Monday, September 28, 2009

Lee Strasberg - Definition Of Acting


Acting is generally agreed to be a matter of less mimicry, exhibitionism, or imitation than the ability to react to imaginary stimuli. Its essential elements remain the twin requisites enunciated in the 18th century by French actor Francois-Joseph Talma: "Unusual sensitivity and extraordinary intelligence." The intelligence he refers to comes not from book learning but from the ability to understand the workings of the human personality.

The essential problems in acting - those of whether the actor actually "feels" or merely imitates, of whether he should speak naturally or rhetorically, and of what actually constitute being natural - are as old as theatre itself. They are concerned not merely with "realistic" acting, which arose in the theatre in the 19th century, but with the nature of the acting process itself.

Such problems acquired increased urgency in recent times, in which an immense investment of time, effort, and money is required for a dramatic production in the commercial theater, motion pictures, or television. Often the viability of such a production depends on the actor's ability to revivify states of high emotion on command, with complete plausibility and without being overwhelmed by other aspects of production. In a film, for example, because of technical problems, the actor sometimes must re-enact a scene a dozen times - each time striving for perfection - and then proceed to an unrelated scene, from some other part of the story, demanding an entirely different attitude from him. In such circumstances the training of an actor is not a luxury but a necessity.

Yet, in an otherwise excellent contemporary handbook of theater, the editor apologized for the absence of a section on the actor, which subject, he said, had been assigned to one who, though practically and theoretically conversant with acting, finally acknowledged that he could offer no recipes to the professional, nor could he find any logical foundation with which to begin. As early as the middle of the 18th century, the German critic and dramatist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing had already drawn attention to this difficulty. "We have actors but no art of acting." It remains as true today as when stated by George Henry Lewes in his excellent On Actors and the Art of Acting (1875):

I have heard those for whose opinions in other directions my respect is great, utter judgments on this subject which proved that they had not even a suspicion of what the art of acting really is.

Efforts to define the nature of an art or craft usually are based upon the masterpieces of that field. Without that necessary reference point, vague speculation and generalizations - without proof of validity -are likely. In the visual, musical, and literary arts, this foundation exists" the work of the great masters of the past and present serves not only to elucidate the art but also to create standards to emulate. It is difficult to imagine what the present state of comprehension of music would be if only the music of today were available, and the achievements of Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart had to be known only by hearsay. Yet, this is precisely the situation that exists in acting. The actor, in the words of the 19th-century American actor Lawrence Barrett "is forever carving a statue of snow." That is why the understanding of acting has not equaled the appreciation of it and why the actor's creative process has defied comprehension.


Throughout the history of theater, continual confusion has been expressed over the question of whether the actor is a creative artist or simply an interpreter. Since the actor's performance is usually based on the play, and the dramatist is conceded to be a creative artist, it is sometimes concluded that the actor must be only an interpretive artist. Some modern exponents of the Strasberg's creativity indirectly accepted this view and have turned, therefore, to nonverbal theater. But others deny that this recourse to primitivism is necessary in order to make acting a creative art. When composers like Schubert or Schumann create musical settings for the poems of Heine or Goethe, their music does not lose its essentially creative nature. Verdi used Shakespeare's Othello and Falstaff for his great operas, but his music is no less creative for that. When an artist uses his work for another artist in the same medium, that may properly be called non-creative imagination. The original artist has already solved the basic problems of execution, and his pattern is simply followed by the imitator. Such a work can be considered merely an exercise in skill (or in execution). An artist in one medium who uses an art work of another medium as subject matter, however, must solve all the problems posed by his own medium - a creative achievement. It is therefore quite proper to speak of a character as if he were the actor's creation - of John Gielgud's "Hamlet," for example, or John Barrymore's or Johnston Forbes-Robertson's. Because a medium offers the potential for creativity, of course, not all of its practitioners are necessarily creative. There are imitative artists in every medium. But acting can only be understood after it is first recognized as a creative medium demanding a creative act. In "The Art of Acting," the American drama teacher Brander Matthews remarked,

"The actor needs to have under control not only his gestures and his tones, but all other means of stimulating sensibilities and these should be ready for use at all times, wholly independent of the words of the text."

