TO BE OR NOT TO BE
APRIL 14, 2015
“When the actor is functioning from a BEING state, all that he feels is included in the life being expressed, and then the resulting emotion contains all of his own personal truth and reality.” -Eric Morris – No Acting Please
“When I read No Acting Please, it put it all together for me.” – Johnny Depp – Inside the Actors Studio
Marlon Brando: “We couldn’t survive a second if we weren’t able to act. Acting is a survival mechanism. We act to save our lives everyday, people lie… constantly. Everyday, by not saying something they think, saying something that they don’t think, or showing something they don’t feel.”
Marlon Brando: “When you’re frightened or nervous in this chair, you’re distressed or uncomfortable, or you’re very angry, and you know that is not what is necessary of what cannot be shown here. You’re a highly controlled person. And you have to do that.”
Dick Cavett: “You say that’s acting, that’s not, I’m motivated at that moment to do that.”
Marlon Brando: “I don’t think I could play some roles as well as you could play them. I don’t think I could play the role you play now.” (The Interviewer/Host)
Dick Cavett: “This is me. I let it all hang out.”
The real truth is that Cavett has a job to do and he has to filter his impulses, his embarrassment, control the interview, be concerned about time and doing his job well, etc… If Cavett were really expressing his moment-to-moment reality, we might see colors of frustration, impatience, agitation, argumentative, offended or so on. Therefore, he is functioning from a place other than what he is really feeling for socially acceptable or professional reasons. Brando tells Cavett he is “editing at an insane rate.” There is an inner-monologue running of thoughts and feelings but all of which only a small fraction is expressed. Of course actors can relate to this “insane rate of editing” being concerned with all sorts of insecurities that translate to certain impulses that are inappropriate to the scene and to filter them. Actors in the moment adopt the notion that what they are experiencing during the scene is not appropriate or symmetrical to the material. Certain thoughts and feelings that actors edit emanate from an insecurity of feeling; “I didn’t expect to feel this way. This isn’t how I planned the scene to go or sound. I’m not feeling how I decided I should feel at this juncture of the piece.” However, expressing these feelings allows the actor to truthfully navigate and arrive where they need to be. Otherwise, they may only compensate and begin “acting.”
Why is this dangerous for an actor?
The actor operating from this state is restricted and stifled, paralyzed to meet the demands of the material. On set there is a cast, director, crew, producers, or an audience, all of whom an actor might feel obligated to please and be polite to. The material may demand rage, ugliness… perhaps even a drug-addict hooker. If it is more important to be liked and accepted, the actor will never run the risk of meeting the expectations of the role. If an actor does commit to these attributes of such a role, they may alienate some on set; rightly so as this would translate to having fulfilled the material and any other professional in the vicinity will always understand the risk a professional actor and experiencer takes. It’s the job and if you embrace the explorations then the experiences are thrilling and entertaining, exciting and multi-dimensional. It takes a trained eye to have the ability to see and understand what others are experiencing and what they are not expressing, compensating or suppressing and where those re-directive behaviors stem from…
If real people “Act” in real-life, when is it appropriate for an actor to “act” and not reveal the authentic reality?
If the actor however was playing a character such as Dick Cavett, an interviewer feeling emotions not warranted for the situation, the actor would still have to create the impetus to cover up those feelings and the motivation to “act” in-authentically. So the creative process is the same; covering up and compensating still has to have an organic and deeper justification to ultimately promote the expressed behavior the audience takes in. For example: Perhaps it’s a play about a talk-show host who has unmatched charisma, wit and charm who gives audiences and families all over the nation joy and laughter. Families enjoy quality-time together in thanks to this Talk-Show Host. He has a larger than life personality. The tragedy is that each night he goes home feeling miserable and unfulfilled himself, alone and tired of his job. You begin to root for him to find happiness in a relationship and hope that he quits his job to have time for a family of his own. Only when the last scene of the film appears does the audience clearly see how difficult it is for this talk-show host hero to stifle his pain, hurt, unhappiness as he has a job to do. The audience feels for him so much that they hope he walks off the stage in the middle of that interview. These are the reasons that even if an actor must “act” instead of BE, the “acting” must come from a reason, a motivation or meaningful truth people can relate to. The actor playing this role cannot just act politely, funny or excitable for the sake of it saying so on the pages. You must read between the lines and find the subtext – – or that which is not written in the script – – by asking questions, even if you will never get the answers. Asking these questions will expand the artist’s realm for possibility, finding space in the discomfort of not knowing, all within the risk and fear that challenge the actor to always grow and evolve. Many times the answers will not come, but the journey and the act of asking is invaluable to inviting in a world of opportunity. More often than not, answers will present themselves and be discovered only after the director yells “CUT!” Then the actor who goes on the experience and lives the moment-to-moment life might then realize why Willy Lowman doesn’t live in the real world. This sort of investigation and exploration can lead to a deeper understanding of the material or the character.
These answers are never wrong, so pay attention to them even in their bizarre forms: flighty images in our mind’s eye, dreams, songs stuck in our heads, feeling nauseous, feeling giddy, cravings, etc… These discoveries are the answers we get from asking questions about the material so that we can have specific results and solid means to convey a very specific message of the story. The actors are to reveal something about the character and the story so that they can in turn reveal something about the audience who then sees themselves up on that stage or that screen. At this point, actors are making art and influencing the culture. During rehearsals or performance, an actor now has practical means to create the reality he/she needs to create on stage or on set; if only they can divert their attention from incessant nagging of themselves of whether they are fulfilling the material or evaluating their behavior as the scenes move along. The actor must develop their concentration and simply recreate the meaningful attributes. The actor can dress the stage or hide and disguise real, personal objects to affect his behavior and being, or they can even be dealt with backstage before entrance or “action.” Doing the work then becomes a happening just as real as in life, and all the actor has to do is be affected and get out of the way at this point. To honestly experience this kind of work at this caliber is incredibly thrilling and joyful and makes it nearly impossible to accept anything other than the truth in the future.
