Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rehearsal Update

I'm doing the Ghost in Hamlet and First Gentleman/Elbow/Friar Peter in Measure For Measure in the 2009 Redlands Shakespeare Festival. Hamlet is a masterpiece of drama that combines a thriller plot with philosophy and poetry. Measure For Measure is a fascinating play of religion and politics that has never been an audience favorite. Me, I would much rather do it than A Midsummer-Night's Dream again.

Last night's rehearsal of Measure For Measure was good. We paraphrased what we were saying in one scene; after that our acting improved greatly. It's funny how something obvious and fundamental like understand what you're saying makes all the difference -- and yet, actors sometimes default on this basic responsibility.

I was in a show by Beaumont and Fletcher once, long ago. B&F were Shakespeare's contemporaries, and for about 100 years they reigned as the most popular playwright in the English Language. Shakespeare regained the throne in the early 18th century and holds it to this day. The B&F body of work, over 50 plays, should be attributed to Fletcher and Friends, as Beaumont was involved in less than 15 of the plays.

Anyway, after a performance of Knight of the Burning Pestle, someone asked the leading man what he was saying in a certain speech. He confessed, "I have no idea what I'm saying."

He was just standing onstage, saying the words. If you know no one in the audience will care and if you don't have much pride of craft, then it's easy to get lazy.


Tenure said...

I agree with this totally. I cannot stand acting and without understanding what I am saying. It is painfully bad. It feels like you're just lying.

Say, Myrhaf, are you a fan of David Mamet? I'm speaking specifically of a little book he wrote called "True & False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor". It's a really lovely little thing - it brings together elements of Brecht (in his dislike of the 4th wall) and Stanislavski (in the search of an action) and something I heard you say you learnt at acting school: stop putting on a funny voice, and just say the lines.

Myrhaf said...

Yes, I have read Mamet's books. He makes a good point that Stanislavsky was something of an amateur. I mean, "zone of concentration"? It sounds like the power of a second-rate Marvel superhero.

But Mamet has some strange ideas. He says there is no such thing as character, it's just words on a page. That seems remarkably concrete bound and empiricist, like Mamet is incapable of abstracting. Also, Mamet is against emotion in acting -- a strange stand.

Mamet is a good antidote to the nonsense of Lee Strasberg; he reminds us that so much of acting training today is BS. However, I believe the great acting theorist has yet to come along.

BTW, the acting in ,Spartan, directed by Mamet is so godawful and wooden that it proves Mamet's anti-emotion school of acting to be terribly flawed.

Tenure said...

See, I suspected he had a dislike for emotion. However, I read it more as being like the way Ayn Rand is perceived.

I agree with what you said about the concrete-boundness, I just couldn't think of the right words. Part of it appealed to me, in the way that an Empiricist like John Locke is appealing (for the same reason and to the same extent). It's refreshing to hear someone say, "Look at the text. See what they are saying, not just what you want to say or what you think it says". However, one cannot just read it as a blank slate - one has to have something in there, indentifying everything... I'm not sure what... but something...

That said, have you seen 'Redbelt'?
It seems to be the perfect film for him to direct (well, considering he wrote), since the main character is basically a zen-like Ju-Jitsu master who seems only ever mildly-emotive about anything.

Also, you say most acting training is BS. I mean, I suspected it might be, from Mamet's description. Is it really so bad, however?
There was a little debate in the paper a few months back, I remember.
On one day, an article was published about Classicists deploring the loss of simple speech, posture and breathing (which are simple, but certainly not easy) for the sake of 'developing the character' (which is not something I totally disagree with, at least as exercise towards discovering fun actions to pursue). The next, in a different paper, there was an article reporting the 'Modern' (I don't know if they have a unified school) in response, defending themselves (I cannot remember what it said).

Frankly, it reminds me of the mind/body gap. I think that when someone writes that genius work of acting theory, it will be very much like Ayn Rand's "synthesis" (it is something far more than a mere deductive playing with words) of the Rationalist/Empiricist, Dualist/Monist (etc, etc..) schools of thought.

Personally, there are bits I like from both schools, as I've indicated. I think they can both provide a guide towards helping one understand how to present truth in acting.

There is one quote which has done me well since reading Mamet, I must add:

"Speak up, even though frightened". Not pausing to prepare myself (beyond catching my breath) and just launching into the scene, has made my acting far more interesting and far more truthful than anything I've done before. Similarly for the following quote:
"Stand up, speak out, stay out of school". :)

Tenure said...

I didn't explain what I meant about Rand. What I meant was that people think Rand was anti-emotion, because she thought we should follow Rationality. What she recognised was that, emotions are good, they are what make like worth living, but that they are not a guide to action.

Similarly, what I thought Mamet was getting at was that one should not try to "feel" ones way into the part. Rather, one should trust in the writer, and the actions (whenever I say "actions", I usually mean it in the Stanislavskian sense of that Objective->Action thing) that are implied. The emotions will flow as a result of a proper structure of Actions and Obstacles to those Actions.

Dianne Durante said...

Can you send me your email? Wanted to ask a question about acting and about my Forgotten Delights blog.
Dianne Durante (wife of Sal, DDS)