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.