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Let's End the Specious Argument of Beloved Dead Masters

In particular, let's end the "argument" between Adler and Strasberg.  There is no substance to their false reasoning upon whi...

Friday, July 20, 2018

"Dramas are Too Quiet" AKA Where's the Actor's Technique?

If the actor chooses an action/objective for each and every sentence, comprehends that it's necessary to make one's partner see the image/thought in one's eye, regardless of where the mike is, regardless of the director's talent or lack thereof, the sound engineer's talent or lack thereof, that sentence, the idea of that sentence will be heard. 

If the actor has been trained to do that, and doesn't do it, or doesn't recognize that it's necessary to do it, but relies merely on their talent, then we will hear words, some comprehensible, some not, but we won't know the idea of the sentence.  Many talented actors fall into this bad habit.  I'm singling out Eliza Scanlen, who plays Amma Crellin in HBO's Sharp Objects, because at least one of her scenes in that series is mentioned in Ms. VanArendonk's review in Vulture (see link below) and I saw the scene.  Ms. Scanlen's performance, so far, suffers from her innate talent which relies on instinct and the decision, made in advance, of how she wants to say the sentence, of the resulting mood or feeling of the sentence.  The  performance delivers indicated acting, and a lot of elbow-jabbing in the audience with audible "what did she say?"

Ms. VanArendonk mentioned a telephone exchange that Amy Adams performed.  I didn't go back to watch it, but am certain that Ms. Adams did not examine carefully, for that scene, what made her say each thought.  It's my opinion that Ms. Adams understands her characters very well in many of her performances.  Her work in Doubt, for example, was luminous.  What a pleasure it was to be taken for a secure ride with the lead actors of that film!  However, in Sharp Objects, I think she hasn't sharpened the actions of each sentence; she has worked on the inner life of the character and is showing it.  But the character utters ideas/needs in order to survive, to get a grip on her relationship to her environment, and each sentence she utters is progressive toward the journey of discovery she has undertaken. "What need is making me say this sentence?"   We would hear the ideas of each sentence with clarity if Ms. Adams had done this preparatory work.



Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Dianne Wiest and Judy Garland: Talent and Technique

I've randomly chosen Dianne Wiest and Judy Garland to exemplify what I mean when I say that talent is a variable whereas technique is not.

What is talent?  It's been defined as having a dramatic instinct, depth of imagination, and other generalizations.  I agree, but more precisely, I think that a talented actor is one who's extremely empathic, and even more precisely, it's an actor who, with every sentence they utter has a thought, image, that forces that utterance from an intention.

 I recently saw Judy Garland's performance in A Star is Born.  I was impressed by the scene I've chosen, unaware that it's considered a famous scene from that performance.  I think that Judy Garland was one of those natural (genius?) actors who, by instinct, perform correctly.  It didn't matter whether she was singing or acting; she always uttered a sentence that emanated from a thought.

Dianne Wiest is a talented actor.  It's my impression that she doesn't use technique, but relies on her instincts, which are often reliable.  From In Treatment, the 2008 HBO series, she performed a clear need (aka action/objective).  In particular, when she described standing over the grave of her husband, she definitely saw an image in her mind's eye.  I'd like to point out that neither Adler nor Strasberg would have been able to discern whether she used an image from her own life experience or if she imagined it, but that she saw it is indisputable and her cognition of the image and describing it is what produced an honest emotion. 

However, in the 2006 autobiographical film written and directed by Dito Monteil, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, she apparently didn't decide upon an action, which, according to her lines, seemed to be the need to convince her son that his father loves him.  It's the end of the story.  Her character barely expresses herself throughout the film.  She called her son  to come home for his father's sake and as soon as he arrives, his father kicks him out of the house.  Why didn't she decide what thought/image would drive each sentence?  The first sentence she uttered about Antonio doesn't seem related to her overall action.  So, why does she say it?  Why does she continue to talk about Antonio in the beginning of the scene?  She says, "Look how nice it is now," again -- how to begin?  She must take in the environment, especially if her character comments on it.  Is it too warm for wearing her sweater?  When she does summon the courage related to the reason she came outside in the first place, everything she talks about is related to past memories.  What are those?  Images, anecdotes from the past; each of which the actor needed to create and summon in order to convince her son that his father loves him. What are those images from so long ago, on this hill -- her husband running after Dito with a forgotten lunch?  A jacket?  Dito says one word: "Sorry."  Didn't she hear him say it?  It's because he said "sorry," that she summons the courage to admonish him with, "You can't come back with hatred for your father." New Thought:  "How could you love him in that book and not see him for so long?" "I know you have your reasons," exposes another new thought, an empathic awareness of her son's POV, memory of her husband's behavior from her son's perspective.  What prompts that new thought?  It could be many things, but surely an obvious one, a memory of a hurt expression on his face when he was a boy.  Now he's a man.  How has he aged?  Has he put on weight, lost it?  He wears a beard; what does she think of the beard?  "....look at you...you're a man now...good to look at you."  Her son put his hand on hers; Ms. Wiest had no reaction to that physical gesture.  That gesture, coming from her son, whom she hadn't seen in 20 years, communicating that he understood what she was trying to convey, was the climax of the scene!  It's possible that Robert Downey, Jr. didn't make the gesture in other takes.  Nevertheless, if Ms. Wiest had been thinking the thoughts of the character, she would have reacted to the gesture.  The cumulative result of the error of not using technique renders a descriptive rather than dramatic performance.

