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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...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

There Are No Throwaway Lines

When an actor has not established the character's overall objective, which is based on the theme of the work, and then establish that character's objective in each scene as well as "moment to moment" objectives, he will deal in an expository way with scenes that don't turn him on emotionally, hoping he can get past them as soon as possible, and on to the "meaty" scenes that are emotionally clear to him.  The actor's task is to not only understand the theme of the work, but also how each scene is related to the progression of the story that the writer has chosen to state that theme.  Therefore, each sentence in each scene is related to that progression and no sentence should be uttered unless it drives that progression forward.  "There are no throwaway lines," said Stella Adler on page 19 of The Art of Acting, and the only reason I didn't put it in quotes in the title of this post is because I said it to actors before I read her book.  I'll continue, in future posts, to point out that there were no differences in technique between Adler and Hagen, only in the way they expressed that technique.

Actors frequently make the error of throwing away lines, and an obvious example that I point out to my students is the scene in the film Notting Hill in which Hugh Grant helps Julia Roberts learn her lines for an upcoming film in which her character will star.  Because Ms. Roberts had not paid attention to the progression of the screenplay, she addressed that scene as if the only objective her character had was to learn her lines; lines that were boring and "not exactly Henry James," as Grant's character states.  But that scene occurs well into the progression of the story, after a connection of mutual attraction has been made between the characters.  The actors must be mindful that this is a romance and that the scene is definitely not merely about learning lines.  However, Ms. Roberts played it as if that's all it was about, so the scene was as boring as the lines her character had to learn.  Ms. Roberts seemed to think so too; she tried to get through it as fast as she could.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Being Heard

Let's start with the simple task of being heard, whether it's from the stage or in a film.  Speaking clearly and loudly enough for the audience to understand what's been said is frequently a problem for many actors. When I watch their performances, I often wonder where they studied, or if they studied; turns out they did study...somewhere.  Since most of us see many more films and watch TV more than we go to the theatre, I'll address myself to those mediums even though the task applies to and can be corrected in any medium.

It's not a matter of enunciation or "speaking up," it's a matter of understanding the most elementary aspect of the technique that any of the teachers I've referred to insisted upon; an aspect that is too often overlooked by people who're teaching today.  Playing an objective (or action) and how ("intention," Meisner called it) to achieve that objective is the key to making oneself understood.  Have you noticed that when you watch a scene (film or TV) you can hear every word from one of the actors, and not hear sentences or parts of sentences from the actor performing with him?  If the same sound equipment is available for both actors, why is that?  The only reason the actor we can understand knows how to respond to his partner is because he knows his partner's lines, not because he understood him.  When an actor has a specific objective and knows how he intends to achieve it (moment to moment), he makes himself clear to his partner and thereby the audience.  When that kind of involvement in the character's specific objectives is achieved, not only does the audience hear the actor, it also has the opportunity to become involved in the character's experience.

An actor who consistently keeps his objectives internalized; that is, he knows what he wants, but he doesn't seek to convey it to his partner, is Viggo Mortensen.  This isn't a matter of talent, it's a matter of technique.  Mr. Mortensen is a talented actor, but it's very difficult to hear him, therefore, it's difficult to understand him or what his character wants.  I recently watched Edward Norton in Fight Club (I haven't seen enough of his work to know if this is consistent) and he, instead, begins what seems like an objective, and then, somewhere along his speech, parts of his sentences get lost.  This occurred only because he hadn't chosen a clear, specific objective.  If you watch the film (again?), notice that there's a little scene in which he tells Helena Bonham Carter's character to "...get out - leave..." (or words to that effect), and he made himself very clear.  This was because he had a very specific objective and he knew how he'd let her know that he wanted her to "get out."

Of course another reason for playing the objective and the "how" has to do with achieving an authentic emotion rather than showing us the character's emotion or deciding how we want to sound or look, but  I wanted to begin with being heard, because it's my pet peeve regarding the professional work that I see, and it tells me immediately that the actor is working incorrectly.

I pointed out the work of two actors here and I'll continue to point out work that is either correct or incorrect in the work of professional actors because their work is familiar and accessible to all of us, and from which we can all benefit and learn.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Looking for Uta Hagen will be a discussion about the similarities and differences in the art of acting as it was taught by Uta Hagen and the teachers who came out of the Group Theatre.  It's curious that the American acting tradition that these teachers (Uta Hagen, Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg) strongly influenced and is studied today in universities and acting schools is rarely demonstrated in professional performances.

I will try to explore why this is so, and although Uta Hagen didn't want to discuss technique outside of the workshop, that may be one of my deviations from her point of view.

I hope that I can stimulate a lively discussion about the work of actors.