Hello Again Actors —
Welcome back to acting class! What is an acting class? Uta Hagen said it best— An acting class is a room full of terrified people. Relax, we’re all scared.
I’m going to breeze through these notes on Sunday. This is very important stuff that I know will change your artistic life in a positive way. There are also some simple, easy, and (hopefully) fun exercises so please read all of these notes before class. Afterwards, everyone will be on the same page regarding the acting style that I not only teach, but I have also spent my life practicing and perfecting in the studio and on stage— and it works!
2.Marry together the scansion of the line, the poetic devices and contemporary acting technique based on the teachings of Constantine Stanislavski, Uta Hagen, and me, to bring Shakespeare’s poetic drama to life for a modern audience. Specifically, a modern radio audience.
3.Forgive Gary’s typos.
Though no birth records exist, church records indicate that a William Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564. From this, it is believed he was born on or near April 23, 1564, and this is the date scholars acknowledge as William Shakespeare’s birthday. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, he was 52 years old.
Shakespeare’s poetry is over 400 years old. If you struggle to understand it, you MUST translate it to make it more accessible. It’s important to understand what we are saying BEFORE we have to say it. It’s important to visualize the imagery of the poetry while you tell the story. If you need a great resource go here: https://shakespeare.folger.edu. There are others (No Fear Shakespeare) and we’ll discuss them in class on Sunday. Before the internet the best way was to sit and analyze the text with a good old-fashioned unabridged dictionary. What works for you?
A written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure. Shakespeare wrote in both poetry and prose. Most of the text in Romeo and Juliet is written in poetry. However, there is also prose throughout the five acts. For example, the Nurse speaks in prose. As does Mercutio when he speaks to Benvolio. There are other characters who speak in prose. Can you tell me who they are? Here’s a tip — It is easy to tell when a character is speaking in poetry and/or prose simply by looking at the structure and layout of the text on the page. When the character is speaking in poetry the dialogue is laid-out like a poem, and when the character is speaking in prose, the sentences look like plain-old English writing. Simple.
Shakespeare’s text contains both — Heightened Text (poetry) and Naturalism (prose).
Heightened = any language that is not naturalistic; metaphors, similes, and rich surprising language. The playwright uses heightened text the same way the composer uses heightened text in the lyrics of a song. As a matter of fact, Shakespeare’s scripts are referred to as a score. Poetry is used to magnify the character’s wants, intentions, struggles, heartaches, loves, dilemmas, joys, etc. When you as the actor create a character that uses heightened text to lift, intensify, or magnify your feelings, you must NEED those words to express yourself; you must desperately need to use them, they must become a part of your lexicon. For example, on Wednesday night I was so overwhelmed with joy regarding our first-class meeting that I imagined myself being asked by someone how I felt about you all. So, I wrote a quick bit of heightened text about our all too brief meeting:
They are the tailor-made fit of a razor sharp skate that cuts through the ice like butter,
They are a priceless pin from a Dancing Queen’s endless spin,
They are the keepers of sacred orbs possessing the power to Believe,
They are Cats, now and forever, some camera shy who sleep in tuxedos, others hiss and purr on cue,
They are in love with rescued Honey dogs who are hounded by the paparazzi too,
They are unicorns who travel by mail to deliver gifts of rainbows and hugs,
They are koalas and tiny bears who take care of baby actors that grow up way too quickly,
They are pocket-sized surfboards emblazoned with the perfect name,
They are shoeboxes of keepsakes all too precious for ranking and filing,
They are a box of rocks, lighter than air, salvaged from the earth and painted with love.
They are an ageless photograph of precious grandparents forever young in the South of France.
They are cruelty-free circus artists who juggle rainbow colored bean bags and spin scarlet plates on the sharp point of a spear.
They are the compassionate voices and loving hearts homeless fur babies longingly look forward to snuggling,
They are the rescuing, repairing and artistic hands for the discarded and broken toys of the world,
They are the urban cowboys of tomorrow who defy the stars to knock off the ten-gallon hats of today,
They are the suburban organic farmers growing heirloom tomatoes of perfect imperfection in their front yards,
They are the designing jewelers who turn smash key chaos into bangles of friendship,
They are the heartbroken singers of love songs containing a Scorpion’s sting,
They are the ever-fixéd mark of an innocent child’s face on an artful plaque of fired clay,
They are the heartbeat of a loving father’s metronome who has come safely home,
They are the priceless family photographs printed on paper made of time,
They are the fresh scent of Fabreze in a musty world smelling of old cheese.