I've written elsewhere on this blog about Marlon Brando and the anecdote about Stella Adler.  Brando was a good example of someone, once he learned, analyzed, what he instinctively knew, always applied the technique to his work.  Technique can never get in the way of talent, it can only enhance it.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Imagining the Past

IMAGINE :  Stella Adler somewhere discussed the front door of the house in which Nora (A Doll's House) lived with her family.  I think you can find it on YouTube.  Imagine if you were creating a character who lived in New York City or other major cities during 1911 or 1929, and what the sounds of the street were like and how they would impact your character's behavior.  We live in a particular environment in relation to the objects in that environment.  Actors should include the specifics of the particular environment in which their character lives.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Dramatic Progression and Exposition/Bradley Cooper/Silver Linings...

Reminder:  Talent is a variable; technique is not.  Bradley Cooper is a talented actor, but in this scene he didn't use what I would assume was his training at The Actors Studio.  That is, that every drama is a series of progressive actions and therefore, that in each succeeding scene, the actor must choose an action/need/objective; using a simple sentence with a verb, in order to avoid a narrative performance.  As well, the actor must understand dramatic structure well enough to know that when exposition (backstory) is part of the forward action of a scene, the actor must avoid the trap of narrative, and choose an action in order to dramatically perform the scene.

The chatracter's need/objective in this scene is to convince his psychiatrist that he doesn't need to take meds.  Consider the previous circumstances: (1) His mother insisted he go with her to therapy and threatened him: "You have to go.  It's part of the deal.  You can't live with us and not go." (2) When he entered his psychiatrist's waiting room, his dreaded song was playing, which made him aggressive in a way he knew was harmful to staying off meds, and now, in the above scene, he must convince Dr. Patel, regardless of his behavior in the waiting room, that he doesn't need meds.  This scene is pure exposition and as written, is information that has already been discussed (probably many times) between Dr. Patel and the character.  Unfortunately, Mr. Cooper described the backstory, which is narration, not drama, and although he read the scene intelligently, it was still, nevertheless, a reading of the scene, and not dramatic. 

When technique isn't practiced throughout, the talented actor will present an uneven performance.  There will be scenes in which he seems to work correctly, because, accidentally, he has been able to connect with the action -- something about the scene resonated deeply for him, but, in scenes where this was not the case, he'll revert to indicated acting -- to showing us the character.

I will discuss this scene in more detail on my YouTube channel: Looking for the Group Theatre.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Cognition/Emotion - AGAIN

 PLEASE NOTE, in particular, how composed he is when he begins speaking his thoughts, and incrementally, as he connects to his successive thoughts, his emotion links to them.  I posted this topic here again in support of what I recently said on my YouTube channel (Looking for the Group Theatre).  I discussed audience participation on YouTube as well.  Access this video on YouTube, and you can read the wide variety of reactions to what he said.  Imagine those people as theatre audience if this were performed by an actor.  Even if they all remained silent, the actor would feel their reaction(s) from the stage.  Each member of the audience brings their own life experience to the theatre, and is in no way hypnotized or passive, and just as the actor (if performing correctly) accesses emotion, so does each individual member of the audience -- and they either loved the performance, hated it, liked the story but didn't believe the actor, didn't like the story, loved it, and argued about it over drinks at some cozy bar before heading home.

Surely everyone who has studied technique is familiar with the exercise that will produce emotion regarding an event from one's own life.   The 2002 documentary Broken Silence presented by Steven Spielberg is an excellent example, over and over again, of its validity.  The trailer to the film is linked below. The actor's challenge is to find a way to connect to the thoughts of the character .  "If I can think the thoughts of the character, I can play the character," I heard Simon Callow say.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Clifford Odets, Avi Steinberg and Barbara Cook?