Excerpt from Charlie Rose © CharlieRose.com Used with permission. Special Thanks to Charlie Rose Inc.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REHEARSING
APRIL 24, 2015
Excerpt from Charlie Rose © CharlieRose.com Used with permission. Special Thanks to Charlie Rose Inc.
While working on Mad Max: Fury Road, Academy-Award winner Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy used their personal realities and tensions on set to propel the behavior and truths of the material. The actors shot on location desert in Swakopmund in Namibia for more than six months.
Charlize Theron: “We f–kin’ went at it, yeah. And on other days, he and George [Miller, the director] went at it,” and “It was the isolation, and the fact that we were stuck in a rig for the entire shoot. We shot a war movie on a moving truck — there’s very little green screen. It was like a family road trip that just never went anywhere. We never got anywhere. We just drove. We drove into nothingness, and that was maddening sometimes.”
“It’s material that’s really frightening — we didn’t have a script. Tom and I are actors who take our jobs seriously. Both of us want to please the directors we work with, and when you don’t know if you can deliver on that, it’s a frightening place to be — and for Tom more than me, because he was stepping into big shoes.”
As artists, the actors were willing to take risks and honor their moment-to-moment realities, providing themselves the opportunity to supply their instruments with creative freedom, using their truths to ultimately feed the demands of the characters and relationships.
“I’d rather have that honesty working with someone than someone who fake-smiles through something — especially for actors, when your job is to go for the emotional truth. When you’re with somebody and you don’t feel like you’re in their emotional truth, then you don’t trust them,” she says. “I think good actors go all the way. If you want to be a safe actor, and you emotionally protect yourself from things getting out of hand, the performance will show all of that. Anyone who really, really, really goes into the deep dark corners of what emotional truth is, as somebody who works opposite of that, you have to be grateful for that. I beg for that. I beg for that on a job, that potency to the stew that makes it that magic that it is.” “We drove each other crazy, but I think we have respect for each other, and that’s the difference.”
“This is the kind of stuff that nobody wants to understand — there’s a real beauty to that kind of relationship.” Charlize Theron – ESQUIRE
Professionally, co-star Tom Hardy bid his scene partner a message of admiration and respect for the honesty she supplied, and hopefully the results of such work will be evident. Hardy’s message on the gift read: “You are an absolute nightmare, BUT you are also f–king awesome. I’ll kind of miss you. Love, Tommy.”
Excerpt from Charlie Rose © CharlieRose.com Used with permission. Special Thanks to Charlie Rose Inc.
TR: How about in the sense of the rehearsal process. Are there certain ways that–
TR: Specifically, how does one rehearse?
HK: Are you asking that?
TR: Yes, I’m asking that.
HK: Oh, I could not answer that.
– Harvey Keitel, Master of His Domain – By Timothy Rhys on June 3, 1996
IMPROVISATORY NATURE OF THE ACTOR
MAY 15, 2015
EXPLORATION THROUGH IMPROVISATION
Special Thanks to William Shatner, Le Big Boss Productions
HK: Improv is a very important tool for the actor’s technique in order to put him closer to himself. Improv is a way to discover how to get from here to there. It’s also a way to bring you closer to what the character is going through. As a matter of fact, we improvise most of the scenes, even though they’re written. We improvise scenes that never even took place in the movie, but took place the moment before the scene begins to again bring us closer to the character and to ourselves.
— Harvey Keitel, co-president of The Actors Studio
Harvey Keitel, Master of His Domain – By Timothy Rhys on June 3, 1996
CREATING THE CHARACTER
MAY 20, 2015
the only fountain of Eternal Youth,
would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes,
to behold the universe through the eyes of another.”
– Marcel Proust (1922)
BEING THE CHARACTER
— Harvey Keitel, co-president of The Actors Studio
Just by acknowledging these realities it is evident that his experience drastically differed than those around him, in that that the crew, the cast, everyone involved while shooting most likely treated Pacino the complete opposite of the character attributes. In relation to the other characters, Lefty must feel inferior and less than, while Pacino as an actor possibly or for argument’s sake, couldn’t have helped but feel quite contrary: the phenomenal career he’s had and the reality in which the cast/crew actually treat him on set, respectfully. It may be unknown what Al Pacino’s specific process was or the means he used in which very successfully brought this character to life, but by using this material here as an example, the actor can hypothesize where to exert their particular and unique process to find their unique truths to reveal the character.
As an actor you’ve been given a role and are required to truthfully bring the story to life. Perhaps an actor may not believe in using their past or simply doesn’t care for such process despite it potentially yielding desired results. They refuse to waiver and ignore a childhood that had perhaps evoked feelings of humiliation during a rough or painful time in school; peers made you feel small when you tried so desperately to earn respect or find belonging and acceptance. Or this could have been the model of being a middle child and the relationship to your siblings, your role in the family. Comparatively, many actors ignore the world around them to tap into some memory when there is so much rich life available in the here and now. What many actors lack is how to find a reliable and dependable means to create the necessary reality. They hope and pray the work just goes the direction they believe the scene is supposed to go in their head. However, an actor can have many tools to bring truth to their work with their own unique means.
WHAT IS THE CHARACTER EXPERIENCING?
Asking questions is a wonderful place to start because it gives the actor room to discover choices and ways of relating to the material rather than making immediate decisions.
Still using the example above of Lefty from Donnie Brassco, we know that the character experiences feeling hurt, rejected, inferiority, unappreciated, a lack of respect, alone and alienated, a low level of self-worth. Lefty has a deep need to be respected, included, appreciated, and validated for his efforts. Indulging the scenario that it is you that is a movie-star playing this role, it is your job to bridge that gap of being that person and being that character from a truthful place. By honoring the realities of the situation the actor can authentically work for his character, making the necessary adjustments to the realities of the situation as he goes, building a momentum and believable foundation for his work.