Now, a Shakespeare I’m not, but these were words that I NEEDED to use to express my feelings about you all after our wonderful class on Wednesday. Simply saying, ‘They are a great group’, wasn’t going to do it for me. The same can be said for Shakespeare’s characters when expressing themselves through the long stanzas of poetry they speak in this play.
“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright…” is a whole lot better than saying, “Dude, she shines more than my mom’s track lighting.” Can you think of other examples?
CLARIFY YOUR INTENTIONS and ACTING VERBS —
When you go through your script and start working on your lines, make sure you understand the intention(s) of your character in the scene. For example, in order to balance between heightened and naturalistic acting we need to know what we want and what is the intention behind the words we speak. What is Juliet’s intention when she tells Romeo, “O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon, That monthly changes in her circle orb, Lest that thy love prove likewise variable..” It could be that Juliet wants Romeo to love her always and not be everchanging in his feelings for her; as the moon is ever-changing. Juliet wants that Sonnet-116-kind-of-love. We’ll get into just what that is later in these notes. What are Juliet’s intentions? Can you find a verb?
Make sure you are clear on your characters intentions, the intentions behind the words, the poetry, the prose. There are also intentions behind actions without words. As a matter of fact, words are the end product of emotion. The last resort of expression before going full circle and coming back to actions without words. Sounds; screams; laughter, fighting, etc. Intentions can be to cheer the other person in the scene (elevate); it could be to berate the other person (condemn; judge). Make sure you understand the intention. And then try to find the acting verb that goes with that intention. Once you find the verb, try the scene by focusing on the verb during the speech. Intentions change throughout the scene and that’s the work. Whether you’re speaking poetry or prose, the intentions need to be identified. What are your intentions for this class?
Shakespeare’s poetry is written in iambic pentameter (“Iamb” = a foot (a pair of syllables) containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllables. “Penta” = means 5 – a line of iambic pentanmeter is a single line of five feet written in iambic.)
A line of poetry that contains five pairs of iambs (10 syllaballs total). An iamb is a literary term given to an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one, which counts as one beat. It is akin to a heartbeat in sound and timing. That’s the pulse under the poetry. It’s also Shakespeare’s way of telling us how he wants the text to flow. However, in acting Shakespeare we work very diligently to make the text sound like natural speech. In other words, and ironically, we don’t want the poetry to sound like we’re reciting poetry. The iambic is a guide, a place for us to start. What is the name of the play where a Shakespeare character directs a group of actors? What does he tell them to do when acting his play? (Answer: See the P.S. at the end of these notes.)
Measurement and Meter
“Penta” is the Latin root for five, and a meter is the poetry term that describes the measurement of a rhythmic pattern. A poem written in Iambic pentameter, therefore, has five beats per line.
Without Rhyme or Reason
Poems that are written in iambic pentameter do not necessarily have to rhyme. Additionally, a poem’s meter can be written imperfectly while still following the iambic pentameter structure. Continuous lines of poetry written in iambic pentameter that do not rhyme are considered to be blank verse.
Blank Verse — unrhymed lines of poetry written in iambic pentameter — Julius Caesar is written mostly in blank verse. Loves Labors Lost is written in rhymed verse.
EXERCISE FOR SUNDAY
People have tried to imagine so many things about Shakespeare’s intentions and nobody really knows what he was thinking when he wrote his plays, there were no records, no interviews with him in the newspapers, as we have archived today regarding other playwrights now passed away. People sure have spent a lot of time trying to imagine what he was thinking. The bottom line is, everything you need to know about what William Shakespeare was intending, feeling, and thinking about expressing regarding the human condition can be found in his 37 plays and his 154 sonnets. For example, how he felt about romantic LOVE can be found in his Sonnets, especially Sonnet No. 116.
You will all get a chance to read Sonnet No. 166 aloud in class on Sunday and afterwards we will discuss the meaning and the iambic pentameter. After reading the sonnet to yourself, how do you think Shakespeare feels about romantic love?
What is an English Sonnet?
Sonnet means “little song”. It’s fourteen lines of iambic pentanmeter with two rhyming couplets at the end. An English Sonnet is also known as The Shakespearean Sonnet. It is named after Shakespeare not because he invented it but because he is the most famous writer of this type of sonnet. Typically, the English sonnet explores romantic love. Its rhyme scheme is as follows: a b a b c d c d followed by e f e f g g.
