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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...

Thursday, October 10, 2019


In my 9/22/19 post titled Meryl Streep - Technique I discussed her performance in the scene from It's Complicated where she visited her shrink and I discussed, among other things, the way she breaks up a sentence.

I also commented on Robert "Bobby" Lewis's contribution to the American acting tradition.  Since then, I've been re-reading the series of lectures he gave in 1957, Method - or Madness?  In the fifth lecture, "Truth" in Acting, he discussed line readings, and quoted from Stanislavski's book, Building a Character, as follows:

 "Logical pauses unite words into groups (or speech measures) and they divide the groups from one another.  Do you realize that a man's fate, and even his very life may depend on the position of that pause?  Take the words: 'Pardon impossible send to Siberia.'  How can we understand the meaning of this order until we know where the logical pause is placed?  Put them in and the sense of the words will become clear.  Either you say: 'Pardon - impossible send to Siberia,' or 'Pardon impossible - send to Siberia!'  In the first it is a case for mercy, in the second, exile."

Sunday, September 22, 2019


From time to time I've heard Meryl Streep say that she doesn't use a particular technique in her performances; accepted, of course.  However, in the many performances of hers I've seen through the years, I see almost everything I ever learned from the teachers and actors of the Group Theatre, and in an earlier post on my blog I quoted her remark, "When a director asks for a result." Without using the jargon of the technique, she pointed out that she needed to find an action (attempt to sing as well as she could as Florence Foster Jenkins) in order to achieve the director's requested "result."  I saw a scene that she performed when she was a student at Yale; it was clear from that scene that she had a natural talent, yet, I think it's necessary to point out that Robert "Bobby" Lewis was Chair of the Yale acting and directing departments when Ms. Streep studied there.  Why, despite his body of work, do Mr. Lewis's contributions to the American acting tradition seem to go unnoticed?

In the film It's Complicated, Meryl Streep performed throughout (from training or instinct or both) the basic, fundamental aspects of the technique that the Group Theatre adapted from the work of Stanislavski; that is, she always performed an action for each sentence she uttered that emanated from a thought.  In an early scene, her arrival in New York, please note that she counted her luggage on the rack amidst the turmoil of greeting her family. TECHNIQUE:  What is the physical behavior of the character?  And, what am I doing while...?

In the scene below, before entering the kitchen, she had been jogging.  The entire scene consists of attention to previous circumstances and physical behavior of the character.  Note that the text of the scene had nothing to do with the physical behavior of the character: She didn't ask Jake what he wanted to drink; she knew.  During the entire scene her physical behavior was focused on previous circumstances; she had been jogging and was thirsty.  Note the way she finally drank the water; she didn't ignore the through action of needing to quench her thirst.  Again: What is the physical behavior of the character?  And, what am I doing while...

In the scene below she needed to convince her shrink that she needed an unscheduled few minutes in order to have him directly tell her what to do.  That was the arc of the action for the scene.  After she said, "I've made a list of everything this could possibly be about," she reached for her list in the bag before asking, "Can I read it to you?"  This is not a minor tidbit, this is the difference between narrative description and dramatic action.  Most actors would have said the two sentences consecutively.  Further, note how she breaks up the ideas in a sentence, which she does in all her performances, not for its own sake, but because she works from the thought/image and trusts, either by instinct or technique that an emotion will emanate from that idea. Nor does Meryl Streep act from the neck up, as so many actors are permitted to do.  Note that even from a sitting position, her entire body is involved in expressing the idea.

There's nothing mysterious about the art of acting; what's mysterious is how we know what we know and how we remember or don't remember it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Tully, The Climax - My Mistake!

In my previous post, "Theme or Why Are You Telling Me This Story," I mistakenly presented the resolution of Tully, not its climax.  The above clips, beginning with the first one are one continuous sequence in the film and are the fullest, most profound expression of the theme that I extrapolated from the film and stated in the previous post, that is, "... the marriage, as it's lived, and caring for children, none of which is undesirable, must nevertheless abandon that self prior to marriage, that free spirit she once was, because if she would pursue that self she was before becoming a wife and mother, she could die from it."  Note that there's nothing static about the progression of the climax.  So why did I make this error?  My own prejudices got in the way of my critical thinking.  I resented that the character had resigned herself to her conflict, so much so that I mistook the resolution for the climax.