Dealing with Reality
Eric Morris of ‘No Acting Please’ says that “Truth can only come from a place of truth.” Hypothetically, a movie-star in this role of Lefty could include the reality of his peers on set treating him with respect in between scenes or outside of work although it is contrary to how the characters treat Lefty. The reality is that people are in fact treating you this way, ignoring it could potentially create a block or wall of relating to those around you. Ironically, including it would allow the actor the freedom to do what they wish with their present reality rather than imposing a fictitious or pseudo-behavior instead. The actor could manipulate the reality, emphasize certain attributes and minimize others. The reality of the situation must be dealt with and included, even if it initially feels contrary to the necessary demands of the material. Ignoring what the reality is and what the audience takes in will only create a dissonance and confusing experience for everyone. Including the moment-to-moment reality is what’s necessary, and from then on the actor can choose how they in fact respond to what is being given to them. By asking questions we may find that if we were a movie-star of the same caliber in the business, working on this low-budget indie, we may be able to relate to Lefty. As they say, it can be lonely at the top. After all, both Lefty and the actor are aged, have put in years and years of dedicated work into businesses that have grotesque inner-workings, awful and unethical individuals, being treated like a piece of meat. Even being a movie-star, we realize such treatment is the flip-side of the same coin in regards to these character attributes. We can manipulate and emphasize all of the realities that occur on set.
Building the foundation and real needs the character as Schepkin stated “An actor must become the character the playwright intended him to be. He must walk, talk, think, feel, cry, laugh, whatever the playwright wants.”
After investigating the role of Lefty and only after asking many questions, the actor is ready to deal with building the foundation that will promote the desired behavior of the character. The needs of the character are understood, striving to fulfill them truthfully will promote the behavior of the character. Firstly, create the need to enjoy, to have a sense of belonging, to feel comfortable in your skin, relaxed and secure in your post/job/position. Much of Lefty’s behavior is impelled by his need to attain all of these desires. It would then be logical to create this need by realizing where we may be deprived. In any profession, any employee can relate to a need to feel secure in their position and job security, your well-being and family’s well-being depend on it. You also desire to enjoy time with your colleagues or co-stars and overall experience. However, once crew or co-stars begin being overly gracious and kind which is a reality and one that contrasts with Lefty’s reality, you the actor may feel such intentions are not so honest. If being treated with an immense amount of respect is contrary to what the character experiences, and simply realizing that people who often admire you will be overly affectionate and complimentary, then this is a happening that can be manipulated. Often we will treat people we admire with so much respect so that only in return we can be validated and acknowledged by the object of our affection — in which reciprocated by someone whom’s value and work we appreciate; its a selfish endeavor rather than the behavior benefiting the person we admire, we only want something from them. As actors play, and have a willingness to believe or a suspension of disbelief, the actor has then justified the received treatment in way that may actually affect him in a deeper and more hurtful way.
Fear of Failure
Actors of course are very familiar with the need to do good work as jobs are scarce and good work helps ensure future employment. Also, this high-level treatment can also instill a pressure to not let anyone down and disappoint. A fear of failure begins to build. It could be incredibly hurtful and damaging if for some reason you don’t meet the expectations people are expecting of you. Additionally, this level of treatment is actually unwanted and unwarranted if your need is to just fit in and be one of the guys. You as the actor can feel the alienation because no one really includes you in their authentic reality to begin with. They don’t give you a chance to just belong and treat you as one of them; they treat you differently and disingenuously, stimulating a lack of trust. Recall the “Importance of Rehearsing blog” in which Charlize Theron was quoted as saying “I’d rather have that honesty working with someone than someone who fake-smiles through something — especially for actors, when your job is to go for the emotional truth. When you’re with somebody and you don’t feel like you’re in their emotional truth, then you don’t trust them.”
The actor includes all of his insecurities and feelings of rejection. The actor includes self-consciousness in physical attributes, lack of masculinity, appearances, level of attractiveness, anything that will promote the behavior which impels the behavior of the character from a real place; in which real behaviors will be achieved. From this point you are left on set feeling similar realities as Lefty, and although the justification to how the characters treat Lefty and how the crew and cast treat you as an actor may emanate from contrary sources or reasons, the results of how it makes you and Lefty feel are the same. Actors can creatively-manipulate and selectively emphasize around this foundation, devaluing your worth in that you’re doing this low budget feature, you don’t like the way certain people treat you, you deserve more money, infinite reasons to continue to devalue your worth and continue to contribute to pique the truths Lefty feels. This can all be a spring board at the least to fulfill the responsibilities of the piece. Everything you as an actor needed was right in front of you, as long as you are willing to let the reality in and let it affect you, including it, dealing with it, and expressing it (easier said than done).
“I think good actors go all the way. If you want to be a safe actor, and you emotionally protect yourself from things getting out of hand, the performance will show all of that. Anyone who really, really, really goes into the deep dark corners of what emotional truth is, as somebody who works opposite of that, you have to be grateful for that. I beg for that. I beg for that on a job, that potency to the stew that makes it that magic that it is.” Charlize Theron
Trusting the journey of the character and the journey it takes the actor on…
Trust is an invaluable asset for an artist which allows the actor space to create and express freely, trusting where the piece will take them. The lesson to create this level of truth is honoring the personal realities — the truth. Again, while these personal realities may be a conduit of expression and building blocks of self-worth of the character, this role requires digging deeper to fulfill other obligations of the material: The violent and criminal life Lefty is involved in, paranoia and concern for his well-being, feeling intimidated in relation to the other characters, that which contributed being involved with criminal life to begin with… These qualities require a means to stimulate as well. Now that the actor has created a rather accurate relationship to his co-stars, he can begin to build the realities necessary to fulfill the remaining responsibilities. Eric Morris said, “Truth can only come from a place of truth.” Obviously there are actors who want to conjure all sorts of imagined contrivances. And although imagination is an invaluable asset to an actor when employed appropriately or creatively stretching the realm and fabric of the actor, truthful results must come from a place of truth. When an actor “experiences” vs “acting” or anything else stimulated by non-truth, regardless how elaborate or clever, never can it replace truth. Audiences pay for the truth and demand to hear the truth, the theater and film industry should ensure they get it.
