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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, December 26, 2016

Jeff Daniels in 'Blackbird' -- Notes on Technique

There are interesting comments from this veteran actor regarding his work in Blackbird.  What surprised me was his anecdote about his director's (Joe Mantello) direction about how "it needs to be spontaneous...if it's on your mind, let it come out of your mouth...don't manufacture some motivation with your objective that you learned in acting class 20...."

Jeff Daniels had an "objective" in this interview, and he described what was on his mind; that is, he was thinking and describing his thoughts.  Was he able to articulate everything that was on his mind? Was he aware that he had an "objective"?  Was he aware that what he was trying to do (his "objective") in this interview is no different from the behavior of the character he created?

Some of the points of view expressed in this interview reinforce my contention, expressed elsewhere on this blog, that the teaching of the basic technique, that is, Stanislavski and his colleagues as interpreted by the members of the Group Theatre has been lost in the tangential dogmatic "argument" between Adler, Strasberg and Meisner.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Performance Technique and Study

NOTE:  The class described below was held briefly and then suspended.  Unfortunately, actors who study with me privately and are working professionally are not able to devote the time necessary for the class, and less experienced actors often have not learned the discipline required for rehearsals and attendance.  I devised this intensive class because it became clear to me that scene study alone does not provide adequate training in understanding how to develop and perform a character through the arc of a drama.  Anytime an institution would ask me to teach this class, I'd be interested in teaching it.

Based on my viewing of various actors' theatre performances in New York during September and October, 2016, both on Broadway and off-Broadway, as well as those collected at the Performing Arts Library in Lincoln Center, I've decided to offer a performance technique study class.  This class will be more extensive and intensive than a traditional scene study class.

The three-hour class will be held Saturdays from 10:30 am - 1:30 pm at the Complex (6472 Santa Monica Blvd., in the Villa Studio).  The class will be limited to a maximum of ten actors (additional classes will be offered, if necessary), and will be conducted as follows:

The actor will choose a character from a play (one, two or three acts*) and will work on scenes from that play that will include the entire line of action of the character from the beginning to the end of the play.

The first character preparation will be from contemporary plays only (e.g., J. Shanley, L. Hansbury, D. Margulies, S. Karam, S. Shepard, L. Wilson, N. LaBute) omitting A. Miller, T. Williams or E. O'Neill.

As I've always taught in this practice, after the actor has become familiar with basic elements of technique derived from Stanislavski as developed by the members of the Group Theatre (action/objective, specific circumstances, previous circumstances, relationship to inner and outer objects, fourth wall, etc.) on the work of those playwrights, O'Neill, Williams and Miller will be studied, then the realistic plays of Strindberg, Chekhov and Ibsen, and finally, classic verse such as Shakespeare, Moliere, Lope de Vega.

Included will be Uta Hagen's ten object exercises, an exercise introduced by Kim Stanley (the "need" exercise), and an introductory exercise introduced by Ludwig Donath (the silent action exercise) which is a prelude to Hagen's "talking to oneself" exercise.  These exercises will be rehearsed in preparation for class work just as scene work from the plays will be well rehearsed.  In New York I participated in and observed, in review, most of the exercises of the Group Theatre teachers as currently taught, and I think that these exercises are the most directly supportive of the actor's challenge in performance.

I will explain the purpose of this approach, which I've never offered, at the first session on Saturday, November 5, 2016, at the Complex, in the Hammond Studio at 10:30 am.  There is no charge for this first session that will include time for Q&A.  Agents and acting teachers are invited to attend.

(*Certain screenplays may be acceptable.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ahh, "Why do I say, 'I'm not a homosexual?'" John Cazale

My imaginary banner across the proscenium arch in a scene study class is this question from John Cazale.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Artistic Interpretation or Mimicry?




As a matter of personal preference, it's my policy to not reveal the names of actors who study with me.  I suppose I consider it confidential if they privately study or prepare for a role with me.
This policy seems to be appreciated by the actors who work with me.  With the permission of Russell Charles Pitts, I'm temporarily breaking that policy.

I want to discuss two separate categories:  Artistic taste and artistic criteria.  Elsewhere on this blog I've made my case for artistic criteria; not so regarding artistic taste.  In particular, the actor's performance in a role that depicts a person who has been in our lived experience.

