Saturday, March 03, 2012

Scrambled Eggs

As a brief addendum to my recent post on acting, this video on YouTube, 10 Reasons Why I Hate Method Acting, got me thinking about all the nonsense about acting. For the most part I agree with Coach Scotland. David Mamet's books on acting also demolish the Strasburg school of acting that places so much emphasis on evoking emotions -- in the actor, not in the audience.

When I was a teenager and a drama geek in high school, I read something that said if you act Hamlet, you should know what Hamlet ate for breakfast. I took this advice seriously. It came from an AUTHORITY. He must know what he is talking about, right?

For years after that when I would prepare a role, I took a few minutes to decide what my character ate for breakfast. It was always scrambled eggs. Perhaps this is because I enjoy scrambled eggs.

Bottom the weaver in A Midsummer-Night's Dream? He ate scrambled eggs for breakfast. Joe Keller in All My Sons? Scrambled eggs. Jupiter in Amphitryon 38? Even the gods eat scrambled eggs.

Finally, I told myself, "If someone asks the breakfast question, just say scrambled eggs for all characters." (I even wondered at one point if I should have an answer for lunch and dinner, too.)

I did not suffer this nonsense because I thought it would help my acting. I knew it was pretty much a waste of time. I did it so that if anyone asked about my character's breakfast, I would have an answer -- because I wanted people to think I was a serious actor. I did not want some acting know-it-all to sneer at me and ask, "You don't know what your character ate for breakfast? And you call yourself an actor?"

Thus does nonsense flourish. Some authority says this is good, this is cool, and young people, desperate to have others think they are smart and hip, parrot the nonsense. Political Correctness preys upon fearful young people this way. The argument from intimidation, which Ayn Rand dismantled in one of her many great essays, uses the same fear.

By the way, Ian Fleming was also a great lover of scrambled eggs and he made his hero James Bond eat them. He loved to detail Bond's style -- what he drank, his clothes, his cigarette lighter, his car. He even wrote a recipe now called Scrambled Eggs James Bond.

So if Daniel Craig were asked what Bond ate for breakfast, he could say scrambled eggs and actually get it right. Or he could give the questioner a withering stare and make him feel really, really stupid.

I am currently working on Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing and Buckingham in Richard III. They are both huge eaters of scrambled eggs, you bet.

Friday, March 02, 2012

100 Points

Today is the 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game. It is an astonishing achievement, one of the greatest personal feats in sports history.

On 710 ESPN people have been discussing whether it will ever be done again in an NBA game. All the experts say no. In 1962 Wilt towered over the  rest of the league; today the players are taller. Only Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 points in a game himself, says yes, it will be done again.

Kobe is right! It will be done again, though maybe not in my lifetime.

I base this prediction on one fact: never is a long, long time. It's not just the rest of my lifetime or the rest of the 21st century or the 22nd century or the 23rd century. Never is forever.

If the NBA lasts long enough, someone will score 100 points again. It will take a perfect storm: a great player will have to be "unconscious," shooting phenomenally well; the opponent will have to have lousy defense, but stay close enough in the game to keep the great player on the floor; and the opposing coach will have to be stupid enough not to double or triple team the great player. So it will take greatness on one side and epic stupidity on the other.

But what if America meets its demise? It could all end in a nuclear holocaust or a meteor strike. In that case, the naysayers can go "Nyah, nyah, nyah, no more 100-point games!"

The NBA could survive the political discorporation of the USA -- if the people in North America want their basketball more than they want a nation called the United States of America.

I think sports would survive if America became some kind of dictatorship because tyrants need bread and circuses to keep the masses sedated. The quality of sports would decline with the end of freedom, as dictatorship causes economic decline and scarcity of resources. The market creates more and more resources and scientific advances that can go into training, medicine and sports science; this would end under dictatorship, and the quality of everything, including sports, would deteriorate. Olympic times would go up and people would wonder how athletes in the old days ever ran so fast and jumped so high. But this might actually make the possibility of another 100-point game more likely. A phenomenon like Wilt or Michael Jordan could blow away a league of declining skills in the darkness of tyranny.

Then there are the Christian mystics who believe the end of the world is nigh. (How can they know when it's supposed to come like a thief in the night? They write books, make movies, run web sites and predict the exact day the world will end. This is a noisy thief coming.) If these people are right, then Wilt's record is safe.

I say it will happen again. But don't hold your breath.

UPDATE: Revisions.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Art of Acting: Recent Thoughts

My thoughts on acting continue to evolve. Here is where I stand now.

I am more convinced than ever that the great theorist of acting has yet to come. Stanislavsky, though of much value, is not the last word on acting. He was the first word, and a good start, too. The theory of acting is like the science of physics after Galileo but before Newton. We know some, but it hasn't all been put together yet.

Until the great theorist appears, actors must stumble on, learning their craft by trial and error from the most important teacher: the audience. You learn to act by acting, just as writers learn by writing.

At the moment I am preparing several roles for a Shakespeare festival -- Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing and Buckingham in Richard III. I am using the approach of Harold Guskin, as set down in his book, How to Stop Acting.

It's good. Damn good. It's the best "method" I've ever used. As I work, I find surprising line readings and points of view, all unplanned, all coming to me from my subconscious mind. I speak the lines more naturally than ever; it is me in those circumstances and conditions.