Here is an example of an English sonnet by William Shakespeare:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds (a)
Admit impediments. Love is not love (b)
Which alters when it alteration finds, (a)
Or bends with the remover to remove. (b)
O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark (c)
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; (d)
It is the star to every wand’ring bark, (c)
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. (d)
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks (e)
Within his bending sickle’s compass come: (f)
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, (e)
But bears it out even to the edge of doom. (f)
If this be error and upon me proved, (g)
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. (g)
Sonnet 116 (modern translation) — I hope I may never acknowledge any reason why minds that truly love each other shouldn’t be joined together. Love isn’t really love if it changes when it sees the beloved change or if it disappears when the beloved leaves. Oh no, love is a constant and unchanging light that shines on storms without being shaken; it is the star that guides every wandering boat. And like a star, its value is beyond measure, though its height can be measured. Love is not under time’s power, though time has the power to destroy rosy lips and cheeks. Love does not alter with the passage of brief hours and weeks, but lasts until Doomsday. If I’m wrong about this and can be proven wrong, I never wrote, and no man ever loved.
Sonnet 116 sets out to define true love by firstly telling the reader what love is not. It then continues on to the end couplet, the speaker (the poet) declaring that if what he has proposed is false, his writing is futile and no man has ever experienced love. How do you feel about true love? Do you think there is such a thing as true love? Discuss.
A concise paradox comprising two opposite terms is called an oxymoron. An oxymoron can either be a phrase, or a sentence. Within a dramatic text, an oxymoron is often incorporated to highlight the complexity underlying an idea. In Shakespearean tragedies, oxymorons are meant to reinforce the grief, horror, remorse or shock experienced by the characters. For instance, in “Romeo and Juliet”, the main characters often resort to oxymorons to emphasize the intensity of their emotions that cannot be expressed otherwise. Some of these oxymoron examples are highlighted below:
“Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate…”
(I. i. 179-181)
This quote is spoken by Romeo after Benvolio advises him to forego his infatuation with Rosaline. Unable to overcome his obsession with Rosaline, Romeo has an emotional outburst, and he uses the oxymoron – “loving hate” to express his inner turmoil. Loving hate is a contradictory term that signifies that love and hate can exist simultaneously. Unrequited love can breed hatred and vice versa. By emphasizing the duality of love and hate, this phrase highlights the ambivalent emotions experienced by Romeo.
“Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep that is not what it is!”
(I. i. 185-186)
The above verse is replete with several oxymorons that highlight the heaviness that descends on Romeo after Rosaline refuses to respond to his love. The conflicting term, “feather of lead”, is outlined as an attribute of love and implies that although the initial phase of love is like a breeze that feels as light as a feather. The aftermath of brutal rejection by one’s beloved feels like a burden as heavy as lead. Moreover, “sick health” refers to the fact that the initial feeling of well-being ensured by love, can quickly transform into sickness as a result of unrequited love.
“Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet
(II. ii. 199-200)
Juliet delivers the above-mentioned endearing verse to bid farewell to Romeo during the pivotal balcony scene. In this verse, the oxymoronic phrase, “sweet sorrow” signifies that temporary estrangement from one’s lover simultaneously yields unsettling sorrow and a sweet sense of hopefulness. Hence, for Juliet, the anticipation of her probable reunion with Romeo, balances out the pain of temporary separation, emphasizing the coexistence of exquisite joy and sadness.
“Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill.”
(III. i. 207)
The above statement is an example of an oxymoronic sentence delivered by the Prince of Verona as he penalizes Romeo for killing Tybalt. After realizing that the killing is an accidental occurrence, the Prince orders Romeo to be exiled. However, the contradiction in this particular punishment becomes evident from the fact that while exile may appear as a pardon or a less painful sentence, it is infinitely more agonizing than imprisonment. In effect, for Romeo, exile is a life-sentence disguised as mercy.
O serpent heart, hid with a flow’ring face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical!