ADDITIONAL MEANS TO CREATING THE LIFE OF THE CHARACTER
Excerpt from Charlie Rose © CharlieRose.com Used with permission. Special Thanks to Charlie Rose Inc.
“Always keep nature in mind . . . Seek to be in society as much as time allows, study man “en masse,” don’t neglect even the smallest scene, and you will discover why things happen one way and not another. This living book will serve you well until we have a body of theory, which, unfortunately, our art does not yet possess. Therefore, scrutinize all classes of society without sharp prejudice toward one or the other, and you will see that there is good and evil everywhere. This will give you the ability in acting to give yourself to every society . . . Then, no matter what situations are taken from life, you will always play them truthfully. Sometimes you may play poorly, sometimes only satisfactorily, but you will play truthfully.”
PERSEVERANCE AND IRREVERENCE
MAY 23, 2015
Excerpt from Charlie Rose © CharlieRose.com Used with permission. Special Thanks to Charlie Rose Inc.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
The Actor’s Instrument
SEPTEMBER 18, 2015
“It often appears the actor has all the fine, subtle, deep feelings necessary to his part and yet he may distort them beyond recognition because he conveys them through crudely prepared external physical means. When the body transmits neither the actor’s feelings to me nor how he experiences them I see an out of tune, inferior instrument, on which a fine musician is obliged to perform. The poor man! He struggles so hard to transmit all the shadings of his emotions. The stiff keys of the piano do not yield to his touch, the un-piled pedals squeak, the strings are jangled and out of tune. All this causes an artist great effort and pain.”
– Konstantin Stanislavsky
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps
I don’t know why nobody told you
How to unfold your love
I don’t know how someone controlled you
They bought and sold you
I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps
– George Harrison
“It should be noted that in all the performing arts except acting, the artist has an instrument outside of himself which he learns to control. The instrument that the musician works with — the piano, the violin — does not create mental or emotional responses of its own. Regardless of the emotional state of the performer, the instrument remains objectively calm and capable.”
“The actor is both the artist and the instrument — in other words, the violinist and the violin. One can imagine what would happen if the violin or piano started to talk back to the performer, complaining that it did not like to be struck in a particular way, that it did not respond to certain notes, that it was embarrassed at being touched sensually by a performer. This interaction between the artist and his instrument is precisely what transpires when the actor performs. His body, his mind, his thoughts, his sensations, his emotions are separated from the objective intentions. The Method, therefore, is the procedure by which the actor can open control of his instrument, that is, the procedure by which the actor can use his affective memory to create reality on stage.” – Lee Strasberg
As discussed in the To Be or Not To Be, through including and accepting the moment-to-moment reality, the actor can at least be free to express their inner life, rather than compensating, redirecting, covering-up and short-circuiting their expression, or imposing a state of behavior to give the impression that they are more comfortable than they actually are. Expressing the inner life allows the actor the freedom to create the necessary reality rather than impose it.
“He must irreverently follow his impulses wherever they lead. By approaching the obligations of the material in this manner, he is actually functioning as he would if the circumstances were really happening. In that the case, the instrument takes care of itself. That is to say, the normal instinctive human response occurs, thereby fulfilling the material organically with dimension and unpredictability.”
“Being is a state you work to achieve. To BE, you must find out what you feel and express it totally. Let one impulse lead to another without intellectual editing, including all the life that is going on – the interruptions, interferences and distractions. These elements should all be included in the behavior. Do no more or less than you feel. Being is the only place from which you can create organic reality.”
Eric Morris – No Acting Please
Truthful work derives from the actor creating and experiencing that which the character is experiencing. Therefore, an actor can have a craft or means to create any stimulus or object, anything that is intended to promote the behavior and experience they are obligated to feel. However, some of the most prevalent occurrences actors experience in class, on set or stage, are the many obstacles, inhibitions and fears that obstruct them from creating, experiencing, and expressing the life of the character. Although awareness of the problem or inhibition is often noted or made aware of, the alleviation and solutions are not always so easily mitigated. There are plenty of teachers or gurus who even go as far as to assign some pseudo-psychology as the basis for the actor’s instrumental problems, or only go as far as to point out what the actor is incapable of, without supplying a means to remedy the issue. Alternatively, there are some very intelligent and versed teachers who are able to very concisely point out the reasons, causes, and even means to alleviate or overcome the many obstacles of experience and expression. A significant gap in The Method existed for some time due to it’s lack of dealing with the actor’s instrument. Freeing the Actor by Eric Morris is a great resource for the actor working on himself.
Creatures of Habit
Recently, I attended a program at a well-known Broadway theater in New York. An actress, talented and trained for sometime, expressed how much difficulty she had when she felt she could not “go there” or experience the emotional life demanded of her in a particular scene: the assassination of her husband and the trauma that she consequently experiences. While observing this actress, several important tendencies, patterns and habits caught my attention that interfered with her freedom of expression. Anytime this actress was called upon to respond to a teacher, she suddenly straightened her posture, composed herself and very politely and charmingly with a smile would give her best answer to the question posed. When she was to work on stage, she often carried herself in the same manner, controlled, aware of herself, sharply focused and attentive on the task at hand, a tension in her muscles and well thought out movements. She became submissive and seemed to immediately transform into the “good student” role.