In the same work he quoted with approval the words of the great 19th-century Italian tragedian Ernesto Rossi that a "great actor is independent of the poet, because the supreme essence of feeling does not reside in prose or in verse, but in the accent with which it is delivered." And even Denis Diderot, the French philosopher of the 18th century whose famous The Paradox of Acting (written 1773-78; published 1830) is dealt with below and who was himself a dramatist, stated:

Even the clearest, the most precise, the most forceful of writers, words are no more, and never can be more, then symbols, indicating a thought, a feeling or an idea: symbols which need action, gesture, intonation, and a whole context of circumstances, to give them full significance.

If the art of acting is regarded as merely interpretive, the external elements of the actor's skill tend to be emphasized, but, when acting is recognized as a creative art it leads inevitably to search for the deeper resources that stimulate the actor's imagination and sensitivity. This search presents difficult problems. The actor must learn to train and to control the most sensitive material available to any craftsman: the living organism of a human being in all of its manifestations - mental, physical, and emotional. The actor is at once the piano and the pianist.

Acting should not be confused with pantomime, which is a form of external movements and gestures that describe an object or an event but not its symbolic significance. Similarly, the actor is not to be mistaken as an imitator. Many of the best imitators are unable to act in their own person or to create a character that is an extension of themselves rather than an imitation of someone else. Again acting should not be confused with make-believe, which functions only as a form of self-expression. It is not exhibitionism. A faculty for showing off or entertaining at parties is not the same as the talent demanded of the actor. The ability to put oneself into another character, to create a nonexistent event and perform it to its logical fulfillment, to repeat this performance not only when he is in a favorable mood but also at specified times and places, regardless of his own feelings on each occasion - in other words, the ability to create and to respond to imaginary objects and circumstances.

Genuine and feigned emotion. The most famous instance of supposed acting in ancient Greece was that of the actor Polus performing in the Electra of Sophocles, at Athens. The plot requires Electra to carry an urn supposed to contain the ashes of Orestes and lament and bewail the fate she believed had overtaken him. Accordingly, Polus, clad in the mourning garb of Electra took from the tomb the ashes and urn of his own son (who had recently died), embraced them as if they were those of Orestes, and rendered not the appearance or imitation of sorrow but genuine grief and unfeigned lamentation. Rather than mere acting, this was in fact real grief being expressed.

From antiquity, rival traditions of acting can be discerned-one stressing the externals of voice, speech, and gesture and the other looking to the actual emotional processes of the actor. Aristotle defined acting as "the right management of the voice to express the various emotions," and this primacy of the voice as the actor's outstanding medium has been widely accepted. "Dramatic ability," he said further, "is a natural gift, and can hardly be taught. The principles of good diction can be so taught." Aristotle did not fall into the common mistake of thinking that acting is only good diction; rather, he simply recognized that diction, unlike acting, can be taught; he was well aware of something more than diction in acting but he knew no way of training it. He saw good acting resulting either from a great natural quickness of parts or an enthusiasm allied to madness. "By the first of these, we mold ourselves with facility to the imitation of every form; by the other, transported out of ourselves, we become what we imagine."

If the voice and diction were the essential elements in acting, it would have much in common with oratory, but in actuality the actor is not an orator. The orator speaks in his own character and his intention is to impress and persuade the audience; he may need some of the qualifications of the actor, but many actors are poor orators. The emphasis in oratory is on the skillful use of the voice, and many great actors do not possess impressive vocal instruments. When the great tragedian Edmund Kean appeared for the first time in London in the early 19th century, the critic William Hazlitt, who welcomed him enthusiastically, wished him well and hoped he would soon recover from his cold. He later realized that it was Kean's natural timbre. Other leading actors, such as Albert Bassermann and Giovanni Grasso, have suffered from asthma and still conveyed a powerful temperament and maintained their vocal expressiveness.

The dichotomy noted in ancient Greece persisted through ancient Roman theatre and into modern times. On one hand, there was a recognition of the need for the actor to be affected by the sensations he wishes to arouse in others. On the other hand, a need was also seen for a precise system of expression-the peculiar look, tone, and gesture appropriate to every emotion of the mind.

Modern acting began with the commedia dell'arte. These Italian comedies companies, the earliest mention of which is in 1545, rapidly achieved extraordinary popularity. Until then, acting was an amateur occupation. The actor was limited to simply illustrating text by means of a narrow scheme of gesture and rhetorical speech. But in the commedia dell'arte the actor used only an outline, a plot; he improvised the play, giving free rein to the actor's art, developing his own characters or masks that he repeated in each play. Each character became an extension of the actor's own personality but elastic enough to respond to innumerable dramatic situations; thus, these actors began to develop the distinctive stage character of the theatre whereas previously the emphasis had been on the literary aspect of theatre. Since this demanded high skill, the actors joined into companies. The actor became professional. By doing so, he stimulated the development of modern drama. The essential requisite for the drama is its performance. The dramatist's creation finds its fulfillment not in the writer's study but on the stage. This fulfillment can best be achieved through the contribution of the professional actor.