Consider the dialogue in the climax:  to be dull and constant is necessary to raise her kids in a "circle of safety."  "I'm not safe," she says.  "I dared," as she rides the bike to where she once lived, but her free spirit self points out that "there's no there anymore."  And that the "sameness you despise is your gift to them," that "...waking up every day doing the same things for them over and over, you are boring, your marriage is boring, your house is boring, but that's fucking incredible..."  l

Tully was exquisitely executed.  I just didn't like the theme.  For me, the theme and its resolution (in the previous post), her resignation, rather than an open-ended awareness of a so far insoluble conflict, seemed static to me, and it still does.

Monday, June 24, 2019

THEME, or Why Are You Telling Me This Story?

A director may or may not provide the theme of the film or play in which actors have been cast.  The theme is a sentence that states the idea of the story.  It can be as simple as "crime doesn't pay" or "love conquers all" and is most profoundly expressed in the climax of the drama.  The climax isn't necessarily contained only in one scene, it can be part of the rising action over the course of several scenes.  I think it helps actors to extrapolate the theme through the progression of the rising action of the drama in which they've been cast even if the director hasn't provided it.  When you know the theme, you can then determine the actions of your character as they relate to the theme.  Actors shouldn't fall into the trap of forgetting that they're telling a story; their task doesn't stop at merely creating a character - "...the play's the thing..." still holds.

I've chosen climactic scenes from two films, "Capturing Mary," 2007, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, and "Tully," 2018, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman.  I think each film in its unique execution brought together very imaginative, innovative artists who created compelling stories.  Yet, in Capturing Mary the climax contained, for the main character, a profound recognition of discovery from the conflicting rising action, whereas, in Tully, the climax stated the conflict that was already known to the main character, and therefore, instead of a dynamic climax, a static climax ignored that non-repetitive forward movement is the essence of dramatic action.

The climax in Capturing Mary takes place over several scenes.  The clip below is the apex of the climax where the main character, performed by Maggie Smith, through recounting and reliving her experience, comes to the realization that although throughout her adult life she was certain that a particular man had power, control, had manipulated how she conducted her life --  in fact, she had given him, permitted him, that power.    

In the clip from Tully (below), the main character, performed by Charlize Theron, comes to terms with her subconscious self: a good mother practices self-care, showers every day, gets a pedicure once in a while, and concludes that she'll "do what you have to do and then you'll do it again."  That is, the marriage, as it's lived, and caring for children, none of which is undesirable, must nevertheless abandon that self prior to marriage, that free spirit she once was, because if she would pursue that self she was before becoming a wife and mother, she could die from it.

I think it's useful for actors to articulate the idea of the story they're telling in collaboration with the writer.  I don't think drama must find solutions to conflicts, but I do think that whatever the theme, drama requires movement in a series of non-repetitive, dynamic, rising actions. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Jon Stewart/Behavior/Images/Emotion


When you watched him today, did you also remind yourself that you were watching another example of the action/need to make your listener(s) see what you see in your mind's eye and that it comes from your body?  Did you notice that each sentence conveyed an idea and that emotion was produced from that idea?  As well, here was another example of what happens when the clarity of the images/ideas profoundly affects its listener(s) -- the quality of their silence -- the stillness of their collective attention.

I think that the actor's task is to reach for this kind of concentrated reality, regardless of the genre of the drama.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Michelle Williams - Active Listening/Processing - Examples

  In a previous post, Character's Need, Listening Processing, dated 1/26/19, I discussed two scenes from True Detective in which the same sentence, "I'm sorry," was performed correctly by one actor and incorrectly by another actor.  Here, in two scenes from Take This Waltz, Michelle Williams and Luke Kirby accomplish correct playing of the action/need and the processing of active listening.


And in the hospital scene from Fosse/Verdon, Ms. Williams again accomplished detailed progression of thought processes that were evoked by the images created by her partner.  I purposely allowed the clip to bleed into the following scene because I wanted to draw attention to how the progression of the impact the idea of her partner's words deepened as she thought about what was said to her.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Theatre of the Mind - Oliver Sacks: The Bonnet Syndrome

AHHH, affective memory, substitution, imagination, Stanislavski, Vakhtangov, Adler, Hagen, Lewis, Meisner, Strasberg.  From Stella Adler's remark that we never forget anything that has happened to us, to contemporary psychologists whose data and experiments corroborate that remark, suggesting that in order to function in the present, we suppress unrelated memories, to Uta Hagen's anecdote in Uta Hagen's Acting Class, that although she never knew why, how, while rehearsing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, her memory from childhood of a vine on a wall, and a singular leaf on that vine worked for an action for the role of Martha, here's Oliver Sacks' discussion of The Bonnet Syndrome.