(III. ii. 79-81)
These emphatic verses feature a series of oxymorons spoken by Juliet after she discovers that Romeo has murdered Tybalt. Riddled with intense disbelief and shock, Juliet refers to Romeo as a “beautiful tyrant” and “fiend angelical.” These paradoxical phrases highlight that there is a stark discrepancy between Romeo’s seemingly harmless and beautiful demeanor and his tyrant-like murderous impulse. Juliet’s shock is compounded by the fact that both angelical and fiend-like qualities can simultaneously coexist in her beloved thereby leading her to be skeptical of her own judgment of Romeo.
“A damnèd saint, an honorable villain!”
(III. ii. 88)
After learning about Tybalt’s murder, Juliet wavers between belief and disbelief and refers to Romeo as a “damned saint” and “honorable villain.” These oxymoronic phrases highlight the inner conflict plaguing Juliet in relation to Romeo’s essential goodness. Unable to categorize Romeo as being entirely villainous or saint-like, Juliet tries to reassure herself by exclaiming that Romeo is not entirely devoid of honor and has some semblance of humanity in him.
“Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? O, that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace!”
III. ii. 89-91)
While trying to assimilate the shock of Romeo’s brutal killing of Tybalt, Juliet ponders on Romeo’s action and uses the above oxymoronic sentence to reinforce the contrast between Romeo’s trustworthy, amicable exterior and the rash impulsive aspect of his personality. Juliet equates Romeo with a “fairly bound” book comprised of “vile matter,” having a deceptive impact thereby emphasizing the distinction between Romeo’s appearance and reality.
“Just in her case. O woeful sympathy!”
(III. iii. 93)
This statement is delivered by the nurse after Friar Lawrence informs her that Romeo incessantly cries after being estranged from Juliet. The oxymoron “woeful sympathy” highlights the pitiful predicament experienced by both Juliet and Romeo due to their separation from each other. Although sympathy essentially implies compassion and solace, the adjective “woeful” signifies the contrasting element of sorrow that underlies sympathy thereby highlighting the unresolvable sadness felt by Juliet’s nurse when she sees the heartache of the two lovers.
“And thou art wedded to calamity.”
(III. iii. 160)
This particular oxymoronic verse is expressed by Friar Lawrence while he is counseling Romeo. The Friar uses the phrase, “wedded to calamity” to highlight the misfortune and catastrophes that seem to haunt Romeo wherever he goes relentlessly. In this oxymoronic phrase, the contrast arises from the juxtaposition of “wedded” – connoting joyous celebration and blissful union – with “calamity” – that denotes pain and anguish.
“That almost freezes up the heat of life.”
(IV. iii. 17)
This quintessential statement is delivered by Juliet before drinking the sleeping potion. The oxymoronic phrase, freezing up the heat of life, highlights the fear lurking in Juliet’s heart pertaining to the aftereffect of drinking the potion. This graphic contrast of chilling fear and Juliet’s warm blood effectively conveys the overwhelming anxiety experienced by Juliet – the unsettling feeling that something awful might happen and might eventually jeopardize her life.
PART II — ACTING
Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski – Born: 17 January 1863 – Died: 7 August 1938
He was a ground-breaking Russian theatre specialist. When he was alive, he was widely recognized as an outstanding actor and the many productions that he directed garnered him a reputation as one of the leading theatre directors of his generation. His principal fame and influence, however, rests on his ‘system’ of actor training, preparation, and rehearsal technique: The Method of Physical Action.
Stanislavski said a lot, and what it boils down to this (and I’m paraphrasing, I don’t speak Russian): The person you are (the actor you are) is a hundred times more interesting than the best actor you think you could ever become. Or the best actor you ever saw and want to imitate. In other words, don’t mimic other actors, or try to sound like the person who did the role you’ve been cast in on the album— use your own voice— you’re a hundred times more interesting, “Anything you do, let it come from you. Then it will be new. Give us more to see…” Who said that? In short: Start to create a character by connecting your own personal experiences to the characters.
Stanislavski also said—
You don’t have to be interesting that’s the authors job. Surrender to the text. Don’t fight it. Suspend your disbelief. You are creating the world of the playwright.
Stanislavski also said—
Don’t make it easier for the other actor. Don’t narrate your behavior for the other actor. Don’t telegraph your intentions. Stay focused on your character’s objective.
Stanislavski also said—
We have to be absolutely viscous in getting our objectives because that’s the only thing which is going to bring it to life.
Stanislavski also said—
The things that will easiest destroy the play is mood. You can’t think, “What am I feeling?”, you have to always think, “What must I do?”