Mr. Pitts contacted me when the Tupac Shakur bio-pic was casting.  We worked on the audition sides that were provided by the CD.  The CD told Russell that his audition tape would be forwarded to the producer, but to be patient regarding his callback because a "world-wide" search was on to find an actor for this role. During the ensuing months, on his own, Russell worked on the physical behavior of Tupac.  He also asked me how he could further keep the character alive in himself (we didn't have a script to work from).  I suggested he transcribe, verbatim, one of the Tupac interviews we'd studied, and rehearse it as he would any scene.  Since we had the opportunity to consider interpretation in more detail than in a 48-hour audition preparation time-frame, I encouraged Russell to avoid mimicry (you're not him; even f you resembled him, never would you be able to achieve his essence, the particular sparkle in his eyes; but you can aim for your understanding of his essence; your interpretation of his essence").  In the attached comparison of Tupac's interview and Russell's interpretation of Tupac's interview, I think we had the beginnings of an artistic interpretation of character.

Consider also the difference between art and mimicry in Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Truman Capote, and Tony Jones's portrayal, especially since Mr. Jones physically resembles Capote more than Mr. Hoffman in a comparison with Mr. Capote himself:

Or, Michelle Williams's artistic interpretation of Marilyn Monroe:

Or, the chilling work of art created by Meryl Streep in her interpretation of Ethel Rosenberg.  In this scene from Angels in America, I think both she and Al Pacino performed not mimicry, but a fully-drawn interpretation of character.  Interestingly, there was much less for Ms. Streep to go on in terms of observing the character, yet in my opinion, taking into account her other biographical portrayals, it was her most profound rendering of the essence of the character.

Friday, June 10, 2016

I Call Your Attention To:

Please note what Gabriel Byrne says here about the emotion coming from the words.  Regardless of opinions of his performance in this particular production (which I long to see particularly because of disagreement regarding it), how many times must actors discover the validity of his experience before they trust it?

The words in a sentence express a thought.  Connection to the thought by expressing it fully leads to the emotion regarding it.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Theater Talk: James Grissom on Tennessee Williams

Irresistible -- although I've shared my thoughts in an earlier blogpost regarding James Grissom's Follies of God, here are some more anecdotes from Mr. Grissom himself.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Alan Rickman - Homage

Aside from enjoying Mr. Rickman's performances over the years, it was a particular pleasure to hear this interesting actor provide resonating anecdotes and an observation about the interrelatedness between oneself, the character's writer, and the audience in this interview.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

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 which impenetrable citadels have been erected.  Their false feud has become so rigid, that in the years since their deaths "imagination" and "affective memory" have become meaninglessly iconic, have taken on the fervor of a religious war that has produced a horrible result: the basic technique has become so remote that it's no longer stressed as the most important aspect of the technique the Group Theatre used from Stanislavski and his colleagues.

My first post (August, 2011) expressed concern that although some aspect of the technique Group Theatre members (Adler, Meisner, Strasberg, and by extension, Hagen) used from Stanislavski is still taught today, I rarely see it in current professional performances.  Since then, more than one influential Hollywood agent has told me that they think American actors are not well trained.  Ouch!

Is this point of view known where actors go to be trained?  Most colleges and universities have Theatre Arts departments where a student can obtain an advanced degree in the art of acting, and where at least one of the points of view of the Group Theatre members is taught.  In addition, there's the Strasberg Institute, the Actors Studio, the several Stella Adler academies, Meisner studios, the HB Studio, and hundreds of coaches who either studied with one of these masters, or coaches who studied with one of the coaches who studied with one of these masters!

I think that "disciples" (June, 2012 post) who stubbornly pursue the specious argument between Adler and Strasberg, Meisner and Adler, or Strasberg and Meisner, turn words into fetishes, and no longer stress the basic elements of the technique is precisely why we see so much "indicated" acting from graduates of reputable institutions.

None of the teachers from the Group Theatre disagreed on the criteria that constitute a good performance.  They disagreed, somewhat, on how to achieve it and sometimes created their own exercises to achieve it.  To speak of a "Meisner" technique, a "Strasberg Method" an "Adler" technique, or the "personalization" of Hagen (ludicrous if it weren't so insulting) is to not understand the basic, fundamental elements of the technique that all of them attributed to Stanislavski.

I suggest that the various camps gather in a symposium, be willing to face each other with their divergent points of view, and look into the possibility that there is no substantive difference between imagination and life experience, that they are instead paying homage in a worshipful rather than critical way to these masters, the very masters who taught us so well about the contradictions, the complexities, of character.