Nonetheless, actors continued to learn by doing. Their schools were professional companies; their classroom, the stage; their teachers, the audience and their fellow players. Schools of dramatic art, isolated from theatres or companies are a relative innovation and are still unknown in several European countries.

Diderot's "Paradox of Acting." The most significant statement on acting is Diderot's "Paradox of Acting". Because of its polemic brilliance, it remains the most widely known essay on acting. It has found little acceptance within the profession, though its famous paradox-that in order to move the audience the actor must himself remain unmoved-is still highly regarded.

Regardless of the untenable solutions it proposes, Diderot's essay contains an excellent description of the actor's problem. What bothered Diderot was the unsolved problem of how the actor, if he were full, really full, of feeling, could play the same part twice running with the same spirit and success. Full of fire at the first performance, he would be worn out and cold as marble at the third. Diderot confirmed his view by noting, "the unequal acting of players who play from the heart. Their playing is alternately strong and feeble, fiery and cold, dull and sublime." This was the case with the actress who in her day was the outstanding example of emotional acting. "She comes on the stage without knowing what she is going to say; half the time she does not know what she is saying; but she has one sublime moment." Diderot knew that actors do feel and experience; he knew the nature of inspiration. But he also knew that some actors refused to recognize the need for craft training.

Diderot asked how the actor, if he is himself while he is playing, is to stop being himself: how he is to catch just the point at which he is to stay his hand? Diderot demanded unity in a performance; he demanded respect for the author's concept, and he understood the difficulty of repeating a performance. He demanded a definite course to the passion - a beginning, a middle, and an end. In Diderot's day, however, the problem of developing a technique for creating inspiration in the actor remained unsolved. The theoretic formulation had already been stated as well as it ever could be by the actor Talma:

I call sensibility that faculty of exaltation which agitates an actor, takes possession of his senses, shakes even his very soul, and enables him to enter into the worst tragic situations, and the most terrible of the passions as if they were his own.

The intelligence, which accompanies sensibility, judges the impressions which the latter has made us feel: it selects, arranges them, and subjects them to calculation.

The difficulty of solving the problem is illustrated by the work of the 19-century French teacher Francois Delsarte, whose influence was widespread not only in France but also in the United States. Delsarte became dissatisfied with routine acting techniques. He observed their mechanical and stultifying character and realized that under the stress of natural instinct or emotion, the body assumes appropriate attitudes and gestures quite different from those described by his teachers. But when he attempted to formulate laws of speech and gesture, on the basis of years of diligent observation and study, he created a series of elaborate pictorial descriptions that were just as mechanical as those he originally criticized. Knowledge of affective behavior had not advanced far enough to serve as an aid in solving the problem of the actor: there was still too little understanding of human behaviour, of the relation between the conscious and unconscious, and of the role of the senses.

Stanislavsky's contribution. It is in this context that the enormous contribution in the early 20th century of the great Russian actor and theorist Konstantin Stanislavsky can be appreciated. Stanislavsky was not an aesthetician but was primarily concerned with the problem of developing a workable technique. He applied himself to the very problems of developing a workable technique. He applied himself to the very problems that Diderot and others had believed insoluble: the recapture and repetition of moments of spontaneity or inspiration, which could not be controlled and repeated at will even by many of the greatest actors. Stanislavsky dedicated himself to the central problem of how to stimulate the actor's creativity. Even early in his career, while watching performances by great actors, he had felt that all of them had something in common, something he encountered only in greatly talented actors. In his later work, as director of the Moscow Art Theatre, he often experienced those flashes of intuition or inspiration that stimulate the imagination and turn something that one understands with the mind into an emotional reality and experience. Stanislavsky described such a moment occurring at a low point in the rehearsals for Anton Chekhov's drama "Three Sisters", when the "the actors stopped in the middle of the play, ceased to act, seeing no sense in their work." Suddenly something incomprehensible happened: an accidental sound, of someone nervously scratching his fingernails on the bench on which he sat, reminded Stanislavsky of a scratching mouse, setting off an entire sequence of previously unconscious memories that put the work at hand into a new spiritual context.

