Monday, May 07, 2007

ON ACTING: "Shirking" From a Fight

Drama is conflict; all acting is conflictual activity: taking on the 'other' and succeeding.

Some actors, however, don't like to conflict: and their body betrays their reluctance.

A student in class the other night, Ms. C., was obviously a "shirker" from conflict, as she herself said later when watching a taped replay of her performance. During the scene, her head was tilted at an angle. She was always looking at the other character from the side of her eyes, not full face front. Her bodily posture was regressive, leaning back. Her left foot may have been lightly faced front, toward the other character; but the second foot was placed half a step back, and at a slight angle, like an animal preparing to withdraw/retreat. He brow was in a constant state of "scrunching", her forehead lined with the creases of perpetual discomfort, her eyes and face betrayed a sense that she expected to be bashed at any time. Hope and victory were not a part of her physical stance. Her voice followed suit: it was tense, high pitched, tentative, as if squeezed through a narrow aperture. It was not a very appealing performance.

So we discussed: How does one physically manifest the exact opposite? how does one appealing behave when one is comfortable (being uncomfortable) in a fight?

We decided the exact opposite of her taped performance would result. In a brave (and appealing) performance an actor's head is erect, un-tilted, facing full front--eyes centered in the white pupils. Feet are slightly apart with toes facing full front, leaning forward, almost up on the toes--a fighter's stance, if you will. The forehead is smooth, the brow un-tensed. The actor's chest is relaxed, giving the lungs full space to expand with needed air when taught muscles require extra oxygen for extra muscular effort. The voice comes from the diaphragm; even more importantly, it emits a full, rich tone because the open chest cavity does not pinch the escaping air into a squeezed sound.

A few years ago I remember reading a book from the 1940s from a Hollywood studio acting coach; his central thesis in the book was: "The essence of good acting is a tight buttocks." I remember laughing, thinking how far we've come from those acting days. Then, I paused...the coach was teaching at one of the top studios, wasn't he? did he last if he was such a fool? So...I got before the mirror and tightened my buttocks, A lo and behold, what did I discover...but that along with a tight buttocks comes (1) erect posture, (2) head-held-straight, (3) the eyes were forward, (4) the body titled into the scene, (5) the forehead is smooth and (6) the voice emanating from an open, barrelled chest.

I asked Ms, C. to practice walking around that way for a while erect, head straight, forward looking, up on toes, smooth fore headed, talking in a lower register--and with a tight buttocks if she were so inclined!--and see if life's vicissitudes faced in that physical fashion felt--and acted--any differently. I opined that I thought it would...and that she might start to like and start operating in the more conflict-accepting least on stage.


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