Stanislavski also said—
What’s important is what these people(characters) are doing to each other not what you’re feeling. Your feelings will come through the character. Trust the objective.
Stanislavski also said—
Do that which is not going to put forward the actor but what is going to put forward the play.
Stanislavski also said—
Play what’s happening in the moment. Do not invent anything and do not deny anything. Let the moment invent itself.
Stanislavski also said —
His System is sometimes called THE METHOD, or THE METHOD OF PHYSICAL ACTION.
Stanislavski also said—
The basic idea is that one only has so much concentration. If your concentration is on yourself, it can’t be on your objective; your intentions; it can’t be on what you’re trying to achieve on the stage and in the scene. If your concentration is on something else, it can’t be on yourself because you don’t have that much bandwidth. As Freud said, a man with a tooth ache can’t be in love.
Stanislavski also said—
Don’t force the concentration, put the concentration on something more interesting at that moment than yourself; an object; that object could be the person that your character is dealing with at that moment. Or it could be blood on your hands that you are trying to wash away. Or it could be a bottle of Fabreze. Don’t add anything to it, don’t add, just respond. The play is nothing more than what we do, we don’t want to narrate it, we don’t want to tell the audience anything extra. That’s the narrators job…if there is one in the play.
Stanislavski also said—
The whole thing about directing a play is bringing out the performance/story through the actors, the rest of it is secondary. What that means is teaching the actor the score of the play just as you teach a musician the score of the piece of music and the score is the actions, it’s not the appearances it’s not the emotions it’s what the character actually does (more) physically. What the character actually does physically is the score of the play. All the actor’s responsibility is to play moment to moment.
Stanislavski also said—
Playing it mechanically will free you. That’s why we have rehearsal.
Don’t try too hard. Don’t look too hard.
Stanislavski also said—
Let it have real meaning, don’t force the meaning, searching as opposed to digging in you, you must search in the object not yourself.
Stanislavski also said —
There are three types of actors:
1.There’s the cliché actor who is only going to imitate on stage what he or she has seen other actors do;
2.Secondly, there’s the mechanical actor who is going to go home at night and figure out what the character in the play should look like and what the character in the play should sound like and then come to the theater and give you his or her rendition of it.
3.Lastly, there’s the organic actor, and what the organic actor is going to do is to strive to understand what the character wants and then to go on stage every night and to try and accomplish that; so that what you’re seeing is in effect an improvisation bounded by the direction, bounded by the script, and bounded by your understanding of the action; but it is fresh organic life every night and that takes a lot of work; it takes many years of training and acting and training and acting, and it takes an atmosphere of creativity and trust and hard work. And it’s worth it because the moments you see in a theatre (or on film, or hear on the radio) of that sort of acting are moments that stay with you for the rest of your life. They become part of your lexicon of what it means to be alive. To share in the human condition.
We aren’t going to cover every facet of Stanislavski’s teaching, that would take a lifetime, however, we will cover the most basic and fundamental parts of the System, starting with relaxation:
In developing the system, Stanislavski observed great actors and noticed that they were completely relaxed, that there was no tension in their body. However, this does not mean they were nonchalant. Stanislavski stressed that there is no place in the theatre for nonchalance in acting. The actor’s body must be alive, energized, especially when relaxed and static. There is a difference between nonchalance and relaxation. Nonchalance is closer to apathy. Resist nonchalance acting. Now relax.
• Stanislavski decided that tension is the greatest enemy to creating a real and free character.
• Stanislavski stresses the importance of actively seeking to relax unwanted tensions, both in preparing to act and in the actual performance. What do you do to relax? Start with the breath. (Breathing and Relaxation Exercise)
MAGIC IF and WHAT’S AT STAKE
“The Magic If” is one of the most fundamental parts of the Stanislavski System. What do you think I mean by the Magic If?
Here’s a very simple and fun exercise to do:
Pick up a random object.
What If this [random object] weighed 2000 pounds? Now pick it up.
Go outside your door and then open the door and walk in.
What If that door were the front door to your house, and it was three hours past the time you said you’d be home?
What’s at stake if you’re this late? Play the stakes. Play the circumstances. Don’t play the feeling, don’t play the emotion. What’ happens? What changes?
What’s at stake for Romeo and Juliet? A clear understanding of the stakes must be determined and the Magic If helps establish the stakes.