Later, in examining many parts he had played, especially that of Dr. Stockmann in Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People," a role he felt was better suited to him than any other in his repertoire, he became aware of how much his characterizations had been based unconsciously on his memories. With the passing of time, however, the memories and the feelings aroused by them were lost, and he began to repeat mechanically the fixed appurtenances of the role - the movements of the muscles, the mimetics of the face, eyes, arms, and body, and the physical signs of absent emotion. This led him to the perception that creativeness on the stage demands a condition he called "the creative mood." To the genius on the stage, this condition almost always comes of itself, and less talented people receive it less often. Although everyone on the stage receives the creative mood sometimes, none seemed able to control it with their own will.

Stanislavsky's description of the problem thus far had reached the point at which all previous examinations had stopped. By going further and inquiring into technical means for controlling the creative mood, Stanislavsky laid the foundation for the modern approach to the actor's problem. Stanislavsky had no intention of creating inspiration by artificial means; rather, he wanted to learn how to create favorable conditions for the appearance of inspiration by means of the will. He emphasized that this problem could be evaded. Other artists may create whenever they are of mind or feel inspired, but "the artist of the stage must be the master of his own inspiration and must know how to call it forth when it is announced on the poster of the theatre." If he is unable to find a conscious path to unconscious creativeness, the actor is forced to rely on the superficial aspects of scenic craft and theatrical cliches.

Stanislavsky believed that the problem could be solved through advanced psychology, especially the concept of "affective memory" described by the French psychologist Theodule Ribot in the 1890's. Although there has been confusion and misunderstanding about it, and its very existence has been questioned, the concept of affective memory is of prime importance for the understanding of how spontaneous and emotional experiences occur and can be repeated on the stage.

Affective memory is a reliving of past experiences - likes and dislikes - when an analogous situation recurs. Something that has brought pain is anticipated with dislike the second time. The dislike, which is felt immediately, rather then remembered, is like a residue of previous appraisals. Affective memory may be linked directly to the memory of a traumatic experience, as the same situation or a similar one recurs, or to an experience that bears little apparent relation to the original, if the memory has been repressed. Of course, an experience need not necessarily be traumatic to leave an affective memory. The concept of affective memory has found a place in several schools of psychology, including the Freudian and the Pavlovian, though different explanations have been offered (compare M.B. Arnold, "Human Emotion and Action," in Human Action, ed. by T. Michel, 1969 p.173).

The concept embraces both sense memory and emotional memory. The latter term was used by Stanislavsky in his later work to refer to the experiences of an intense and explosive nature that are so necessary for the most dramatic moments in the theatre. The concept of affective memory is essential to an understanding of how the actor functions and the faculties that have to be trained to develop his talent. It is unusually sensitive affective memory that enables the actor to respond to events that must be imagined on the stage and to repeat performances. This point was stressed by Stanislavsky's great pupil Yevgeny Vakhtangov, who emphasized that literal emotion - emotion that derives from the presence of an object that actually stimulates it - cannot be controlled and cannot be relied upon to provide the level of response that is required in every performance.

The use of affective memory is not limited only to acting. Wordsworth defined poetry as originating from "emotion recollected in tranquility." Marcel Proust, in a long passage in "Swann's Way," brilliantly described the working of affective memory and illustrated precisely the way in which it can be recalled. Instances of its presence can be multiplied from all the arts - literary, visual, or musical. But though in other arts it can function consciously, the actor must learn to use is consciously to satisfy the unique conditions under which he must create.

The "Method" is the name by which the totality of Stanislavsky's ideas have become most widely known. The Method represents a development of his procedures based not only on his writings but also on his actual achievement in his major productions. It includes the work of Vakhtangov, who demonstrated that Stanislavsky's ideas apply to the essential problems of the actor in any style and not only the realistic style most often associated with them. The Method became widely known in the mid-20th century largely through the work in films of actors such as Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, and Geraldine Page, who had studied at the Actors Studio in New York City. These actors made a powerful impression and showed a remarkable ability to bridge the gap between stage, screen, and television to an extent that aroused excitement and interest in the rest of the world. So strong was the fusion of performer and role that many of the traits of the character were confused with those of the actor, which led to serious misunderstanding. But at mid-20th century an American style of acting was being born.

