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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.

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