These mannerisms and patterns told me much about this actress and the way she had been conditioned. Through our experiences we develop habits naturally to survive. These habits serve as defense mechanisms and serve a purpose that allow us to function in the world without succumbing to the discomfort and pain we would otherwise be overwhelmed by. We learn to desensitize ourselves to the many stimuli around us such as noise pollution, lights, people, etc… We all develop completely dependent on care-takers for survival beginning at birth. As babies, we moan, cry, scream for food, nourishment, comfort, attention, etc… Meticulously, we come to understand what works and what doesn’t and out of this, personality develops. We discover how to survive by doing what worked for us previously. Even if habits no longer work, we all demand to try the same thing over and over again to get what we want. Unknown to us, our ego and personality implement ways to protect ourselves and ensure survival. When life gets too threatening, fight or flight kicks in, and we immediately apply those habits of old that worked for us only so long ago, and yet, still they are employed. These habits and patterns are useful as they protect us from being vulnerable in the world. As we grow older, we develop more habits to protect ourselves when we experience painful emotions, such as rejection: humiliation, abandonment, inadequacy, embarrassment, guilt or shame.
When the actress mentioned before was on the spot, she exhibited the same patterns and habits each time, different than how she would behave in other social settings or private conversation. I would assume of her, that if in private, she could experiences vulnerability, hurt, loss, abandonment, all of which was required for her to feel in the piece and yet she expressed feeling very inhibited on stage. Her instrumental issue in this area was not an avoidance of these feelings. She was not necessarily protecting herself as other actors may from the pain of the emotions; she expressed a willingness but always failed in the experience. Her problem emanated and occurred only when she was being watched, alone on stage. She was overwhelmed by the amount of attention, self-consciousness, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of disappointing herself and being inadequate as an actress, imperfection. Her behaviors reflected a mentality and need to present herself in the best light possible: polite and likable, a well spoken articulation in her voice to exude a confidence to others, body language that although stern, also showed power and leadership capabilities. Although these minute decisions were instant, they were also most likely second nature to her, and subconscious. They all provided a purpose that made her feel in control of the situation. She had to be in control of the situation so that she could fend off the perceived threats that consumed her mind; also subconsciously, while her main focus was on the task at hand. The threats were the fears mentioned above and perhaps emotions that could potentially, in the actress’s mind, translate to others as weakness and being imperfect. Her need to be in control was to ensure that she did nothing careless or mistakenly that would cost her the consequences of feeling rejection, embarrassment, humiliation, feeling inadequate as a person or an actress. She needed to be perfect, to not fail, and therefore appear to feel better than she actually felt.
Nature vs Nurture
These fears are all very common for the actor, to which the actor often imposes a fictitious or pseudo-behavior that falsely promotes a presence of being better off than they actually are. Additionally, once the actor expresses the text they are “acting” because they have been acting the entire time through covering up and imposing something that has nothing to do with what they are actually feeling (Refer to Being blog). Often, actors fall into habitual traps of acting that take on many different forms. Our habits in life will follow us to the stage. These are behaviors and decisions that are hard-wired in the brain. These habits can be dismantled, new ones can created in which new synapses or connections are made within the brain.
The lack in confidence and self-trust of the actress mentioned earlier, both in her instrument and craft, her fears of being inadequate are what obstructed her from taking the necessary risks to experience the life of the character. The scene in which she must feel great pain from loss is of course daunting and not an emotion one looks forward to feeling, but an actor understands this may be required from time to time. She actually expressed a willingness to feel this experience of grief, just failure in its manifestation. It was very obvious what her issue was when she expressed the nature of the scene and paired with her habits, mannerisms, body language and patterns. The scene of grief from loss of a husband required her to be helpless and in disbelief, a happening in which she would have no control over. Her fear was losing control. Losing control for her was too frightening and too overwhelming. Everything about her was controlled, even her folded hands in her lap when called upon that had nothing to do with what she was feeling, but again, a covering up of what she was feeling. She spent so much energy to control her behavior and how she wanted to be perceived that surrendering this habit would be too costly and dangerous.
Part of the investigation for an observer of instrumental habits would be to understand where these habits began and implement ways to diminish their restrictive attributes. If one could introduce to the actress an effective means (to which there are many remedies) to eradicate her habitual need for control then she would begin to break the habit. This would then lead to the allowing of experiencing the moment and responding to it as it affects in her the moment, rather than controlling how she would choose to let the moment affect her and choosing how to respond to it so as to not lose control. She would be freer to act and express that which she was experiencing on a deeper level. The actress could work in areas of anti-leadership and impulsivity, learning to trust what she is feeling and follow where her impulses takes her. She could work in areas of being irresponsible, uninteresting, adapting to accepting imperfection and rejection so as to eliminate the fear which restricts from the honest expression of what she is actually feeling: inadequate.
While this instrumental obstacle in this circumstance stopped the actress from experiencing the emotional life of this scene, this same issue would also have a trickle-down effect elsewhere in her craft as well. Her behavioral habits would make it very difficult for her to fulfill roles of characters who act out in abandon, free-spirits, charisma, risk-taking personalities. Some actors would relent and say their work therefore must end at this juncture. This is a self-limiting decision and also a poor one artistically that also limits professional opportunity. The artistic value of what the material is asking for can bring such beautiful opportunities, growth and evolution to the actor’s work and their overall life. A new threshold is established to allow and include new experiences in life to be enjoyed rather than avoided for the same reasons the actress avoids the experiences on the stage. In other words, actors can bring their life to the stage, if willing, as well bring their art to their life when they leave the stage.