Later developments. The post-Stanislavsky period has been influenced chiefly by the ideas of Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, and Jerzy Grotowski (who pointed out that the other two were more concerned with aesthetics than with methods). Artaud, a French avant-gardist director and actor, exerted an enormous posthumous influence on contemporary theatre through his writings. In them he proclaimed the "theatre of cruelty," which is based on the extreme development of gesture and sensory responses by the actors so that they can communicate with the audience at a more profound psychological level than is possible through words. Artaud's ideas achieved international attention through the productions of Peter Brook and the Royal Shakespeare Company, especially The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton, under the direction of the Marquis de Sade. It called for emotional states verging on hysteria from most of the cast during each performance.

Contrary to the opinion of many, however, Artaud thought of the theatre not as a psychological but as a plastic and physical domain and of the actor as an "athlete of the heart." For every feeling, every mental action, and every leap of human emotion, there is a corresponding breath that is appropriate to it. It has been pointed out by Grotowski, however, that if Artaud's principles are analyzed in a practical, "they lead to stereotypes: a particular type of movement to exteriorize a particular type of emotion. In the end, this leads to cliches."

Through his plays and the remarkable productions of the Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin in the 1950's, which represent the most important contribution to theatre of the post-Stanislavsky period, Bertolt Brecht generated ideas about acting that have received wide prominence and have usually been counterposed to those of Stanislavsky. Whereas in Stanislavsky-inspired productions the actors often seem to be exaggerating their individuality, Brecht's characters struck many observers as existing primarily as representatives of class-in some cases self-effacing to the point of dehumanization. Brecht himself, however, denied that his ideas were opposed to Stanislavsky's. He drew attention to the relatively quiet style of acting that sometimes struck visitors to the Berliner Ensemble. Brecht called his approach epic realism. He stressed that the stage of a realistic theatre must be peopled by live, three-dimensional, self-contradictory people, with all their passions, unconsidered utterances, and actions. The actor has to be able to create such people. Brecht mentioned some of the procedures of Stanislavsky he felt indebted to - the creation of the given circumstances that motivate the beginning of an event, the emphasis on creating the activity of the day that helps to define the actor's behaviour, and the individualizing of the characters that make up a mass. And he warns "we shall get empty, superficial, formalistic, mechanical acting if in our technical training we forget a moment that it is the actor's duty to portray living people."

A contemporary Polish director, Jerzy Grotowski, made the most thorough effort to rediscover the elements of the actor's art. Although he credited Stanislavsky with having posed the most important questions, he was not satisfied either with Stanislavsky, who let natural impulses dominate, or with Brecht, who was too much concerned, Grotowski felt, with the construction of the role. To Grotowski, the actor is a man who works in public with his body, offering it publicly. The work with the actor's instrument consists of physical, plastic, and vocal training to guide him toward the right kind of concentration, to commit himself totally, and to achieve a state of "trance." The actors concentrate on the search for "signs," which express through sound and movement those impulses that waiver on the borderline between dream and reality. By means of such signs, the actor's own psychoanalytical language of sounds and gestures is constructed, in the same way as a great poet creates his own language.

The actors of Grotowski's troupe are superbly trained physically and vocally, and they commit themselves to their task with total energy. They have been accused, however, of conveying too little human emotion. Grotowski's criticism that Artaud's work leads to cliches has also been made of his own work. There is little evidence in it of the level of acting observed in the work of great actors.


In view of the diversity of approaches to the actor's problems, it would seem difficult to arrive at any useful generalizations that are valid for all of them. Even among theatre groups that approach the production of a play from a fixed style or a fixed scale of expression, as in Japanese Kabuki and classic Oriental theatre generally, the same basic concerns are apparent. The following is an attempt to set down an approach that has proven successful in a variety of professional procedures.

The qualifications of the actor are generally thought to be a good physique, a retentive memory, an alert brain, a clear, resonant voice with good articulation, and controlled breathing. While looks and the even more important element of personality are undoubtedly factors, their characteristics are difficult to determine; they are usually recognized after the actor has become successful rather than before. Many actors do not possess them offstage but seem to ignite them as soon as they begin to perform. The modern mediums of the cinema and TV have intensified the importance of these external elements, continually searching for actors resembling those who have already achieved success, without helping to clarify these qualities. Yet the central element of the actor's talent, as differentiated from his means, is a special sensibility ("fire," "enthusiasm," "spirit," in the words of 18th-century theoreticians), an ability to respond to imaginary stimuli and situations, which makes it possible for him to enter into the experience and emotions of the character he is to represent. These elements have always been recognized as distinguishing the great actor but were assumed to be beyond the reach of the ordinary actor; they were regarded as elements "born in him" and not susceptible to training. This is precisely the area of the modern training of the actor.

