —

Uta Hagen, Respect for Acting

I have read both of Uta Hagen’s books about acting and admire each one. Besides the one quoted above, there is Challenge for the Actor, which I prefer.

Revelation. That word is miraculous. I go about my days meeting various people in many different walks of life, and it’s always astonishing to me to think about their lives. I wonder what the home is like for the cashier at the grocery store. What story has the doctor just been a part of before he comes in to take a look at my sore throat? What’s going on with the friend who isn’t returning calls? The individuals I meet on a daily basis are full of failings and aspirations. They have inner lives that I can imagine and gather occasional glimpses of.

The study of people around me assists me in building a character. My role in a play assumes that I know much more about my character’s thoughts and actions than simply when he’s speaking. I have to know what he’s thinking between the lines. More acting happens when I’m not speaking than when I am. I’ve been in long scenes on stage with only 5 lines of my own, but my character must exist the whole time I’m in front of the audience. While it might not be written down, I have to know what my character would say if suddenly called upon to speak.

To get to that level of character, I have to work. I relate that work to my own life as well. What are my motives for pursuing a certain goal? What are the dreams and desires behind it? Finally, what are my negative and positive aspects that I present to the world every day? Playing me takes full time. I never get to lay it down, take off the costume, or wash off the makeup. I’m aware that I perform everywhere I go.

A Few More Thoughts on Acting

Johnston Forbes Robertson as Hamlet, Lyceum Theatre, London, 1897.

Johnston Forbes Robertson as Hamlet, Lyceum Theatre, London, 1897.

Is acting a craft? Is it an art? How do we allow for such differences in the acting world as lie between the Little Rascals on the one hand and Meryl Streep on the other? What makes an actor?

Stanislavsky was the first who put in writing what came to be a widely accepted answer. It became so widely accepted that it is accorded the status of a proper noun and capitalized as the Method. He put on paper a formula for creating a character that still carries weight today and still engenders controversy. In the same interview in 1961 quoted previously, Mr. Jose Ferrer said:

By definition, how can Stanislavsky’s so-called Method, which was created for the period of 1890 in Russia, be valid today,…in a period that has television, has the atom bomb, has radio, and media of communication for actors that didn’t exist for him.

Indeed, why does the Method still matter and what is it? Mr. Ferrer went on to call it a kind of realism arising out of the Industrial Revolution and the political milieu of the time also evident in Impressionism in painting and music. I am just beginning to read Creating a Role and Building a Character, but I know a lot of what I’m going to find simply due to being in and around the theater and actors since I was six.

An actor is more than a shell. He brings experience and talent to a role. His body carries physical memories of emotions. His mind remembers mental images of events. He is a whole, and a good actor applies it all to his assignment. He takes his own inner life and uses bits and pieces to create a character for the audience to believe in. He uses it all to craft a being to live and breathe its hour on the stage.

Shakespeare had something to say on the subject of acting in Hamlet (III.2):

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently: for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness…

Be not too tame neither; but let your own discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature: for anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own image, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.

Shakespeare draws a line between using all gently and anything so overdone. Isn’t he calling for realism? While the words here concentrate on outward shows of action, won’t the inward feelings follow that give the Player the ability to cry for Hecuba? Or is it all bound up in talent? I don’t know the full answer to that yet, and I’m looking forward to the possibility of discovering it.

A Few Thoughts on Acting

In an interview published in 1961, Jose Ferrer said, “I like to tell the author’s story. That’s the satisfaction of acting to me.” He stressed relaying the playwright’s narrative. He did not address the issue of absurdest theater in what I read, but I came away with the clear sense that the play’s the thing.

What is the actor’s responsibility to the script? Can it be as simple as to breathe life into it? An actor takes written words and transforms them into an oral medium. He gives them voice. If he’s any good, he may even give them life. But a lot happens between the first reading and the performance. Words spark imagination. Words inspire the actor to feel. A whole range of physical reactions stir the actor to create. And it all starts with words. Words. Words.

In another part of the interview, Mr. Ferrer described memorization as the most unpleasant part of the acting process, and I agree. There’s a tyranny of the script, and it makes me ask about the choices the author has made. Hamlet gives us a brilliant speech about his inept handling of his dead father’s wishes in “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” The words fight to get off the page and fly about the theater firing the passions of the hearers. Hamlet is chastened by the Player’s tears for an unknown Hecuba, while he himself toils with the knowledge of a dear murdered father.

Yet, when we see him next, Hamlet is lost in “To be, or not to be…” A good actor has to be responsible for the transition from one to the other. There must be a world he occupies where objects and events lead him from shouting to hesitation. What can the actor accomplish between those two disparate speeches to arrive from the passion of one to the pathos of the other?

The author only sets down what is absolutely necessary to advance the plot. Any extraneous speech, line, phrase, or word has to be struck from the page. While we can write reams about the difference between these two speeches and how inappropriate their timing may be, we have to assume that Shakespeare set them down on the page in sequence for a reason. In Olivier’s movie of Hamlet, he interposes the scene with Ophelia between the two. I think he does a disservice to the writer.

As Mr. Ferrer said, the actor is telling a story, one written by someone else (except on very rare occasions). The actor is not an editor. He is a vessel. He is the important transporter of the playwright’s words, delivering them to a receptive audience, hopefully, in a dynamic and correct manner. He exists to animate what is on the page.

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