The Magic If is the lever that lifts you out of reality and into the imagined world. As an actor, you use the Magic If to suspend your disbelief and place yourself in the imaginary world.
Again, this about finding truth in the performance. It’s about portraying realistic performances, through the creation of a specific imagined space.
After the Magic If, it’s the given circumstances that really help develop the truth and realism of a performance. The GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES are anything and everything from the specific details of the time period, the contexts, details about characters, the place, relationships, family dynamics, etc. Stanislavski said, this was very important. The more specific the information, the better. The temperature in the room, the humidity, the smells, the clothes, the hair, the shoes —all of this is important for the actor to know. In acting class and rehearsal why is it important to dress like the character?
Stanislavski also places great importance on concentration.
Close your eyes. Remain silent and just listen. Make a mental note of every sound that you hear. Eyes closed, mouths closed, ears open.
• What did you hear?
• Have you heard it before?
• What else did you notice?
This all feeds back into the given circumstances. Stanislavski believes that it’s so important to be intimately aware of your surroundings, so much so that the actors in the scene who are working together should really only be aware of themselves, and the immediate space around them. This is where the idea of the Fourth Wall comes from. What do I mean when I say, Play the room?
THE FOURTH WALL
The fourth wall separates the actors form the audience. Stanislavski is a huge fan of it. The actor should be so focused on their character and creating the life that the audience should just fade away. Or the camera, or the microphone in a radio play. That is why concentration exercises are so important for Stanislavski.
EMOTIONAL MEMORY RECALL and SENSE MEMORY.
Emotional Memory Recall and Sense Memory involve using your own personal experiences and memories from your own life to create a character that comes from you and is a hundred times more interesting than any other actor’s character…because it comes from your own personal experiences. The things that change are the circumstances. The great theatre and film director, Mike Nichols said, “Acting is just you in different circumstances.” In other words, why copy someone else’s Hamlet, it’s already been done. Create your own Hamlet.
For example, in creating a character who loses a loved one, like Romeo and Juliet have to do, or the Capulets and the Nurse when they lose Tybalt and then later lose Juliet, or Montague after he learns of his son’s death, and his wife’s death prior to that, you might use the real-life death of a loved one or a pet to observe the physical action of grief, so that you might more realistically convey those emotions throughout the course of the scene. NOTE: You do not want to recreate the feeling, you want to create the physical actions of the feeling. During the rehearsal process it’s okay to recall the feeling in order to note what takes place physically. Looking in a mirror while you’re crying to see how your face contorts, etc. Recreating the physical action of GRIEF, for example, will trigger the inner feeling of grief. It doesn’t work the other way around for a long period of time. It is not sustainable in performance. It may be effective once or twice, but it’s not going to work for you 8 shows a week. The better you are at realistically portraying the physical actions of emotions, the more sustainable and organic your performance will be. This is what Stanislavski meant when he said to make it mechanical. Through the rehearsal process, the blocking, the memorization of the text— the work. We then let it all go during performance and live moment to moment. The work that we’ve done to prepare will be there in our subconscious. It’s magic.
That’s why he called his system, The Method of Physical Action. Start with the outer appearance of grief, excitement, happiness, etc. For example, this is the same action a soccer coach might use with their team before a game. The soccer coach might tell the team to jump up and down, yell and scream, get fired up! And then huddle everybody together and tell them to go out and win one for the Gipper! The action of yelling and screaming created the fire of competition in their bellies and then he asked them to throw that way and just go out there and focus on the objective which is to stick to the game plan and win the game through all of the weeks and months of practice the plays. These are all outward physical actions that create the inner fire of battle and competition. Another example more to the point of what we are about to embark on could be a rehearsal tactic for when Juliet does her monologue in Act 3, Scene 2: “Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds…”, as a rehearsal tool, the actor playing Juliet could gallop like a horse, or run on a treadmill, to get the effects of how Shakespeare intended Juliet to be going through internally during this scene. Sense memory is similar, though it involves the physical sensations surrounding emotional events, to that you can trigger yourself to feel those old emotions. This should only be used as a starting point and then the actor must transfer to the method of physical action. Stanislavski noted that trudging up emotional memories was dangerous if prolonged and not sustainable when later perfecting his earlier methods where he observed that many actors were going mad trying to continuously remember traumatic experiences.
