Saturday, November 26, 2011

ON ACTING: Elegance

Why is physical and intellectual elegance valued in an actor's performance? Why is the standard "Less is more" chanted to an actor who is overacting? Why is understatement valued so highly in acting (as well as in most other human endeavors)?

Because the economy of effort increases the power of the task attempted: in other words, decrease the area of release (in acting terms, the release of the emotion felt through offered words, movement and gesture) and you increase the affect on the other characters and the viewing audience: less release = more power.

Release the same amount of hate by injecting a sharp needle into the eye of an opponent than hitting him over the head with a large piece of wood and I believe you make a more powerful statement on the audience, not to mention the recipient of the needle point.

Think of putting your finger over a portion of the head of a garden hose: you are able to send the same amount of water a further distance (and/or increase the power in the water spray) by reducing the area of water release.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

ON ACTING: All Great Acting is Emotional Reality

From "Acting is Living:"

"In the history of Western Civilization drama, from the Greeks to the Romans to the Renaissance to today, I would argue that the greatest acting has always been emotionally true to life; always been Shakespeare’s “mirror up to nature.” Great acting onstage or on screen has always been onstage real emotional life itself, regardless of the epoch, period, styles, restricted parameters, and/or the staged presentations of that life—and that includes all those epochs when the great actors lacked any psychological understanding of how they attained that real life onstage or onscreen."

For the audience to feel, the actor must feel; for the audience to believe, the actor must believe. Only emotional truth from one begets emotional truth for the other.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

ON ACTING: The Inner Emotional Journey

Acting is the discovery of--and journey into--oneself. There are as many cells in the body as there are stars in the universe.

Approaching a role, an actor must ask a series of questions: What do I and the character (at least as I interpret the character) have in common? Am I aware of that side of myself, the side that conforms to my character interpretation?

To play a killer, an incestuous father, or a saint requires that I understand the killer, incestuous father or saintly side of myself? Do I believe I have those sides of myself (emotional sides; because, remember, a performance requires that in order for the audience to feel, the actor must feel first)? And if I don't understand the character, is that because I don't understand that side of myself? And if I believe I have those emotional sides, do I have the courage and capability to feel and reveal those aspects of myself on demand, in front of people, excitingly and without interference generated by the requirement of speaking the instructed dialogue in the script and carrying out with exactitude the director's directed movements?

Actors often tire of playing a certain role. They get bored with the repetitive nature of doing the same character in a TV series for five years, for example. They want new; they want different. They want to explore a different aspect of themselves. They have in their career already chartered, mapped certain rivers of their emotional nature, and they want new discoveries. They are hungry explorers into the uncharted waters of themselves. They seek their own unknown; they want to experience new character (self) with full dimensions and digressions.

The hero seeks to play the heavy; the heavy seeks to play the lover; the man wants to explore his feminine, the woman want to swim flow freely in her stream of testosterone.

Who are we, the actor asks? What are unknown possibilities of our emotional life; or at least infrequently experienced selves? I want to hate beyond reason, to lust, to walk with death, to suffer the pangs of rejection and the joys of universal success. I want to be the courageous astronaut, the fearless fool daring to belittle the great King.

I want to act because the safety of the stage and the mask of the character permits me to be all that I can be.

The thrill, the seduction, the addiction of acting is wrapped up in just that: the infinite possibilities and challenges to actor's emotional courage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

At 85, Tony Bennett still sharpens the pipes

From a New Yorker atticle on Tony Bennett:

"Tony Bennett was resting his voice while waiting to sing a duet with Lady Gaga. She was a half hour late. "I did my scales today," he said as he stepped down from the platform. Bennett practices scales from fifteen to twenty minutes everyday, singing along with a small tape recorder that he plays a cassette of exercises created by  his longtime teacher Pietro D'Andrea, Once I heard Bennett say, 'The first day he doesn't do the scales, you know. The second day, the musicians know. The third day, the audience knows.'

At 85, still considered one of the great stars of the mellow tone, TB never lets the voice go unattended: he knows that you don't sit on your laurels and hope to maintain your edge. The path to longtime success is longtime constant effort. Genius never takes a holiday."

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Is my voice and body 'warmed up'? Do I know my lines? Have I set my blocking? (Audience Witnessing Requirements)

Am I ready to convince the other characters in the scene with me that "I'm right, they're wrong?" (Commitment to Objective.)

Do I realize I can only achieve my goals through convincing the other person (s) to agree with me? (Interdependent)

Will I try to make the achievement of my goal short and brief while at the same time paradoxically emotionally prepared for a long scene in the conflict so requires? (Honest)

Is my opponent (s) before me a real person, with eyes, nose, hair, voice, not just the 'character'? Am I willing to let that real person(s) to make me feel by really looking at and listening to them? (Real)

Is the scene, and the achievement of my goal, always important? (Intensity)

Am I prepared for a wide range of emotional responses and tactics as I emotionally, verbally and physically respond to others? (Variety)

Have I willing/prepared to live the scene at a profound level of emotional reactions? (Complexity)

Am I prepared to live the scene with 'beats and transitions', 'build' and 'character development' (personal change from beginning to end)? (Structure)

Am I prepared to be smooth and elegant, do only what is physically and verbally sufficient to the character's tasks of convincing the other characters, and not wasting unnecessary energy on dealing with my own actor's insecurity and desire to 'act'? (Elegance)

When the scene starts, have I forgotten all my personal acting tasks and desires, and am ready to confine myself to the action tasks of me as the-actor-as-character? (Kill the Actor)

Now: live/perform.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Fake (bad) acting is the refuge of emotional cowards.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

ON ACTING: Emotions and Energy

The new student had given a wonderful performance. She said she had a breakthrough for her: she had never 'connected' so emotionally before in a performance. But, she said, she felt exhausted. And exhilarated. I was not surprised--nor should she be--by either effect. 

To be deeply 'connected' emotionally to a role or performance takes the highly synergistic working of the inner body (often called emotions), of literally billions of inner neural connections and chemical flows within us passing to and fro. What we call 'feeling' is really the experiencing of inner physical conversations, if you will, between billions of molecules passing information back and forth to one another within us, indicating to multiple portions of our body a most complex and involving set of instructions how to act and react.

The exhilaration felt at the end of her emotionally draining performance is satisfaction: a job well done. It was, as Milton expressed it (at the end of his great tragedy, Samson Agonistes): "with calm of mind, all passion spent."

By being involved in a wonderful performance, the actor's body has been operating as a huge inner and outer machine, working furiously to attain our (the character's) human ends. Little wonder that at the culmination of a deeply emotional operation, the actor is exhausted. The actor has given a wonderful and deep emotional performance and has achieved a personal and public catharsis, a therapeutic release of his/her deep feeling. The actor has experienced deep human involvement (as in a psychiatric experience) in the safe setting of a staged or filmed context. How exhilarating...and exhausting. And needful of a vacation.    
That's why actors have to be in physical shape. While we often think of emotions and outer physical expression as two separate entities, they are really one. A great performance is the inner and outer body engaged in an action of supreme physical (inner and outer) involvement. Good acting is a total physical experience.