Century Ago... On June 22, 1897, at the Moscow restaurant Slavyansky Bazaar, Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko began a marathon 18-hour talk that led directly to the organization of a new kind of theater...
Stanislavky was an actor who became a director. The same with Meyerhold. If an actor is a hyper-active spectator, a director is a very active actor. A leader of actors, the one who knows when they need help.
Stanislavsky System came out at the Age of Cinema, when most of the movement is done by the camera. What is left for the actor in front of the camera? Clouse-up asks for psychological realism, known in America as "Method Acting" or "Method." (See My Notes to Myself at the end of the page)
How to structure your acting feelings? The same as with movement: aim, action, release. Aim = objective. How could my objective be visible? Only if I have an obstacle. Without a conflict I have no drama.
In Fundamentals of Acting class we do the "drunk-exits" exercise. Objective (thesis) is a door,the aim is a direct line between you and the door. The Obstacle (anti-thesis) -- being drunk. Synthesis -- your performance, the trajectory of your movement, the combination of the two.
Without a contradiction within your action you can't develop a structure of motion. The notorious "subtext" is the most explicit case of conflicting actions. We do not say what we think. The easiest way to go for a conflict is to seek a contrast. The opposite. Meyerhold used even more radical notion of contra-point. Selection of extremely opposite emotions: love-hatred. Each of the two must be shaped separately; if text is expressing love, subtext would be born out of playing a contrapuntal feeling alone with it.
Honesty in acting we call "believability." "Play well, or play badly, but play truly."(Konstantin Stanislavsky)
This is not a paradox, Stanislavsky wanted to shift actor's attention from "good" and "bad" acting to focus of authenticity of emotions.
"I (have) said that we cannot directly command our feeling, but that we can entice, provoke and coax them by certain indirect means. The same should be said about our wants, wishes, desires, longings, lusts, yearnings or cravings, all of which, although always mixed with feelings, generate in the sphere of our willpower.
In the qualities and sensations we find the key to the treasury of our feelings. But is there such a key to our willpower? Yes, and we find it in movement (action gesture). You can easily prove it to yourself by trying to make a strong, well-shaped but simple gesture. Repeat it several times and you will see that after a while your willpower grows stronger and stronger under the influence of such a gesture.
Further, you will discover that the kind of movement you make will give your willpower a certain direction or inclination; that is, it will awaken and animate in you a definite desire, want or wish. So we may say that the strength of the movement stirs our willpower in general; the kind of movement awakens in us a definite corresponding desire, and the quality of the same movement conjures up our feelings."
Movement is only an expression of inner, emotional movement. "Master-gesture" term is a need to establish STRONG (shaped but simple) gesture. Sometime (often) I have to impose this "action gesture" on actors. This gesture becomes a character's trademark, his (not actor's) habitual movement. It works both ways:
from inside out and from outside in.
Meyerhold's revolt against his teacher (Stanislavsky) was an attempt to bring back theatricality back to stage -- theatre's own language. It was a reaction to the king of the century -- Film.
My answer is BOTH.
I don't have any problem with Stanislavsky anymore. I use the System. Methodologically. When I can't get it through with an actor, I leave it aside -- let's try biomechanics.
"American System" of Acting? Meyerhold was in love with Taylorism no less than with Kabuki and Commedia del'Arte. Mechanics, almost acrobatics. Very physical. Sports or circus.
What am I doing? What? Another book for actors? (A textbook with Russian accent). After revisiting Russia as a Fulbright scholar, teaching Russian American Theatre program. Poetic scholarship, personal science -- the style of the book. Beginning acting. I taught too many.
To students: I don't believe in teaching and disciples (?), I think that the real knowledge comes through revelations. You understand it when it's yours; only then you can perform. My task is to trigger it, to make it your experience = your practical knowledge. Something you can USE.
To colleagues-instructors: help them. We leave the classroom. The rest is on them, the students. They will self-direct themselves, manage themselves. Teach them to teach themselves.
To students: Think!
STRAIGHT TALK: Do we train for stage acting? What theatre do we have and what kind of theatre ahead?
I don't understand how it works. The acting thing. And this riddle is a major attraction for doing theatre. I wrote this book because I try to understand how I teach acting. I know that acting is coaching and this book is to help you to teach yourself. I am a grotesque creature; trained in Stanislavsky, I liked Meyerhold; I accepted eclectics -- and all I can do is to offer my students whatever works for them. For each one. One only. You should have your own Method and System. And this is your own style. And if you could get there, you're a star.
I try not to teach, I work with my actors, even in class. We are colleagues, we do theatre. The task is simple -- to get it done. Do you know what you have to complete?
Actor =/= Character. Difference between Role and Character. (Meyerhold uses term Image; Character belongs to script).
Character -- Actor -- Role -- Spectator <--> Audience, and back.
Public is a result of mutual dramatic experience (through aesthetics). At the beginning Greek Theatre didn't know two actors in front of the audience. Only one after another. Audience connects actors, makes scenes.
Game and play.
Metamorphosis (Transformation, temporary) and identification -- Meyerhold. Reincarnation and identification -- Stanislavsky. According to Method, character is resurrected through actor and actor's identity is totally dissolved into character's persona. Double existence of actor (Meyerhold). To ask a non-trained actor to create a totally new persona out of his own (he has little knowledge of) is to push him to the text (that's why "cold" readings). Film industry simply decided that no acting is neede; they play themselves. Or be yourself. That's why they talk about talent. And luck.
Biomechanics do not ask for sacred treatment. It's not a religion, it's a craft. You don't have to pray, you have to work.
Training: double and multiple existence. Spectator in you would direct actor in you. Director is a professional spectator.
How to train? Understanding, analysis, directions. Co-existence = dialogical nature.
The difference between acting and behavior. Social Roles (Marxism) and social behavior. We act till we make our act into our social nature (behavior). Education is learning how to act socially.
Artistic universe: we start with body (beauty), from diet to body building. "Everything in man must be beautiful." Anton Chekhov. Theatre is only a lab or back stage, preparing us for Life as Theatre. Theatre became a skill training and a developer technology of social behavior. The final product -- not audience even, but us living.
Public Man is doomed to be lonely. He is acting all the time and must be separated from himself. ... and his roles become hisselves.
How did media theatricalize our existence?
["All the world's a stage..." a thought at the cash machine.]
What if we would take it literally? Cameras (photo, video, recording) transform any space into a stage: seen, viewing, watched space. ("Smile, you're on Candid Camera!" sign in the liquor store). Who is my public? Stop on the street in front of the electronics store with cameras and monitors at the window. Watching yourself. Something people before me never experienced. My sense of myself and my picture. Great art of the past -- portraits. Mirror world, our reflections are stolen? Mirror or magnifying glass.
My answer, again -- both.
|"The teachings of Konstantin Stanislavsky and his disciples changed not only my life," wrote Strasberg, "but that of the entire 20th-century theater. Just as our understanding of human behavior and modern physics is still turning on the revelations of Freud and Einstein, so our contemporary knowledge of the actor's craft is still heavily indebted to Stanislavsky's 100-year-old discoveries. Probably no other name -- beside Shakespeare's -- is heard so often in the theater." Strasberg, A Dream of Passion|