I was asked to comment on the actress’s exercise after she had expressed her inhibitions and blocks that she felt. I commented that she was very in control of the entire exercise that was given to her, never letting the exercise surprise her or even let in what was happening to her (i.e. her intellectual decisions were blocking her from feeling in the moment). She immediately remarked, “I am always aware of what it is that I am doing, ALWAYS.” This hyper-awareness of course was again another manifestation of the strict attention she paid to her actions, thoughts and behaviors to ward off the fear and perceived consequences she felt were a reality. I say “perceived” because although the fears are understandable, she was in a safe and supportive environment with others who were asked to take the same risks. Everyone was encouraging and kind, it was an atmosphere that was conducive to an artist’s well-being. The exercise was actually very safe in that it presented very little if any negative emotional aspects. By “negative” I mean possibly painful to experience but not negative in of itself as emotions are just emotions and we as people tend to value them as good or bad. We can see how these habits form and how strong they are, and that despite being in a nourishing atmosphere for the artist, we still have habits that work for us when the prior threats of long ago are no longer present.
Her habit of constantly watching herself on stage is a also a detriment that would prevent the her from being involved with her work or her partners on stage. If her attention is concentrated on how “we” as the audience are taking her in, then her energy and thoughts are expended towards that and she cannot be allowed to discover what can be created or taken in on stage. She will be too consumed with how others are perceiving her versus creating something herself to perceive that would carry her through the piece. Lee Strasberg emphasized how the actor on stage must be thinking on stage, not just imitating to be having thoughts, but actually having them…
“Many actors believe that they truly think on the stage. They do not accept the premise that their thought is tied only to the memorized lines of dialogue.”
“It does not matter so much what the actor thinks, but the fact that he is really thinking something that is real to him at that particular moment. The make-believe thinking that may coincide with the play is not real enough, though it may be sufficient to fool the audience. This is what we sometimes mean when we refer to acting as being only ‘indication.” – Lee Strasberg
Special Thanks to William Shatner, Le Big Boss Productions
“The reality is no one can tell you how to act.”
“The concept of “Being” as opposed to “Acting” is Eric’s (Morris) focus here.”
“What is described has worked in some way for one actor or another. The Method is, “If it works, use it.” – Jack Nicholson (Foreword: No Acting Please by Eric Morris)
Our Life In Art
The instrument of an actor, artist or human-being is very delicate. Knowing one’s self and having someone who can understand how each unique instrument responds or develops will substantially aid in it’s development and freedom of expression. This process is one that takes time, rather than just randomly attempting to conjure up emotions or experiences in which a vague or unhealthy indulgence results. The more the actress revealed of herself, the clearer it became where her habits had developed. This information would be essential if she were to understand why her instrument responded the way it did, where its struggles in expression emanated from. One afternoon, she mentioned she was possibly A-sexual, rarely had felt attraction, intimacy, and never had known what it felt like to be in love, rarely felt joy or pleasure. She expressed not feeling anything much at all often. Several weeks later, the actress expressed that her sister had autism and for much of her life she had played caretaker to her. Her sister had severe difficulty in responding to the world and therefore needed her sister’s assistance. The actress admitted great pain, guilt and hardship in how sorry she felt for her sister. Now this habit of feeling so responsible and always having control began to make more sense. This information and the way the actress shared it, revealed to me that perhaps her own difficulty in responding to the world emanated from her deep-seeded guilt and difficulty caring for her sister and the role she took on in relation to her sister. She had perhaps, unconsciously, decided that if she were to experience joy, pleasure, happiness, she would be abandoning her sister in a way and consequentially would experience an overwhelming amount of guilt and shame for being able to feel the basic feelings of life that her sister was not afforded to experience. Perhaps she would perceive herself as a bad-person or bad-sister.
In order to cope, she herself had to find ways to survive with this hardship. She was possibly vicariously living through her sister or ponder what it was like to be in her shoes, so as to be there for her through support and empathy. Of course she would feel that it would be unfair to enjoy elements of life that her sister could not. However, blaming herself is what would actually be unfair as it certainly was no fault of the actress’s that her sister was born with this hardship. I then saw a direct-correlation and similarities in how the actress would conduct herself on stage and the very significant and present reality with her sister. Both circumstances entailed the actress dealing with some sort of avoidance of overwhelming guilt, not being good-enough, fleeing from feelings of inadequacy and shame, and mostly, an incredible weight of responsibility. Could this relationship with her sister and the feelings paired with it, cause the actress to fear others seeing these insecurities as if worn on her sleeve? Did she over-identify with this relationship to her sister and partially shape the woman she became to be or to believe she was not allowed to experience life? If I were working with her, I would now know which area to venture into to help her repair the instrumental difficulties. I would ask the actress to take on the roles mentioned before, those she may have trouble with: irresponsibility, taking her due, counting her accomplishments, entitlement, giving herself permission to experience joy, hurt, pleasure and pain, rather than her habit of limited-experience deriving from avoidance of feelings. I would predict that these areas would free her immensely and she would conquer some of these obstructions in her expression and also a domino effect in walking through additional doors of experience.
Other classes and teachers may not work this way, and it takes incredible dedication to understanding behavior to implement profound means of transformation. Some actors work with their material, certain roles they feel a separation from, and will work to bridge the difference. There are many means and exercises actors employ to do this. I believe however that it is necessary to deal with the instrument and such work expedites growth and constructively evolves the actor. I believe that Stanislavsky and Lee Strasberg, Richard Boleslavsky, Vakhtangov, and many others worked passionately in this area.
“His instrument responds not only to the demands of the actor’s will, but also to all those accumulated impulses, desires, conditioning, habits, and manners of behavior and expression. They are so automatic that the actor is not aware of them and is, therefore, unable to deal with them. The extent to which unconscious habits of thought, feeling, and behavior influence the actor during the actual process of acting still demands greater recognition and clarification.” – Lee Strasberg
The work of Eric Morris, a very well-renowned American acting teacher of The Method, has incredibly and impressively evolved specific means for actors to develop their instrument and therefore has evolved the work of the actor. Many teachers and classes spend no time on the actor’s instrument, and also have no knowledge of how to deal with it. Sometimes these classes constantly suggest what character would be good for that actor to play in the sense that they may resemble that character in some way. While this may be a good way to understand casting or an actor’s type, too much of this will be restricting of the actor’s potential range and fabric.