The Group Theatre produced Clifford Odets' play Golden Boy on Broadway in 1937.  The film version, not written by Odets, was produced in 1939.  Earlier this year Avi Steinberg's cartoon appeared in The New Yorker.  For a moment I thought Mr. Steinberg might be referring to the play, and captured the essence of what I had always thought was false in it with just one image and one sentence; perhaps he was referring to it. Golden Boy was produced at Lincoln Center as recently as the 2012/2013 season.  Perhaps not.  Regardless, thinking about the play again now reminded me of my years of study and how often scenes were used from Odets' plays by student actors because he was such a good dramatic scene writer; his dialogue crackled with passionate imagery.

For example, here's the end of Act III, Scene 2 from Golden Boy:

LORNA:  And now, tonight, here, this minute - finding yourself again - that's what makes you a 
       champ.  Don't you see that?
JOE:  Yes, Lorna - yes!
LORNA:  It isn't too late to tell the world good evening again!
JOE:  With what?  These fists?
LORNA:  Give up the fighting business!
JOE:  Tonight!
LORNA:  Yes, and go back to your music -- 
JOE:  But my hands are ruined.  I'll never play again!  What's left, Lorna?  Half a man, nothing,     
LORNA:  No, we're left!  Two together!  We have each other!  Somewhere there must be happy boys 
       and girls who can teach us the way of life!  We'll find some city where poverty's no shame -
       where music is no crime! - where there's no war in the streets - where a man is glad to be
       himself, to live and make his woman herself!
JOE:  No more fighting, but where do we go?
LORNA:  Tonight?  Joe, we ride in your car.  We speed through the night, across the park, over the
        Triboro Bridge --
JOE;  (taking LORNA's arms in his trembling hands):  Ride!  That's it, clear my head.  We'll drive
        through the night.  When you mow down the night with headlights, nobody gets you!  You're
        on top of the world then - nobody laughs!  That's it - speed!  We're off the earth - unconnected!
        We don't have to think!!  That's what speed's for, an easy way to live!  Lorna darling, we'll burn
        up the night! (He turns and as he begins to throw his street clothes out of his locker)

                                                                  Medium Fadeout

In the final short Scene 3 that follows, his family learns that they were both killed in the car; it crashed on Long Island; and the last line of the play is:

MR. BONAPARTE (standing, his head high):  Joe...Come, we bring-a him home...where he belong...

                                                                  Slow Fadeout

In the final scene of the film, Joe and Lorna come home, alive, to embrace Mr. Bonaparte.  "I'm home," says Joe, and in the scene just prior, none of the ideas in the scene from the play were used.

Clifford Odets described this play as "symbolic", and, as he expressed, and as has been written about him, once he was lured to Hollywood, his guilt about compromising his ideas and his talent never left him.  Clearly, Golden Boy was intended to be symbolic of that conflict, but, as is so graphic in Steinberg's cartoon, one can't wear boxing gloves and play a musical instrument simultaneously; it's either one or the other.  However, the compromises Odets had to make were not so clear-cut; they were ambiguous.  How much more difficult it would have been to get closer to the central conflict, the actual ethical dilemma with which Odets was grappling!

Actors who study with me are frequently reminded to try to get close to the bone of the action, closer still, to the marrow of the bone of the action.

In the Barbara Cook treasure trove of videos on YouTube, one can hear her say, "If you can get to the point where you are ready to use every joy, every death, every lover who has left you...If you are willing to explore that within the song, you cannot be wrong."  And especially when her disjointed sentence told a student, "The very place where safety lies for us is the same that seems most dangerous, and the sharing - the courage to let people really, really get into what life is into -- and sets it free."

I encourage you, during these difficult times, when our central conflict is camouflaged, to not permit yourself to fear, but rather, in your life and work, to explore ever more deeply what you truly think and feel and share it courageously, remembering that it is indeed where safety lies -- where you are most safe and free.



Friday, November 3, 2017

Nag, Nag, Nag.....

not Joyce DiDonato, me!  I don't know if she nags, but I definitely do.  Ms. DiDonato says "process"-- "don't go for the result".  Our technique uses different words: action, objective, or need (per Kim Stanley).  I've been using the word need because I think it's more powerful, and every action should be as powerful as possible.

Going for the result results in listening to yourself.  Once you do that, you're not present, you've left your action, and you've effectively ruined the necessary progression of the series of actions provided by the writer that tell the story.  You are responsible for the dramatic actions of the story, not a narrative version of it.

Learning and practicing technique avoids the accident of a good moment or scene performance.  Technique frees the performer; it doesn't constrain the performer as so many actors I meet seem to think.