Guskin opposes scene analysis. He thinks such intellectual work just gets in the way of what he calls "instinct" -- what I call the subconscious. The whole point of his approach is to get rid of all preconceptions so that you get in touch with what your subconscious mind feeds you.

Why is this good? Because that's the way you talk in real life. The words come to you from the subconscious, and that's the natural way we talk. If you can get to the point as an actor that the words in the script are coming to you the way words normally do, then you sound natural.

His approach takes a lot of time -- probably more time than most actors are used to spending on their lines, especially actors who are not getting paid for what they do.

I am not convinced that all scene analysis is bad. In real life, you have a purpose when you speak. How do you find the character's purpose in speaking? Well, by thinking a little about his intention, or objective. That's scene analysis.

Then again: when I studied verse speaking with David Melville of Independent Shakespeare Company, I asked him if he worried about objectives. He said no. He is strictly of the Noel Coward school of acting: learn your lines and don't bump into the furniture. And he is a good actor. Go figure.

Guskin is good because he mirrors so much of the theory about writing fiction. The writer must tap his subconscious. Same with the actor. I think Guskin's approach integrates well with Ayn Rand's The Art of Fiction.

Here are some principles of my own that I hold as important.

1. Don't rush results. I believe this is the number one mistake made by beginners. They have a shallow idea of how the line is supposed to sound -- which they got from watching actors on stage and in film and TV -- and they imitate those results. Then they stop thinking about the line and carry their vapid results into performance. Method acting, and all good schools of acting, are all about getting to results in a good way rather than imitating the results of famous actors.

Of course, you will have problems with many directors who want immediate results. I worked with one director who, on the first day of blocking, while we were stumbling around with scripts in hand, wanted projection, energy and quick cues. He wanted the performance. This is called "bad directing." What do you do with such a director? Give him what he wants, then go home and do the real work. When you shine before the audience, he'll take all the credit for his brilliant direction. You'll know the truth.

Closely related to this:

2. Imitate what people do, not what other actors do.

3. There are two general stages of acting: finding the reality and communicating it to the audience. Strasberg erred too far on finding the reality, and forgot the audience. Mamet and perhaps Guskin err too far on ignoring the work of finding the reality. Rushing results is often worrying about the communication to the audience too soon.

4. An actor must act, just as a writer must write. Moreover, it's best to act in plays, in which the purpose is to perform before an audience. I've never liked exercises. They always say an artist must practice, practice, practice, but I believe the best practice is being in plays. The audience is the greatest school of acting. Having the ultimate purpose of performance makes all your practice purposeful, important, efficient and meaningful.

5. Listen to the other actors. This is emphasized by the Sanford Meisner school of acting. I don't know if all his exercises of two actors repeating things back and forth are worth a damn, but I do know that listening to other actors is great. Most people listen in real life (except bores who love the sound of their own voice). Listening creates reaction. Listening also puts you in touch with the subconscious. Listening is natural; it's what we do in life. Don't stand on stage just waiting for your time to speak.

6.  Research is BS. Anyone who reads medieval history while preparing for a role in Richard III is wasting his time. What does Shakespeare's Renaissance imagination have to do with the reality of the War of the Roses? It's all in the script. You must understand what you are doing and who you and the other characters are, but most of that information is in the lines. Ask the director or dramaturg if you're confused.

7. Ask yourself why you act. Do you love it?

Look at poets. Can there be a less rewarding artistic endeavor in our age than poetry? There is no money in poetry. Few care about it. But some people write poetry from some unquenchable inner urge. It's who they are; they are poets. Why are you an actor? It's good to think about these things. Stella Adler certainly did.

Andrew Breitbart, RIP

I never knew Andrew Breitbart, but I admired his courage. The left despised him; in fact, they still do, and they are now heaping scorn on his corpse, as one would expect from the tolerant and kindly left. They hate him because he was effective. He took down Acorn, their instrument for undermining elections in America, and so became a leading target of leftist bile.

Following his Twitter feed was a daily lesson in the frothing madness of the left. Breitbart always retweeted the insulting, hate-filled tweets he got; he was happy to let his enemies reveal themselves with their own vituperation. They are a seething, juvenile, mean-spirited lot, and not terribly clever, either.

(I gave up following Twitter because every week or so my password would not work and I would have to change it -- most exasperating. Maybe my computer has a virus or something.)

Courage is important in our age. The increasingly totalitarian left depends on conformity of thought. This does not mean persuading those who disagree with them, but shutting them up. And the best way to shut someone up is make him afraid to speak his mind. Smears, intimidation and character assassination are the methods of the left. (How many people in Hollywood , publishing, government or academia remain silent because they know that speaking out is career suicide? How many women, minorities and gays toe the PC line because stepping over it means shocking decent people more than profanity did in the Victorian age?)

The main purpose of government schooling now is to mold young Americans into docile conformists. Political correctness is leftist thought control: these things you are permitted to say -- those other things, no decent person must say. Independence is the virtue above all others that the left cannot abide.

When the left accepted the premise that the end justifies the means, they crossed a line. They are now the totalitarian left. This ain't your father's Democrat Party. These people are radicalized, and they mean war. Words are no longer tools of rational communication; they are weapons to be used in the political struggle.

With the left so far down the road to serfdom, good men need courage above all. Andrew Breitbart had it. We lost a brave fighter for freedom.