Chapter 9 – Image Maker: The Actor For it is not a game of charades, this acting world of ours; it is an everlasting search for truth. —Laurence Olivier
Chapter Summary • Acting is the truthfulness and technique by which actors bring human presence onto the stage. • Theatre is the art human beings make out of themselves.
Acting Is Doing • Definitions of acting: • “[L]iving truthfully in imagined circumstances” (Sanford Meisner) • “[A]n everlasting search for truth” (Laurence Olivier) • Foundation of acting: search for truthful behavior • Acting is not: • Showing • Narrating • Illustrating • Exhibiting • Displaying emotion
Acting Is Doing • Three responsibilities of actor: • Select sensoryresponses • Select behavior pertinent to character • Respond to given circumstances of play • Preparing for a role: • Actor selects emotions, sensations, responses from personal experience.
The Actor’s Goals • To tell the character’s circumstances in play truthfully and effectively. • “Circumstances” are conditions of world of play: • Time • Place • Surroundings • Other characters • To attune him or herself to the reality of the play
External Technique: Mimetic Acting • Technical, “outside in” approach: • Actor observes and studies human behavior. • Naturalistic • David Garrick: • 18th century British actor • Approached acting as imitation of life • Prepared for role of King Lear by observing friend who had been driven mad by child’s death • Felt that actor should not feel the emotions being portrayed • Aims to recreate authentic human behavior
Internal Belief: “Realistic” Acting • Aims to build authentic response to world of play from subjective emotional responses • Actor works from “inside out”: • Searches for emotional impulses from personal experience • Transfers these to portrayal of character • Uta Hagen as Nina in Chekhov’s The Seagull: • Used awe of fellow actors as basis for similar feelings experienced by her character • Stanislavski’s “Method”
The Actor’s Training • Traditionally, actors trained in theatre: • Apprenticed to older actors • Learned time-tested vocal and movement techniques • In late 19th century, realism dominated: • “Large” style of acting seen as old-fashioned • Demand for characters that were recognizable human beings (as opposed to “theatrical” types) • Created demand for new training methods
Preparing the Role: Stanislavski’s “Method” • “Method” a systematic approach to training actors to work from inside outward. • Actors must understand how people behave physically and psychologically in given circumstances. • Actor must study and experience subjective emotions and feelings and show them to audiences by physical and vocal means. • Personal truth must be balanced with playwright’s vision.
Preparing the Role: Stanislavski’s “Method” • Psychotechnique: • Set of exercises designed to help actor call on personal feelings and experiences • Actors learned to experience what their characters experienced as if it were happening to them: • “The magic ‘if’” (e.g., “If I were in Othello’s situation, what would I do?”)
Preparing the Role: Stanislavski’s “Method” • “Emotional recall” (or “affective memory”): • Process by which actor creates reality of emotions • Effort to remember circumstances surrounding a past emotional event to stimulate emotions that could be used onstage (Lee Strasberg) • Psychophysical actions: • Reframing of concept of emotional recall • Physical action as means of triggering emotional memory
Trends in Training American Actors • Sanford Meisner’s Foundations: • Derived from “Method” • “The reality of doing”: • Instinct and imagination • Practical Aesthetics (David Mamet and William H. Macy): • Combined stoicism with “Method” • Focused on those things in actor’s control: • Voice, body, concentration, script analysis • Process of making acting tools habitual to free the actor to live truthfully and fully within the play’s circumstances
Trends in Training American Actors • The “Viewpoints” (Mary Overlie and Anne Bogart): • Postmodern, movement-based approach • Focused on six principles of movement: • Space, time, shape, movement, story, and emotion • A physical alternative to Stanislavski’s “emotional recall”
Actors at Work: Improvisation • Spontaneous invention • Exercises and games: • Substitute own words for script • Repetition between two actors of same word or phrase • Purposes: • Frees creativity • Hones concentration • Spurs commitment to finding truth of behavior
Actors at Work: Movement Training • Gives actors a range of physical choices in creation of character • Process of eliminating tensions and mannerisms • Assumes movement to be expressive signal of character and intention (c) Barry Slobin/ Playmakers Repertory Company Kathleen Widdoes as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s Master Class
Actors at Work: Voice Training • Aimed at freeing the voice, opening up possibilities • Goal to merge technique with actor’s imagination to communicate character’s needs through words
Actors at Work: Rehearsal and Performance • Rehearsal: • Conditions actors’ responses • Brings cast and director together to “set” interpretation and physical movement • Performance: • Everything actor has established in rehearsal (objectives, mannerisms, vocal intonations, movements) should stay consistent. • At same time, each performance requires the actor to give fresh life to the character.
Actors at Work: Acting with the Camera • Credibility before camera “eye” separates the successful film actor from the talented stage actor: • Camera listens to and records everything. • Challenges: • Scenes shot out of sequence • Distraction of technicians • Camera records every mistake and hesitation • Fast production schedules
Stage Audience more distant Auditions focus on match between actor and character Rehearsals explore character, relationships, interpretation Actors discuss role with director, each other Screen Audience as close (close-up) or far as camera “Screen test” assesses presence in front of camera Rehearsals used to set blocking for camera Production schedules often rule out discussion Actors at WorkStage Acting vs. Screen Acting
Core Concepts • Actors bring living presence to the stage. • Their search for new depths of creative energy and truthful behavior keeps their performances fresh and lively night after night.