The first stage in the training of the actor's control of his physical, mental, and psychical resources is the ability to relax. Because this ability seems to have little to do with final achievements in acting, it is often disregarded, but it is basic to any expenditure of will and energy on his part. In a state of physical or mental tension, or both, the actor cannot think, the commands he gives himself are not transmitted, sensation is stifled, and expression is inhibited. The process of relaxation serves to clear the actor of the unnecessary pressures that he as accumulated before the moment of acting begins, to free him of blocks or interferences that may inhibit sensory responses. Physical and mental energies are comparatively easy to train, but sensory control is much more difficult. Relaxation is not a static state or effort. Often in the initial stages of training the actor is subject to strong eruptions of unconscious impulses. He must learn to continue the relaxation, to force his will to maintain his effort on the action of the nerves and the muscles. Relaxation is connected with the exercise of the actor's will.

The converse of relaxation is concentration. Everything the actor does demands concentration. His training proceeds by work with imaginary objects: working with real objects often leads to pantomimic or to physical imitation, but the actor may begin with them in order to learn how to respond with his entire organism and to apply such responses to his work with imaginary objects-the real medium of the stage-as he would to real ones. This capacity to respond to stimuli that come not from outward reality but from the promptings of one's own imagination may be seen to some extent in every human being; something akin to it is found in psychology in the study of conditioned reflexes, of automatic and spontaneous reactions, and of behavior patterns. In heightening the sensory awareness and stimulating the senses to respond more strongly in life, the actor acquires the ability to recreate any object, sensation, or experience in the imagination. Here the concept of affective memory, already discussed, plays a fundamental role.

The French actor Talma has already been quoted as stressing the actor's need for an "excess of sensibility, always more lively, more rapid, and more powerful." But he has also properly pointed out that his intelligence must always be on the watch, and acting in concert with his sensibility, regulate its movements and effects: for he cannot, like the painter and the poet, efface what he does. To form a great actor the union of sensibility and intelligence is required.

In strengthening his concentration, the actor uses not only will but also a process of self-awareness by which he observes what is happening and trains his instrument to respond to his commands. The very process of concentration and of commitment and involvement must include awareness. The more the actor learns to master concentration, the more aware he becomes.

An additional factor is the development of the actor's sense of truth-a faculty particularly stressed by Stanislavsky. The growth of self-awareness is useless if it is not accompanied by a correct evaluation of what is true and what is false. If the actor must rely on outside judgment and remain dependent on it, he may become insecure and lose his spontaneity and responsiveness. His mastery of inner relaxation and concentration helps him achieve a combination of spontaneity, commitment and awareness. Thus, the actor's involvement and his awareness, rather than being in opposition to each other, are in accord.

The actor's sense of truth is also involved in another major area of actor's training-his work with actions (the way he behaves physically on the stage), sometimes called the "business" of the actor. Some idea must supply an incentive or intention to pull together what could otherwise be a series of disconnected and unrelated physical deeds. Some purpose, some aim must motivate the actor's will and energy. Any performance thus may be seen as a series of actions-as the score of the play-which must be carried out not simply physically but logically and truthfully. They must accomplish their purpose anew each night at every performance rather than merely repeating the external movements.

To develop spontaneity, to train himself to behave logically and truthfully, and to listen and respond to his partner, the actor practices improvisation-dramatizing contrived situations without a script. Improvisation is of enormous importance in the process of training and also of performance. It teaches the actor to speak rather than to read his lines, and it breaks his unconscious adherence to conventional theatrical patterns of behavior. It forces him to use his senses and often to discover not only the logic but also the significance of a scene. It compels the actor to work creatively and prevents him from reverting to skillful but mechanical repetition.

By means of exercises that may be remote from the actual roles he plays-such as the "song and dance"(in which a song is rendered syllable by syllable unrelated to the way in which it would usually be sung, thus helping to break the unconscious habits of the actor that affect his performance) or, conversely, the spoken "inner monologue" (in which the actor speaks out what is happening to him at the moment, unrelated to the play), or others-the actor not only intensifies his capacity for experience, but also frees his blocked, or inhibited impulses. He is enabled to deal with his own subjection to automatic habitual forms of behavior and mannerisms and to acquire new means of expression, corresponding to the true nature and strength of his impulse. He is thus enabled to develop a much larger scale of expression than the customary casual means of behavior in life permit.

