Thursday, June 19, 2008

another book

I've been working on an Acting Textbook for awhile now. Thanks to the Riders of Rowan, I had some time in the trenches with young American actors last year.

Most of the training they were getting was the same confused, dishonest horse-shit I got 25 years ago.

Not the fault of their teachers, either. Just the lack of clarity and definition in the field.

Here's a section from the beginning of the book, any and all comment is welcome.


A Simple Test

You need a performance space for this test. So if you’re not in one right now, go find one before you read the rest of this. Ideally it’s an old proscenium space, raised stage, wings, etc. but any space will do.

Stand offstage left. Breathe a little bit with your eyes on the stage. Get a good base and walk to stage center. Stand there. Then walk stage right until you get into the wings.

What happened to you, physically, when you were out there? Did your spine lengthen, did your breath slow down, did you feel a tingle in your palms and on your thighs? Did your vision get sharper? Anything?

If you didn’t have a physical reaction, not a mental or emotional one, (this test isn’t about thoughts or feelings, it’s about what happened to your body when you were in the charged space of the stage), if you didn’t feel the charge, then you’re not an actor. Maybe you’re a director or a writer or a producer or a designer or an agent. We need everyone on this ship. Maybe you’re an architect who will go out and make money and come back and give it to the theater. But if you didn’t feel the clarity and the potential and the current that exists on the stage, then you’re not home. Actors need to be home when they’re standing there in front of folks. It’s the only way they’ll have the courage and humor and strength to do the work out there.

Serious People Doing Serious Jobs

Watch how a scientist moves in the laboratory. Watch the way a soldier patrols a street in Falluja. No wasted movements. No wavering focus. No sighing and flopping about. Now watch most actors on our stages.

You see the problem?

The three cancers of American stage acting are subtlety, informality and lack of courage. The last one is different from fear. Courage is not the opposite of fear, courage is what you wish for when you have fear. Courage isn’t possible without fear. I’m not saying that American stage actors need to get rid of their fear, on the contrary, they need to seek it out and dance with it every night. What they need is more courage.

Again, watch a professional doing a physical job. Watch a paramedic checking someone’s pulse. Watch a cop patting someone down. You’ll see focus, you’ll see efficiency, you’ll see no wasted energy. The important thing is, you’ll see no tension. They are relaxed and engaged. If you’re out there under the lights pretending to be Romeo in front of a bunch of silent strangers and you’re tense or worried or stiff, you need to stop right there and breathe. And then say the lines and listen to them while they come out of your mouth. And then eyeball whoever’s pretending to be Juliet and look at her or him, not at “Juliet”. Human to human, simple, two people doing a job.

Base and Pace

The Audience Already Speaks English (Your Job is Not to Express the Meaning of the Words, Your Job is to Say the Words)

Have you ever heard anyone say something like “this wine is delightful” and their voice gets all weird and high on “delightful”? Or “He was a horrid man.” And again, their voice gets all shuddery and low and weird on “horrid”? What do you think of these people? What’s your first, base reaction?

It’s probably something close to:

What a fucking phony. What a fake.

That’s what the audience feels when you get all emotive on a good play, or a bad play for that matter. Mamet calls it the school of Funny Voices. Stop emoting. You’re already “emoting” whatever that means, as soon as you speak. You’re an emotional being. We all are.

9 comments:

Rose said...

It reminds me of 'empty space'. In a good way. Clean, concise,
punching you in the face.
Just what all of us young artists actually need. Clean, consise criticism like a good spanking. Get us to learn from mistakes and do good work instead of pansying around. I like it so far. :D Nice to have a new book that can be our bible that isn't from the 50's.

3.14 said...

um...

ditto.

John said...

Hey, Layton.

Just checked out your blog.

Sorry to hear about the car.

Keep writing, it's good stuff.

Ann said...

With just a little tweaking, this could easily be made into a Life Textbook, John. I find the advice to be much more relevant than the crap in, say, What Color is Your Parachute.

Keep writing. I'll work on getting you on Oprah.

Heather said...

My husband and I traveled through Orange in France and there is a big old theater there built by the Roman conquerors still sometimes used by the town. HOLY COW, the energy in this place was just astounding. It just pulsed and hummed with centuries of powerful theater. It gave me chills and filled up my eyes and I wanted to stay there forever. Thanks for reminding me of that this morning.
Something I've been working on this year is reminding myself on those rare occasions when I get to audition for theater companies I love ON THEIR STAGE is to take just a second or two before launching into my monologue to just recognize and enjoy the fact that I get to actually be performing up on that stage. It's so easy to forget how cool this gig can be.

John said...

Heather, you must be an actor.

Had an amazing experience back in 1998 after we built the Theatorium, alone with a broom, just sweeping up.

Stepped between the risers and the stage we had set up that afternoon and a current ran through me.

This was before anyone had performed on the stage or sat in the audience.

Just the relationship and positioning of a row of chairs facing an open stage.

I was looking down, eyes on the sawdust and as I stepped into the Watching Zone I was hit with a jolt of Something. Stood there for about a minute and it slowly subsided, but it was still there, humming.

Wild.

Anonymous said...

test test you big fat liar.

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