Tuesday, June 30, 2009

ON ACTING: Character Self-Awareness

The following is an instruction/illumination/offering to (bad) actors who want to perform a character with total awareness of the meaning and significance of everything the do on stage (dialogue, movement, etc) in advance of events occurring. May I add, since I quote Aristotle, who wrote about drama in the late 4th Century BC, that we still read Aristotle 2400 years later; I doubt anyone will watch totally self-aware actors anywhere near as long.

Aristotle, the great Greek drama theoretician, said the climax or resolution of a drama is the moment of the central character’s self-recognition, or discovery. By that he meant most heroes in drama spend three acts blundering through the agon(y) of the play unaware, wrestling moment by moment toward the resolution of some fundamental unknown objective (good ones and bad ones, productive ones and unproductive ones included), unaware of the purposefulness of their actions much less their eventual outcome and meaning…until the final epiphany (awareness) or resolution.

The truth of self-awareness is only realized then, at the end of the piece; and it is realized either soon enough to be saved from (a happy ending); or, if too late, and tragedy occurs, as a total, and until then, unawares, surprise.

No one, including characters, know their fate. To act with foreknowledge of our destiny, is illogical, false to life...and bad acting.

A great performance is a series of onstage discoveries.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW: "Rear Window"...and more

I saw the 1954 movie "Rear Window" last night on Turner Classic Movies. A man, Jimmy Stewart, a photographer, stuck in a single room after an accident, confined to a wheelchair, watches the world go by in an inner-city, inner courtyard apartment complex: 'voyeurism' taken to aesthetic, dramatic delight. He soon thinks he witnesses a murder (a man who has carved up his wife...or did he or didn't he) , and the director, Alfrad Htchcock ratches up the tension, mystery and scariness from there.

There is comic relief (the great Thelma Ritter as a visiting nurse), and a love interest, Grace Kelly. (Was there any movie actress more classically Nordic beautiful than her? I was enamoured of her as a boy. In this regard the man has not changed.) But Jimmy Stewart remains the heart and soul of the drama.

As I was wathching the film (often staged in its one room as if it were seeing a play on a wonderful stage set), I kept thinking: can a modern audience (meaning youth) sit still long enough to enjoy it? Can narrative alone...solving the puzzle of the plot...fixate a modern audience for two hours? For that matter, do we even believe in the possibility of plot-solutions anymore? Are today's MTV rhythms absolutely required (constand camera movement, changed angles and rapid editing cuts) to keep the audience interested in a world where it is now believed nothing can be solved, only experienced?

Is the singular focus on a character's 'within-the-frame' actions and feelings enough to sustain a viewer's interest in a world that abjures logic, free-will and humanity's grasp of its own (much less a character's) destiny? Or must we be constantly filmically 'done-upon' in a deterministic world of fate and events overwhelming the possibiity (and therefore interest in) human control? Can pure narrative unfolding, and the actor's positive and possible involvement in any plot solution, become sufficiently involving for a modern audience? Or has ADD (attention deficit disorder) so permeated the society, that audience's interest automatically flaggs if image-stimuli (constantly cutting from one 'frame' of film to another) does not occur with rapidity?

I avoid the answer; I fear it is true.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Year's Ten Best Pictures

NEWS FLASH: The Academy Awards people have decided to expand the list of Best Picture Nominees this year from Five to Ten.

Some critics are arguing that that will dilute the quality of the films being nominated.

I argue: Nonsense. The quality of the films being nominated the last few years have already been diluted.

It probably will take ten films to find two, much less five, worthy films; especially in today's era of either cheaply made, poorly structured and bizarrely theme-ed films (let's follow their proponents and kindly call them 'art' films), or films made for testosterone teens who crave violence and unadulterated sex (notice the word 'adult' in the middle of the last adjective: maybe it meant in the old days the 'adult' was part of judgement) or fixated adolescents who refuse to leave the pre-pubescent cartoon phase of their lives.

This, of course, does not even address the Academy's financial whoring to TV ratings in their expansion-to-ten-films decision: more films, more film-interested viewers (higher viewership, higher network payment to the Academy) eager to watch in the Awards show: I have a thought...why not let all of everybody's You-Tube films be considered? Imagine how many 'hits' the Academy Award website would have? Or turn the Academy Awards auditioning and final voting into "American Idol"? Simon C. would have a field-day with some of the films aleady made!

Freedom has moved toward democratic license; artistic specialness toward anarchy. and the Network/Academy move toward moneygrubbing marketplace has leveled the Best Picture playing field toward one of dirt, rocks and shards of glass.

Monday, June 22, 2009

ON ACTING: Depending on the Director

There and many actors who, in preparing for a role, expect the director to tell her/him everything to do. That is naive and unproductive. Actors are professional workers, expected to accomplish a task based on their own understanding of the task. Imagine a plumber who came to the house and asked the owner how to fix a leak.“Fix the leak?! Are you kidding? What do you think I hired you for? Here’s the problem, the dripping faucet, I’ll pay you $100, I expect the faucet to be fixed in an hour.”

Just so the actor should expect the following attitude from the director: “Here’s the role, here’s the set, the blocking and the lines; I’ll pay you $1000, I expect the scene to be done in six weeks rehearsal (a play) or a rehearsal and two 'takes' (film). Another way of looking at over dependence on a director guiding the actor through his/her task: imagine arriving at a set and have the director ask YOU: “How do you think I ought to direct this scene?” No actor would be much inspired or comforted by that question! Well, neither is a director comforted by an actor who has not well thought out how he or she is going to approach and perform a given role.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

ON ACTING: Whining, Complaining, Pouting, etc.

