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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...

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.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Broadway's Dreamers: The Legacy of the Group Theatre

Just to review: anecdotal, memories, dreams, yes, and definitely not the whole story, but please also review my article in Backstage (link provided below) in comparison, noting in particular the brief remarks by Strasberg, Adler, Lewis, and the influence of Stanislavski, on their study.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Rep. Nydia Velazquez's Additional Lesson

Rep. Velazquez reminds the actor in this speech of the importance, the necessity, of finding the right words to convey the images/thoughts that are driving those words to make the person who listens to her see what she sees in her mind's eye.  Note the clarity of the words and her emphasis on words like troops, fight, kick, blood.  When the actor understands and is determined that her partner perceives her ideas, she won't smudge or contract the words of a sentence as do so many actors who are performing today.   Note as well the lesson here that emotion is derived from cognition - always!  The actor who reaches for an emotion or a "mood" is bound to deliver an indicated performance.

Monday, October 2, 2017

"Don't Open Your Mouth Until You Know What Image is Driving the Thought,"

is what I've said many times to actors.  I think it's very difficult to learn to practice this when the actor begins studying the text, mainly because the actor hasn't been taught that this is fundamental in order to prevent representational or indicated acting. 

It's interesting that Stanislavski and his colleagues, as well as the members of the Group Theatre intuited that thought precedes speech; not that other actors hadn't done so before them, but they addressed it in their practice and wrote about it.

Interestingly, in 2013, on YouTube, during the Q&A of a lecture by Professor of Linguistics, Noam Chomsky, titled "Grammar, Mind and Body - A Personal View," I heard him respond to a query as follows:  "Language is not communication.  Language is meaning with some kind of a thought system.  Language does not give us the full capacity, anywhere near the capacity, to express what we're thinking, feeling, hoping for.  There's an awful lot of thought that goes on that doesn't come out the mouth and probably can't.  You know you get it right by the effect it has."  I hope Professor Chomsky has been made aware that actors have much to learn from him.  He has said that among linguists he has his critics regarding how he defines language, but, whenever I read that quote to actors, a smiling recognition is communicated by their facial expression.

Consider Al Pacino's reminisce about Jobn Cazale in my December 20, 2016 post regarding Cazale's question to Lumet:  "Why do I say I'm not a homosexual?"  Or consider Simon Callow's remark to Charlie Rose in an interview a few yeares ago - that if he can think the thoughts of the character, he can play the character.  Yet, consistently, in numerous productions, I've observed many excellent experienced actors rely on some sort of instinct rather than technique and then deliver lines rather than thoughts, which causes not only indicated acting, but an abandonment of rising action, of progression.