The basic means of the actor which have traditionally served as the primary area of his training, are voice and body gesture. The methods used to train these tools of the actor derive from other fields, such as from the training of the singer's voice and of some forms of dance and pantomime. These contain many useful exercises for the strengthening of the respective muscles of the voice and body. But the singer's voice must retain its beauty and its musical quality regardless of the circumstances involved, and the dancer's body must always wind up in a formally acceptable attitude; and their respective training is so designed. Their needs are quite different from the needs of the actor. His voice must be flexible and expressive of all situations and experiences. It must be able to deliver a "poor" voice or a vulgar, rough, angry, or harsh voice. It must vary as much as the events to be created. His attitudes must be those of the character-of a human who may be ill at ease, slovenly, awkward, debilitated, or natural-giving no indication that it is being accomplished by a skilled craftsman. The technical accomplishment in the singer and in the dancer may represent a large part of what is appreciated in their performances; but in the actor, the very fact of the accomplishment must remain hidden. Technical accomplishment should go unnoticed by the audience.

For this reason, many actors have expressed dissatisfaction with the accepted methods for training the actor's voice, speech, and body. In this respect, the works of Grotowski and of producing units throughout the world that have been influenced by him have demonstrated new possibilities. The skill of the actors in such groups has been generally admired, and their work could serve as a basis for training the actor. Relaxation, concentration, work on objects, sense memory, emotional memory, action and improvisation, and the training of voice and body constitute the actor's work on himself. Work with objects and sense memory are as fundamental to his art as are daily finger exercises to a pianist.


Stanislavsky suggested that the actor, in approaching his work on a scene ask himself four questions: (1) who he is (character), (2) where he is (place), (3) what he is doing there (action and intention), and (4) what happened before he came there (given circumstances). The answers to these questions provide the actor with the necessary background for his performance, helping him to create the scene. In approaching the play in its entirety, the actor must subject his role to more intense analysis: he must search for the spine, or the kernel, of the play as well as its division into separate sections or units of actions. He must discern the beats of the play (i.e., the smallest units of dramatic action into which each role can be divided) as well as the rhythms of the play as a whole. He must determine what adjustments must be made in his performance for each of the other characters. For some plays an additional element is necessary: the overall mood, or pervading texture, that surrounds the play or out of which the play stems. The attempt to determine it, however, may lead to an excess of verbal and mental gymnastics that are of little actual value, unless the actors have been trained in the proper procedures. The actors must act out the elements involved in the analysis in order to receive any concrete benefit from it; otherwise it may remain superficial or merely intellectual.

Another area deserving attention is the rehearsal process. This is primarily the time in which the director's conception of the play must be harmonized with those of the actors; it is of immense importance that the actor approach the rehearsal in a creative frame of mind, ready to enlarge both his own and his colleagues' interpretations. Without a logical sequence of rehearsals, the actor's creativity cannot be properly stimulated. Without an understanding of the psychology of the rehearsal procedure, much of the work of the actor and the director may be defeated in production. There are, for example, significant possibilities in the reading rehearsal, in which the actors, usually seated in a circle, read aloud from the script and discuss its meanings as they proceed through it. There is enormous value in improvisation, when it is understood and used correctly. The relation between the individual actor and the ensemble is welded during the rehearsals, and they are the proper time to encourage the actor to begin to develop his movements to block the scene, to memorize his lines.

Styles of performance. In an effort to bring new life to plays of the past and present and to advance the imaginative possibilities of theatre, there has been a rediscovery of style in the 20th century. Style is the attribute of any complete achievement; it is not, as is often assumed by laymen, merely the manners and customs of a particular period. Such manners may be more strikingly elegant compared with those of the present, but they remain only manners. The Elizabethan form of theatre had conflicting styles within it, judging from a description of them in Hamlet, and so did the Greek and the French classical theatre. Even in the Japanese Kabuki and No theatre there have been conflicts of styles like those in Western theatre.

Style is not, as is sometimes assumed, the opposite of realism. Neither is it necessarily characterized by an expansiveness or broadness in acting. Style is the angle from which reality is observed. It is an attribute of all creative activity-not just of period or classic plays. The search for the specific content and reality of a play leads to style. The search for style in itself or in the traditions of the past often leads to empty forms.

