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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...

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Diversity, Talent, Technique, Opportunity and Samuel L. Jackson-6/16/17 Redux

Photo by Lola Cohen

Per my tweet today regarding the Educational Theatre statistic about arts education for U.S. African- American and Hispanic students, I will offer free one-on-one audition preparation and scene study to them through Skype that will then be viewed on my YouTube channel.  The only requirement will be a willingness to practice and be egoless enough to be willing to let viewers observe their progress as they master the technique that's derived from Constantin Stanislavski.  Please contact me at actingtechnique@gmail.com for further information.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Dramatic Progression / Exposition - All My Sons

On 2/26/18 I wrote about dramatic progression and exposition and the challenge the actor faces when expository dialogue is sometimes narratively written as it was in Silver Linings Playbook.  I've sometimes told actors that the best example I could think of where the writer wrote exposition dramatically is Arthur Miller's 1947 play, All My Sons.

I'm so pleased that now, in 2019, the play will be performed in New York and that when it closes, it will be able to be viewed at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

John Barrymore, Maurice Schwartz, Stella Adler - Tradition


There's an anecdote that when John Barrymore was asked where he learned to act, he said all he had to do was go down to Second Avenue and attend the plays at the Yiddish Art Theater.  Maurice Schwartz was the director and leading actor of that theater in the 1930s when Barrymore and Lombard starred in Twentieth Century.  When I saw the film, I recognized the style before I'd heard the anecdote.  Barrymore strongly reminded me of Schwartz when I performed with Schwartz in the English version of the classic Yoshe Kalb.  Schwartz knew nothing (maybe he knew, but he didn't practice it) of Stanislavsky or the Group Theatre.  His direction was very mechanical, down to telling me to count, literally, "1, 2, 3, drop the handkerchief, then say the next line".  I remember telling Uta that her teaching was by then so ingrained, that I was able to perform as she taught me and still give Schwartz the result he needed.  Schwartz had an incredibly good dramatic instinct.  Although his approach was very different from mine, our communication in performance was harmonious.  

Stella Adler joined Schwartz's company at the Yiddish Art Theater when she left her father's (Jacob Adler) acting company.

Twentieth Century is a comedy, Tevye is a drama, and Stella's teaching style reflects her passion for the "art of acting."  In this clip she was responding to a scene from The Dresser performed in class by Milton Justice and Bill Lithgow.  Milton told me, "It was Stella's last class and we decided to do a scene with a theatre theme, thinking Stella would talk about a life in the theatre. She certainly did!"

Aside from gesture, note the style that a particular tradition of performance influences.   

Monday, February 25, 2019

Tim Sweeney: A Student's Memory of Uta Hagen

Tim Sweeney, an HB Studio alumnus, recently told his friends that he had "dusted off his acting chops after what seems like centuries...", and had already gone before the cameras on HBO's Crashing, and Netflix's Orange is the New Black, 7th season, the final episode. "It's never too late to do what you love doing," he said.

On a wonderfully freezing (red nose cold) winter night about six years ago we'd gone to the White Horse Tavern where Tim told me an anecdote about Uta that very few HB alumni or even her students would've had the privilege to experience.  I'd meant to share it here long ago, considering the deep positive influence she had on so many of us, whether or not we pursued the work, so that exactly what she'd said or demonstrated in our presence remains imprinted in us and can be summoned, brought sharply into focus, at a moment's notice.

Here's an excerpt, edited by me, of the message Tim sent me when I asked him to please write what he told me he'd experienced of Uta's work:

"Back in the early 80s, I believe it was 1984, I had the opportunity to work on The Silver Fox by Donna DeMateo, produced at the HB Playwrights Foundation starring Uta Hagen and Kelly Wolf.  I was in charge of running the sound effect equipment.  In my lifetime being both a working actor or a backstage tech, I have never seen so much organic behind the scenes preparation with which Uta Hagen encircled herself.

Ms. Hagen was very particular about place.  What is my relationship to where I am?  Is it an unknown place?  Is it my home?  Is it someone else's home?  What does the rest of the place that is offstage look like in relation to what is onstage?  If it's a living room, where is the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom?  Is it raining outside or is it sunny?  What time of day is it?  Is it hot, cold; snowing?

Watching her offstage preparations was like watching a performance in itself.  The Silver Fox took place in a living room, and I witnessed her making several entrances from various areas of the set during the play, and she would literally walk in place before she entered the set.  She knew how many steps it took to get from the offstage bedroom to the onstage living room.  Just looking at her, you could see what she saw."

Break a leg, Tim!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Visual Syntax: The Role of the Director

The HBO series, My Brilliant Friend was an admirable production for many reasons; the script adaptation, the casting, the acting, the direction, the music, the work of art that results when the contributions of all the collaborators create a compelling production from beginning to end.

I have many thoughts to share about My Brilliant Friend, and I might write more than one post about it, but would like to begin with the work of the director, Saverio Costanzo.  The actors I coach whose performances are affected by the abilities of their directors will recognize my observations about scenes that were either shot well or poorly; that there are directors who do or don't understand visual syntax and how important it is, not only for the best use of the actor's performance, but also for the dramatic telling of the story.  As much as I caution actors against performing a scene narratively, I think actors should be aware that the director's use of visual syntax is the narrative aspect of the drama.