Actors can choose to deal with the human-condition very honestly; as the job is to bring truthful life to the stage. There is no need for the actor’s instrument to be a 5-ton elephant in the room. This absence of cohesion between actor and craft can often leave the actor feeling hopeless and reducing their joy in the work. “Going there” is a well-used term referring to the actor’s willingness and courage to confront the parts of life that people run from everyday. The courage and bravery of approaching these aspects of life often result in the demise of difficulty, and more so, bring hope, strength, and change to others.
Special Thanks to William Shatner, Le Big Boss Productions
“Stanislavsky was well aware of this actor’s problem of expression — that is, what the actor conveys to the audience. This is why he divided his book The Actor Works (An Actor Prepares) on Himself into two parts, the first dealing with the rehearsal; and the second, with the actor’s work on himself in the process of embodiment or expression in performance. Stanislavsky himself expressed concern and dissatisfaction at his inability to achieve the desired results of expression, especially in classical plays. Eugene Vakhtangov, while making use of his master’s procedures, had already revised some of Stanislavsky’s formulations. These changes helped Vakhtangov achieve the startling and highly theatrical results upon which his fame rests.” — Lee Strasberg
The stories we tell our audiences
As actors we tell stories about ourselves. Hopefully you have someone available to you in your work that can see the story you as a person and actor tell, that can help you bridge the gap between you and the story that your character must tell. One evening an actress who I had never worked with came to join the class. She now attends weekly and has grown drastically. During her first evening in class she walked on stage and eventually did a monologue. After the monologue, I had to be very careful and delicate to say what I was going to say. A problem in her instrument had presented itself to me very subtly, in ways not so obvious and apparent but certainly could be a liability for an actor. I looked at the way she dressed, who she made eye contact with and who she didn’t make eye contact with, the changes in her voice at varying moments, and mostly, her strong pleaser energy in which she never really stopped smiling. Besides other signs that informed about her, I had to ask her a personal question in a personal class. Again, I had never spent any time with her prior or had gotten to know her. I asked her if she had grown up without a father or was abandoned by her father. The actress stared at me in a way that I could not discern was feeling offended or just overall shock. The other students became tense at the sudden directness of the personal question. The actress responded, “How did you know that?” She was in fact abandoned by her father as a child. She was not offended in the least but more surprised how after 10 or 15 minutes I deduced this personal fact and she felt a great deal of trust in working with me thereafter.
I expressed my perception because I could see how this aspect of her life influenced the many ways that she responded to people and the world, which could pose as a liability in her scene-work (intimacy, affection, trust of scene partners, trusting men or male scene partners, guilt, behaving and expressing her honest moment to moment feelings, etc…) but that if dealt with, could be turned into an asset through its expression. She would be freer to act and function through changing the ways she relates to the world by changing the way she perceives it. This revealing of ourselves and the character is what we hope the audience takes in and hopefully changes the way they take in the world; and through this art we are moving forward together.
As story-tellers, we must truthfully tell the story to enrich the overall experience in our art, to give our work and purpose a lasting impact. Actors have many obstacles, if they want to be free to act, they must deal with the instrument that goes beyond basic relaxation. Actors must be aware and ask questions to liberate themselves in all of the areas necessary to be an effective actor or experiencer. Actors suffer from self-consciousness or ego issues (and their problems often originate there), traumas, fears, tensions, dependencies, suppressing the expression of the emotion, redirecting what they are actually feeling into more socially-acceptable behaviors, etc… These problems are of the actor and not necessarily problems of the character and will inhibit the actor from accessing rage, vulnerability, elation, passion, enjoyment, comfort, freedom of expression. Contrastingly to these tensions, blocks, and anxieties, actors can work to achieve permission and trust in their work, entitlement, a belief and confidence in themselves as craftsman and artists: If you know what to do and HOW to do it, then you can indeed feel confidence in a reliable process.
These obstacles to expression are not limited to artists but the entire human-race, and will vary as the manifestations of our behavior are directly related and relative to when, where, and how we are raised: Cultural norms, religious values, family values, school, manners; all such lessons that teach you how to survive in those environments but certainly not how to live on the stage or even in the rest of the world often. Such rules can certainly be found restrictive later on in life. In any profession, people will struggle through business meetings or presentations, executing their ideas, communicating their ideas, making the most of their potential. These instrumental occurrences are not unique to acting, but to human beings and as actors we must BE human beings and experience, not as actors replicating life, but living life.
Auditions, scenes, performances, can all be anxiety provoking to the actor. If we look at what happens to the state of the actor on more of a reductionist level, then we can understand why the actor develops bad-habits or experiences difficulty in breaking them. These situations induce anxiety or a fight or flight response. The sympathetic branch of the nervous system is then activated which is responsible for using the body’s resources for energy to either flee or fight the perceived threatening stimulus. Obviously, our instruments are responding to a circumstance where there really is no physical threat or prey in which we would need to use our nutrients, stored energy, release of stress hormones. Our old-brain however does not know this, but we can train our conscious brain to send messages to the old-brain to learn to be more calm and mindful in such situations. Through deep breathing and relaxation, we activate our parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, allowing for resources and energies to be conserved for when we choose to utilize them, such as prior to curtain call or ‘action’ on set.