OBJECTIVE and SUPER OBJECTIVE
Stanislavski believed that in every scene, a character had their objective. You are all familiar with objectives. He also believed that all those objectives that exist throughout the play all weave into one larger, over-arching super objective. That means that a character has one over-arching drive throughout the play. You can use Romeo as an example. In the Balcony Scene, Romeo’s objective might be to get a kiss. However, that objective feeds into the greater Super Objective, which might be to spend his life with Juliet. Can you think of your character’s Super Objective?
Finally, regarding Stanislavski, he made these observations while watching great actors. He studied their methods, interviewed them, asked them what they were thinking, feeling, and doing to achieve the level of realism in their acting. It came natural to them. Maybe it also comes natural to you? Your thoughts?
PART III – UTA HAGEN
Uta Thyra Hagen was a German American actress and drama teacher. Hagen was cast, early on, as Ophelia by the actress-manager Eva Le Gallienne. From there, Hagen went on to play the leading ingenue role of Nina in a Broadway production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. It was 1938; Hagen was just 18.
Primarily noted for stage roles, Hagen won her first Tony Award in 1951 for her performance in Clifford Odets’ The Country Girl. She won again in 1963 for originating the role of Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. She taught at HB Studio in the West Village. Hagen was an influential acting teacher who taught, among others, Matthew Broderick, Sigourney Weaver, Liza Minnelli, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Lemmon, and Al Pacino. She was a voice coach to Judy Garland.
She also wrote Respect for Acting (1973) and A Challenge for the Actor (1991). She was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981. She received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1999. In 2002, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President George W. Bush at a ceremony held at the White House.
The Fundamentals of the acting technique of Uta Hagen are to develop the ability to respond truthfully, dynamically, and vividly with fellow actors and the ability to access sensory elements. To do this you tap into the power of your imagination and the reservoir of your memory. You gain a working understanding of the terms: previous circumstances, destination, inner and outer objects, intentions, obstacles, and conflicts. You develop an awareness of the power, function, and dynamics of “place”, and learn to be in a state of discovery, which leads to actions. You develop tools of research and observation and you get comfortable improvising. You begin to measure yourself against professional standards and develop habits of discipline and a strong work ethic. Do understand that these practices take time to master. Don’t be in a hurry. It’s taken me a lifetime and I think I’m finally getting close. You must love the process. Be process driven not product driven. Enjoy the journey.
In this class we will touch on some of Uta’s basic principles that are also reflected in the work of Stanislavski. In fact, I think all acting teachers start by reading and studying Stanislavski and then venture out on their own. As an actor your goal should always be to continue developing the acting technique that works best for you. A good place to start in developing your character is to use Uta Hagen’s nine questions:
In Respect for Acting, Uta identified 9 questions an actor should ask themselves as they prepare. It’s all about being as specific as possible. (Note: She reframed these questions into six steps in A Challenge for the Actor. I prefer the nine questions.)
1. Who am I?
Who is your character? Identify all the details: name/age, physical traits, education, personal opinions, likes, dislikes, fears, ethics, and beliefs.
2. What time is it?
The year, the season, the day, the minute. What is the significance of time?
3. Where am I?
Identify the country, the city/town, the neighborhood, the building, the room or the specific area of the room.
4. What surrounds me?
What is happening in the environment around you? Weather, landscape, people, animate/inanimate objects?
5. What are the given circumstances?
Identify events in the past, present, and future. What has happened, what is happening, what is going to happen?
6. What are my relationships?
This is more than your relationship to other people. Think about your relationship to objects, characters, and events.
7. What do I want?
What do you want immediately? What does the character want overall?
8. What is in my way?
What are the obstacles to getting what you want?
9. What do I do to get what I want?
What actions do you take (both physically and verbally)? What tactics?
These questions will give you a comprehensive list to follow with your character development.
On your own time answer these questions about you own life. This is not required but might be fun for you to see how far you can get and how well you know who you are.
Okay, looking forward to seeing you all on Sunday!
P.S. ACT 3 SCENE II. A hall in the castle.
Enter HAMLET and Players
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o’erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone,
or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful
laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the
censure of the which one must in your allowance
o’erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be
players that I have seen play, and heard others
praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,
that, neither having the accent of Christians nor
the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of
nature’s journeymen had made men and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.
O, reform it altogether. And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for them;
for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to
set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh
too; though, in the mean time, some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered:
that’s villanous, and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it. Go, make you ready.