The most unappealing emotions and attitudes in acting are: whining, complaining, pouting, self-pity, etc. The are the sounds of self-accepted defeat. Characters who exhibit more than a little of these traits are generally rejected by an audience (as they are in everyday life). Why? Because those attitudes are the feelings and sounds of 'cowardly' disengagement. Attractive acting (and its audience appeal) is based on watching onstage and onscreen human behavior that is positive, unrelenting, goal-oriented, unafraid to "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" in the pursuit of objectives.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

ON ACTING: Acting and Skiing

Good acting is like good skiing; counter intuitive. The acting instructor tells you to lean forward when dealing with an adversary, to get in your opponent’s face. The good ski instructor tells you when losing balance to lean downhill. (“Lean downhill?” you exclaim! “That’s the way I’m falling!” “That’s how you get your balance,” he assures you.)

It took me years of studying both good ski instruction and good acting instruction to realize they both properly fly in the face of conventional logic.

Actors and skiers lean into danger, not away from it. That's where the excitement is.

Monday, June 15, 2009

ON ACTING: A Scene's Conflictual Tactics

Conflictual tactics in a scene are varied and multidimensional: they are both (and simultaneously) overt (physical: words, movement, etc.) and inner (emotional).

Emotion must be seen as just another tactical phenomenon (albeit inner): it is the actor-as-character’s inner physical body in operation toward his/her goal; and we 'feel' it in operation. Hence we use the term 'feelings'.

A character's tactics are not always direct. They are more often indirect (like most of human behavior), back-tracking, circuitous, lateral.

But they always originate, and are fundamentally meant to operate, as forward propelling human instrumentality in the challenging ongoing struggle of each character toward their respective objectives.

Friday, June 12, 2009

ON ACTING: Conflict

An alien comes to earth. She is dropped by her Deity-of-Space into a football stadium filled with fans watching a football game. She sits among the cheering people. She is amazed and confused. She sees humans running around in all directions: a mish-mash of activity. To her, the activity doesn't seem to any clear linear logic to it. Bodies are running in all directions, slamming into other bodies, A brown oblong object seems to be the center of every one's attention: it is being thrown forward, backward and lateral, kicked and carried

She finally asks the man next to her: “What is going on?” The man answers: “Conflict.” The alien blinks. The man continues: “All that activity, the great expenditure of physical emotion...including all the energetic actions of all the humans on the playing field…including the whistle blowing men in black and white stripes who seem to be organizing the activity...is in the service of resolving a conflict: One team is trying to cross the other team’s goal line with that brown oblong object more times than the other team can do it. Football is simply multidimensional attempts—tactics--to accomplish a simple conflictual task: defeat the opponent by greater interpersonal goal-achievement.

That night the alien is invited to the theater. She asks the same question. She gets the same answer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ON ACTING: Origin of True Character Emotion

The most apt and cogent definition of drama I know is: character revealed in action; character is what character does.

True character emotion is revealed by what a character feels and therefore does in his/her conflictual engagement with the other actors in the scene. The real emotional energy in a scene comes not from the 'actor-as-actor'’s energy...trying to ‘wow’ the audience...but from the energy of the 'actor-as-character''s internal performance trying to defeat her onstage opponent.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

ON ACTING: The Obligation of the Teacher or Director

The good acting teacher and good director is a good doctor.

When a would-be patient visits the doctor’s for a medical check-up, the patient rightfully expects the doctor (by intuition, eye or by instrument) to clearly evaluate the patient’s health, to recognize any symptoms of illness, and if there are symptoms, diagnose the underlying disease; and then to proscribe remediation (pills, et. al.).

A patient would be rightfully aghast is the doctor just said: “You’re sick,” charge a fee and left it at that.

Unfortunately, I’ve known more than a few acting teachers and directors do precisely that when evaluating an actor's 'ill' performance in class or on set.

When an actor's performance is 'ill', the director (or acting teacher) is responsible to offer corrective help. They cannot just say the performance is 'ill'..."I don't like it"...they must (if they are any good themselves!) help the actor specifically recognize bad acting symptoms, understand and analyze the causes of the acting performance/illness manifested by those symptoms, and guide the actor to taking corrective and remedial action to attain good performance health.

A teacher or director who does anything less is a lesser teacher and/or director.

Monday, June 08, 2009

ON ACTING: Substitution

Substitution: the exercise of finding of an analogous experience or person from one’s own life to stimulate in the actor the same essential universal emotional experience that the actor desires the “character” to be feeling at any moment in the play or film.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

ON ACTING: Refining the Ability to Define Scene Objectives

I recommend an actor acquire and perfect the ability to define scene objectives by spending the rest of her life looking honestly and courageously at the objectives his/her own everyday life.

All knowledge proceeds from self-knowledge; and self is very cheap textbook. It is carried with the actor at all times.

Every day, three times a day, the actor should ponder a recent completed event or human interaction, and say: ‘What did I want from that person? Why did I do what I did? Why did I say what I said? Why did I feel what I felt? What was my purpose, or objective, behind all my words and activities?

It will be difficult at first. It will take tenacity and courage to hack through all the foliage of surface obfuscations and rationalizations that our life/mind has created to uphold our self-favorable stance, self-told lies to support our self-imposed mirror of philanthropic and charitable and unselfish posturing.

The search can be fulfilled however, and rewarding; but it will take rigorously persistent effort (‘why-children’ are particularly adept at arriving at objectives) to move beyond what we like to believe are the purposes behind our actions and the true reasons (life objectives).

‘Charity begins at home’. So does everything else.


I have been absent too long from my own blog.
Illness intruded; in particular, a severe liver infection (source undetermined) which developed into two large abscesses in liver, causing pain and eventually hospitalization.
All is well, now.
Patient improving rapidly.
Back to blog today.
Back to teaching July 1.