Just as style should not be identified with a particular period, neither should it be associated with specific playwrights. Such terms as a Shakespearean or a Chekhovian style actually refer to the theatrical conventions traditionally associated with those dramas—a rhetorical and "larger than life" manner in the first and a static "mood" in the latter. These elements are little related to style; otherwise great Shakespearean and Chekhovian productions could be re-created generation after generation in precisely the same way. The fact is that those dramas must be continually recreated from the new views of each emerging generation. Even the performances of Jean Racine's drama re-created in the correct manner of French classical theatre do not attain great success in France. It is possible that more might be achieved by an interpretation of Racine along Chekhovian lines: the use of methods associated with the productions of Chekhov combined with a fresh understanding of Racine's character development might revise the opinion that his plays are excessively wordy at the expense of reality. This criticism was also leveled against Chekhov before Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre demonstrated the inner logic of his plays.

The most highly regarded performances in theatrical history were achieved by creating believable character's behaving logically and truthfully. The actor's often used means that were criticized as being vulgar - either too naturalistic or too realistic - because they broke the formal patterns of poetic speech. These actors demonstrated little reliance on the formal elements that traditionally have been supposed to characterize style. French actors, who have been considered exemplars of this traditional notion of style, have not excelled in Shakespearean stage, for example, led to a new quickness and fluidity, a nearly cinematic technique, in presenting Shakespeare's plays, but these techniques should not be interpreted as the original and therefore correct style of production. Shakespeare continues to be presented in a vast range of styles.

Plays that entail interaction between actor and audience also present no unique problems to the actor. The audience is treated with the same conviction and reality as if it were another presence in the drama, as if it were simply another character.

Techniques of performance. The fundamentals of the actor's art remain the same no matter how bizarre the dramatic context: the actors may be abstractions, for example, as in Stanislavsky's 1908 production of Maurice Maeterlink's allegorical fantasy The Bluebird; they may play a band of actors producing a play, which they then proceed to perform in a vivid theatrical fashion, as in Vakhtangov's production of Turandot, a play by the 18-century Italian Carlo Gozzi; they may imagine themselves into a satiric extravaganza, as in experiments by the Group Theatre a major U.S. troupe of the 1930's, working on the basis of Stanislavsky's ideas) based on the satirical pictures of George Grosz (1931); or they assume the distorted attitudes appropriate to an expressionist world, as in the classic horror film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1919).

The growth of motion pictures, especially the rise of the "talkies," beginning in 1927, greatly affected acting, as theatre talent was diverted from the stage. The requirements of acting in motion pictures, television, theatre, and opera are basically the same, although some of the techniques are different. It is possible to put strips of film together and create a performance that was never actually given. The performance is created by the director rather then than by the actor. There have been performers in motion pictures who were thus completely products of the camera and contributed little from the acting point of view, depending rather on their physical charms and personality. Others, however, were authentic actors, who developed a style perfectly suited to the medium; Charlie Chaplin, for example, ranks as one of the greatest actors of all time in any medium.

Despite the technical demands that are unique to each medium, the properly trained actor moves easily from one medium to another without any diminution of his talent. Those who have been trained in the rhetorical and theatrical gesture approach, as many British and French actors have been, sometimes find difficulty in making the transition to films. The theatre tends to diminish action and voice, requiring a heightened intensity to project across the footlights. The camera, however, exaggerates action and emotion. Moreover, some actors find it difficult to perform scenes out of sequence, as is usually done in films, and for other actors the close-up can be intimidating. But the fact is that actors training for films usually use the same exercises as theatrical actors-working with imaginary objects and partners, performing appropriate physical and psychological tasks, and others. Moreover, most of the foremost actors in mid-20th century, such as Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Geilgud, Louis Jouvet, and Katherine Hepburn, have been outstanding in both film and theatre.

The contemporary theatre is characterized by many plays that demand more dynamic and more imaginative physical actions of the actors than previously and that utilize a diversity of audio-visual effects and multimedia devices. Under the need to fulfill these demands, acting could easily revert to its old-fashioned externalized forms. In addition the development of repertory theatres in the United States, England, and elsewhere, with their eclectic repertoires and their combinations of contemporary and classic plays, often leads to a search for meretricious "style" rather than for genuine content. These new pitfalls may be avoided, however, in much the same way as those that faced the actor in previous epochs, by understanding of the true fundamentals of the art of acting. (Le.S.)

1 comment:

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