Sunday, January 17, 2010

ON ACTING: "I feel like doing anything, even living in abstraction."

I am a firm believer--and constantly opine in class--that all acting must be real; that all performances must be rendered in an emotionally real manner.

But a student asks, what about surreal, or non-naturalistic theater? What about abstract form, like Kabuki theater or absurd theater of Ionesco?

My answer: Even when performing in an abstract form (whether stage, film, voice for animation or even dance and music itself) the performer must really live that abstraction; that is, the abstract form must be created from, and infused by, the reality of the performer's emotionally connective feeling with the form presented.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

ON ACTING: "First Choices" or Not

There are some acting theorists who suggest an actor, when first analyzing a scene preparatory to performance, obey initial impulses: respect first "choices" as to how to play a scene. The implicit assumption is that our initial impulses are truer (and thus more pertinent to acting reality and excitement) than our more considered later opinions.

Admittedly, second guessing is a pernicious disease. We all suffer from it. The mind is a clever devil. It serves to protect us from our primitive emotional selves even when we don’t want it to. Fear seems to operate from a neural circuit wired very close to our primitive impulse circuit; and when we mistake the two, what we call our brave first choice is really its cowardly twin: learned caution.

In line with this, I would argue that except for the bravest and most emotionally open of actors, consider your "first choice" as your careful choice; accepting the premise that when confronting as scene for the first time, even the most flexible and adventuresome of actors, not to mention the most courageous imbibers of everyday life, are captives of some prejudgments or prejudices.

That is why I suggest to actors analyzing their scenes to seriously examine second, third and fourth choices. Those choices may arguably take one away from the free open impulses of "first choices", but in most actors, more likely that not that fuller examination of will expand the emotional possibilities in a scene.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

ON ACTING: "Scoring the Script"

There is a technique in acting preparation called "scoring a script": the actor marks up the script’s dialogue according to the actor’s considered way to say a line (or, for that matter, when to move one's body, or lift one's hand to the face). The actor chooses her "line readings" in advance of performance, designating on the dialogue page where the accented word or words in a sentence should be, and where the pauses will be between words and sentences, etc.

The actor next commits those "scored" line readings to memory in rehearsal, and then in performance attempts to recapitulate them in creating the form the rhythm, the overall sound, of the delivered dialogue, all according to the precise predetermined in rehearsal ‘script scoring’. It is a very detailed, precise--and for the most part highly mechanical--procedure.

For the most part I would argue, it is a technique to be avoided, except by the most expert actor. Such over-wrought "scoring" can lead in lesser hands to mechanical, robotic performances, devoid of any living reality--and therefore any audience feeling involvement.

In such instances, I would advise an actor to leave the physical "scoring" of voice and face and prop-use to the natural unconscious emotional scoring that occurs in performance, let the variety of character emotions truly felt naturally and spontaneously produce the varied external expressions of voice and body; let inner emotional impulse create the way in which the "line" is said in performance, or the way the body reacts during the playing of the scene, or when the hand moves to the face.

* * * * * * * * * *

To be fair, however: in the hands of an experienced actor, who is not seeking to "set" line reading in advance of performance, but in "scoring: she is seeking a character's possible emotional content which underlays the dialogue and all other external expressions. With such a rehearsal approach, the expert actor's "scoring" a performance is a fine and time honored method of actor preparation.

When I was a young actor, acting in plays by George Bernard Shaw, I was instructed to simply follow the rhythmic, accented and tonal flow of Shaw’s (the character’s) dialogue and I would "find the character": that is, in the rhythmic and accented cadence of Shaw’s words I would discover the emotional essence of the character I was playing. Speak like a Frenchman, you will feel like a Frenchman. Speak like a gentleman, you will feel like a gentleman. Speak like a whore, you will feel like a whore. Speak like a Fascist, you will feel like a Fascist. Form follows function. Inner truth can be activated and revealed by the shape of outer form. They are coexistant and symbiotic, especially in the hands of an expert actor.

Working with Shavian dialogue in such a way was a sublime manifestation of an "external to internal" approach to acting preparation; following form to discover function. This formal "pre-scored" (by Shaw in this case, in his very precise use of language/dialogue), the actor's spoken release of his language would be used to uncover the emotional truth beneath it. To wit: when playing Shaw, all you had to do was ride the verbal horse; follow the rhythm and pitch and pace of Shaw’s dialogue and emotional truth, and the race would be run; you would find in his words the essential nature of the character you were playing. (Interestingly enough, Shaw was a great music critic before he became an accomplished dramatist. It was if, in his highly structured dialogue in all his plays, he was saying: sing my music and the the soul of my singer--the actor-as-character--will be revealed to you!)

Monday, January 04, 2010

ON ACTING: The Need for Emotional Bravery in Acting

Emotional variety is the natural and inevitable result of the actions of a winner. A natural winner is one who is unafraid of paying the widest range of emotional prices to achieve victory. So variety in performance is automatically present when conflictual life is engaged in by the goal-oriented actor whose emotional courage frees them to have many emotional options at their command.

The presence of emotional variety in a scene, while invariably required for a compelling performance of a scene, is, like all the other elements of excellent acting, logical to an exciting life, on or off stage. Natural winners create emotional variety naturally; as the inevitable concomitant to their desire to win. “All right; here’s my anger. Now do I win?” No. “All right; here’s my sadness. Now do I win?” No. “All right; here’s my sexiness. Now do I win?”

Whereas an actor who plays a whole scene fixated on a single emotion is a frightened actor. You want to say to him, as we often say in everyday life to people who manifest that monochromatic tenacity in their pursuit of goals: “You seem to be more committed to being angry…or sad, or confused, or frightened…than achieving your goals.” Staying with one emotion throughout a whole scene is an example of inadequate acting born from emotional fear.

Emotionally inflexible people (limited actors) are emotionally frightened people; they are nervously careful of deep feeling. They are invariably tentative conflictors, afraid of feeling and exhibiting a variety of emotions in the pursuit of a goal. They are more comfortable with one or two emotions (emotions that have worked in the past, emotions which have subjected them the least difficulty when manifested in the past) irrespective of their present goal-seeking productivity.

Such actors who fixate on one or two tactical emotions even when those tactics don’t produce positive results are cowardly careful actors. A long scene should be a priori evidence to the actor that positive results are not easily forthcoming using the same old (enmotional) tactics. People who are committed to winning in a long scene would naturally shift tactics.

Emotional flexibility is built into the survival/winning mechanism: that is, the emotional system of a winner unconsciously and freely moves from one emotion to another until it finds the one that works. Only fear inhibits emotional range and flexibility of a good actor; thereby rendering the fullness of the human system unavailable to the actor for effective and varietal use in the scene.