In that regard, please view the first scene above from episode 7.  Note the director's narrative:  Elena leaves the shop.  As she walks toward the town square, she sees, in the distance, a portion of Donato's figure behind a building as he watches her.  She stares at him, frozen, when, suddenly, the full face and figure of her teacher, Oliviero takes up the frame and obliterates Donato, and as she and the teacher stroll through town, the teacher focuses her on her life and its future.  There were many individual scenes in this series that could be singled out for excellent visual syntax.  I chose this one now because I thought it was breathtaking.

The scene below it from episode 8, Lila's wedding invitation to Oliviero, is progression from the previous scene.  It speaks for itself, but, speaking of resonance, all you followers of Stella Adler -- remember her remark regarding all the very talented young women in her classes, who, for some unfathomable reason married, had children, and moved to Scarsdale?!  Remember how she pronounced Scarsdale?

The third clip, from episode 8, the end of the wedding scene, is total visual syntax without dialogue; the heartbreak of betrayal. 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Character's Need / Listening / Processing

   *see footnote

In the first season of True Detective there were two scenes (one in the first episode, one in the second episode) in which each actor had to say the same sentence:  "I'm sorry," in response to the same information.  I think Michelle Monaghan performed it incorrectly in the first episode, whereas Woody Harrelson performed it correctly in the second episode.

Character's Need/Action:  We've established that the actor's task is to play the action/need of the character with each sentence uttered, and that a thought/image is driving the idea of the sentence (Don't Open Your Mouth Until You Know...10/2/17 post).

Listening:  I don't agree with Sandy Meisner's repetition exercise because although its purpose is to teach the actor to listen to their partner, being able to repeat what one has just heard is not what we do when we listen.  Listening is active participation, processing, trying to perceive the thought/image that our partner is trying to convey.  Accurate hearing is not the same thing as active listening.  

Processing:  I think that it's necessary for the actor to be aware that we process our thoughts/images when we speak as well as when we listen.

Working just from some highlights of the plot in the first episode from the POV of Ms. Monaghan's character, Maggie, we know that she's been trying to get her husband's new partner over for dinner for three months, that lately, she's been insisting on having him over, because Marty (Harrelson) delivers a line to Rust (McConaughey), "We can't put Maggie off anymore," and we know that she woke Marty in the morning after a night he didn't come home, as he slept in his clothes on a chair in the living room, and although she didn't play her action(s) strongly enough once she woke him, making it difficult to hear her, we know that Maggie has a, so far, unspecified POV about her husband's job.  Of course, Ms. Monaghan needed to know specifically what that POV was (previous circumstances, backstory!).  Rust was drunk when he arrived for dinner.  Ms. Monaghan didn't respond to that in any specific way, and although the questions she put to him about himself when Marty left the table were incorrect non-specific actions, I'll not discuss each one here.  Let's just consider her response when she learned that his daughter died.  His daughter died, his marriage died -- her little girls were sitting there -- she saw him looking at her daughters -- I think that it was necessary for her to process his experience as she responded with "I'm sorry."

Harrelson had a very similar action in the scene in the car during the second episode, and he had to say the same two words, "I'm sorry."  He performed correctly; he processed the concept, the idea, of the dead child.

*Jeff Solema now downloads selected footage. Thanks!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Glenn Close - Not a "Method" Actor?

It was a pleasure to watch Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce perform such an articulate duet in The Wife; exquisite counterpoint and harmony; musical terms, yes, but that's what their work reminded me of.

In her January 21, 2019 interview in The Guardian, Ms. Close discussed that film and some of her other performances.  In her remarks about the character Joan in The Wife, she mentioned her mother:  “I didn’t channel her. Although of course I had seen her taking the back seat to my father my whole life, so it was in my DNA. I had a well of subliminal experience to draw on.” Regarding the character's ideas, POV:  "It's not that they hadn’t been expressed before, but I guess they resonate in this moment. For that whole generation, pre-feminism, that’s the way it was. That was the norm. It’s caused me to look back at my two grandmothers, who were basically unfulfilled women. One had this beautiful singing voice and she wasn’t allowed to pursue that. My other grandmother, whose wedding ring I’m wearing throughout this awards season, dreamed of being an actress.”  She then revealed that it was this latter grandmother who inspired her 1982 performance of Jenny Fields in The World According to Garp.

Further in the interview, Ms. Close remarked, "I'm so glad to do what I do because even though I’m not a method actor and I don’t use my life in my acting, my work is still a progression."

I hope that my students and readers can easily recognize the continuing confusion that Adler and Strasberg initiated and that is dogmatically followed by their disciples so that even a seasoned, talented actor will contradict herself, in one conversation!

Reminder:  The word "Method" was coined by Strasberg.  Stanislavsky referred to it as a "System."  To conflate Strasberg's POV with Stanislavsky's POV is incorrect.  And to differentiate between substitution/affective memory and imagination?  Still?  Ms. Close didn't live the life of her mother or her grandmothers, but weren't their lives carved into her lived experience?  Her grandma's wedding ring answers that question.

BTW, in this interview Ms. Close addressed an aspect of my discussion regarding Amy Adams's error in Sharp Objects when she discussed her role in Fatal Attraction.  She said, “I had so many secrets as Alex.  The woman I was playing was not the same one who was perceived by the public. But I didn’t have the dialogue or the scenes to illuminate her backstory (my italics).  If you did Fatal Attraction from Alex’s point of view, she would be a tragic person, not a dangerous, evil one.” Ms. Close, in her performance in Fatal Attraction correctly played the actions/needs of the character, cognizant of the character's inner life, which she referred to here as Alex's secrets.