Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Preparation" and Destabilization

"An Actor Prepares" is both a book by the great teacher/actor/director Stanislavski and a phrase often used by actors to describe the valuable process of personal emotional activation (or the personal "stirring up" of one's emotions) prior to--hence the use of the prefix 'pre-', meaning before, in the spelling/saying/writing of the word 'preparation--entering a scene as a character.

Emotional preparation is the process of creating in the actor (as-the-soon-to-be-character) a condition of extreme or dramatic emotional destabilization. That condition will enable the actor to subsequently create (when the actor enacts the scene) character actions at compelling emotional levels: a person/character grasping for a branch (let's say, the action in a scene) will be more compelling when they emotionally are about to slide off a cliff into a 3000-foot crevice as opposed to a character reaching for a branch to forstall a less emotionally consequential 3-foot fall onto a soft mattress.

This actor's state of pre-scene emotional destabilzation or imbalance is generally attained by various methodologies, traditional (SEE Stanislavski and other 'Method' theorists) and/or a whole range of personal individual techniques, exercises and approaches (including, by the way, the emotional generating act of intellectual analysis of the scene) to create within the preparing actor an exciting and dramatic destabilized (needy?) emotional condition prior to entering the scene. (That emotional need will be subsequently stimulated in the scene by the actor-as-character seeking the character's objective or goal in the scene. Emotional preparation therefore requires an actor create a state of emotional imbalance in himself/herself prior to operating as the actor-as-character in the scene, which will manifest itself in the seeking of subsequent emotional balance through plot or action attainment.)

A few simple examples: an actor prepares her capability for requisite deep loneliness
prior to entering a scene seeking a date at a singles bar; the actor prepares her capacity for rage prior to entering a scene calling for her (as character) to attack and destroy an enemy compound; the actor prepares his or her capacity for happiness prior to entering a scene as character-as-father or character-as-mother scripted to read happily bedtime stories to his or her daughter.

When any of these--or any other--scenes are played out by a properly prepared actor, the actors will emotionally operate in the scene (as 'characters'; seeking the scenes objectives) in an unconscious and automatic manner that will inevitably manifest and reveal externally the actor's previously prepared emotions, and at a level of actor-as-character intensity, complexity and variety that will enhance his/her scene performance.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Very Personal Note from a Proud Parent

Those of you who like hard-ball investigative reporting, my daughter, who works under the name by-line of Margaret Ebrahim (I suggest you Google her name) has had a highly productive week: a newly released 3-part major AP story on the unchecked importation of millions upon millions of exotic pets into America and the spreading danger of infectious diseases therefrom; plus /writing producing a hour long documentary concerning the 'shadow government'-K Street lobbyists in Washington, for the new Dan Rather show on Mark Cuban's HD Network. She is a producer for Dan Rather.

Both shows will be disseminated during this week. Even if she wasn't my daughter, I'd watch.

"What is Teaching?"

After a teaching weekend in Dallas and then spending a wonderful Thanksgiving vacation with my daughter, son-in-law and exquisite granddaughter, I am ready to get back to the blog.

What follows is an article I read in a recent Atlantic Monthly, quoting from a 1944 article by historian, Columbia University professor and cultural commentator Jacques Barzun (whom, if you've never read, your education is deficient!):

"Always and everywhere, 'He is a schoolteacher' has meant 'He is an underpaid pitiable drudge.' Even a politician stands higher, because power in the street seems less of a mockery than power in the classroom. But when we speak of Socrates, Jesus, Buddha, and 'other great teachers of humanity', the atmosphere somehow changes and the politician's power begins to look shrunken and mean. Supreme examples show that no limit can be set to the power of a teacher...

"The pupil has some curiosity and wants to know what grown-ups know. The master has curiosity also, but it is chiefly about the way the pupil's minds--or hand--works. Remembering his own efforts and the pleasure of discovery, the master finds satisfaction which I have called artistic in seeing how a new human being will meet and make his own some part of our culture--our ways, our thoughts, even our errors and superstitions...

The pupil feels resentment arising from the fact that the grown-up who teaches him appears to know it all. Even under the best conditions of fair play and deliberate spontaneity, the pupil, while needing and wanting knowledge, will hate and resist it. The resistance often makes one feel that the human mind is made of some wonderful tough rubber, which you can stretch a little by pulling hard, but which snaps back into shape the moment you let go.

"The process may be exasperating for the teacher, but consider how the student feels, subjected to daily and hourly stretching. 'Here I am,' he thinks, 'with my brains nicely organized--with everything, if not in its place, at least where I can find it,--and you come along with a new and strange item that you want to force into my previous arrangement. Naturally I resist. You persist. I begin to dislike you. But at the same time, you show me aspects of this new fact or idea which in spite of myself mesh in with my existing desires. You seem to know the content of my mind. You show me the proper place for your contribution to my stock of knowledge. Finally, there is brooding over us a vague threat of disgrace for me if I do not accept your offering and keep it and show you that I still have it when you--dreadful thought!--examine me!

"So I give in, I shut my eyes and swallow. I write little notes about it to myself, and with luck the burr sticks. I have learned something. Thanks to you? Well, not exactly. Thanks to you and thanks to me. I shall always be grateful for your efforts, but do not expect me to love you, at least not for a long, long time. When I am fully formed and somewhat battered by the world and yet not too displeased with myself, I shall generously believe that I owe it all to you."

Friday, November 10, 2006

An Old Quote...On Advocating Scene Study

On a previous blog I tried to explain the value of scene study. And one often finds argumentative help in the strangest places.

I am reading a historical book, La Belle France; I came across a wonderful quote arguing for pragmatic study as opposed to philosophical study in Twelfth Century France....AND it seemed to be equally valid in rebutting those actors who think they should only study emotional work, cold reading, improvisation as opposed to scene study: "...is not the labourer mad who is forever sharpening the plow without ever ploughing the field?" OR: Why study acting without ever getting around to actual acting.