On this level, we can see how creating an experience can allow for the actor to live on stage and respond to the objects of their attention, rather than literally surviving on stage through habits of old. It is important to note here where our responses, emotional or physical, emanate from. A teacher once asked me if I could be more relaxed during my work, in which I was dealing with a very uncomfortable choice that caused me turmoil emotionally. She could not discern that my tension and physiological responses were coming from the objects of my attention, rather than a manifestation of tension or nervousness that comes from “stage fright” or being watched out of fear of failure and such. Often actors on stage who are expressing anger or frustration are really just transmuting or redirecting their discomfort of being on the spot.
This anger though is then coming from fears and stage fright, not from that which the character is experiencing their anger. Often this outpouring of emotion or anger is also a way to hide the vulnerability the actor feels underneath the of fear of judgement. Therefore, it is a shallow redirection of discomfort and self-consciousness, nothing significant or deeper that would leave a lasting impact. Specificity and truth are what the audience will be affected by, not a veneer of shallow histrionics and melodrama. If your instrument is responding honestly to your work, then that is a justifiable response. Rarely would one be very relaxed or calm when dealing with such an uncomfortable experience in real-life. However, our work should begin with relaxation to give our instruments the ability to create such experiences.
It is important to have an atmosphere that is safe, non-judgmental, and conducive to helping the actor grow and evolve. It is the actor who should dictate that which they are willing to reveal and that which they are not. Commonly, actors will incubate their fears and act in spite of them or attempt to redirect or disguise the fears into facades of pseudo-confidence, or expressing less and trying to hide their uncomfortable state. “The truth shall set you free” is often experienced in which artists feel liberated after given a forum to express themselves constructively and often allows other artists to not feel alone; creating a safe place for the actors to accomplish their ultimate goal: to BE who they are.
The Actors’ Vow
From Elia Kazan
I will take my rightful place on the stage
And I will be myself.
I am not a cosmic orphan, I have no reason to be timid.
I will respond as I feel; awkwardly, vulgarly,
I will have my throat open.
I will have my heart open.
I will be vulnerable.
I may have anything or everything
The world has to offer,
But the thing I need most,
And want most, is to be myself.
I will admit rejection, admit pain, admit shame,
Admit outrage, admit anything and
Everything that happens to me.
The best and most human parts of me are
Those I have inhabited and hidden from
I will work on it.
I will raise my voice.
I will be heard.
ALLEGORY OF THE CLASS:
THE FORFEIT OF DOGMA IN ITS OWN CONCEIT
MARCH 14, 2015
Once escaping the cave, the prisoner is pained and overwhelmed, burned and blinded by the light of the sun symbolizing enlightenment, the rays bring forth new knowledge and reality. The prisoner soon learns to acclimate to the sun, and little by little learns to see not only shadows, but more intrinsic details such as reflections of people and finally people and objects themselves. The prisoner is then able to look to the moon and stars — and lastly, the Sun, questioning and reasoning about it. Plato remarks of this prisoner that he would believe this world, the ‘true form’, to be superior than to that he experienced within the cave, “he would bless himself for the change, and pity (other prisoners)” wanting to draw out the other prisoners of the cave and into the light.
Continuing along this line of Greek philosophy, certainly we can compare audiences of Greek Tragedies to the prisoners in the cave. An audience’s belief in watching the figures perform in front of them was a mere simulation of life, shadows on a wall inspired by reality. As Socrates compares the philosopher to the freed prisoner, we can cast Konstantin Stanislavski as that prisoner freed from the cave seeking to illuminate himself in search for the true form of reality. Stanislavsky traveled and based the laws of his work, ‘the system,’ on those he felt were truest to their form in their work. Since the moment Stanislavski ventured out of the cave of representational and false form or simulation of life, so too did he free the fellow prisoners in the cave, the audiences and actors. Shadows on a wall are no longer acceptable, the true form of reality is. The art of theater has taken on many new forms and truthful work an endeavor in the theater.
Just as the escaped prisoners looked to the Sun and reasoned, though at first stunned by it’s glow, we too can learn to reason about the ‘forms’ in our world: What is art? What is acting? What is ‘not acting’? What is truth? What is not truthful? What is experiencing?—Real thoughts, real impulses, impelling behavior on the stage or on set swelling up through an actor’s instrument to the fruition of its fullest expression driving the actors soul into the hearts of their partners and audiences abound. These are attributes of life being born on stage carrying the burning and powerful beams of truth into the beings who look for the light. Allegory of the Cave concerns itself with Plato’s Theory of Forms (ideas), meaning that knowledge of these ideas or forms equates to real knowledge — rather than the material world which enters us through sensations. However, for an actor, perhaps that higher form would be the material world through sensations. Socrates urges that those who have attained excellence and elevated to this higher level, must not remain there but return to the cave and share with the remaining prisoners… However, as Plato explains that the freed prisoner would want to lead the others into the sunlight, he would be blind again once re-entering the cave as he did when he entered the sunlight; he would again have to acclimate. The remaining prisoners would perceive this state, this harm, as reason not to venture on the same journey into the sunlight. These prisoners would in fact remain the same and will be referred to later on…
Below will be a comprehensive and thorough means to reach the artist in their pursuit and journey — with the attempt to outline the natural obstacles that can occur naturally in the passing down of wisdom. There is a need to retrace the etymology of this knowledge and to deal with such deep work and personal process that has received it’s fair share of the ‘telephone-game’ treatment, in which so much has been lost in translation. Therefore, this is a visit to the past and means to converge prior teachings and their evolution to the teachings of today for its future receivers.
“While GROK’s intent is to establish a means for the actor to develop a solid and reliable craft to create truth, the actor must understand these techniques and tools are just that. The actor must discover their own process in that these tools and exercises are of incredible resourcefulness and will evolve the actor, and yet the actor must also apply them in consideration of their own unique instrument, temperament, and journey. Our art lies within ourselves and the capacity we have to let the beauty of each other and the world that surrounds us all, to be allowed into our realm for better or worse. Through our interpretation and experiences, our objective as actors is to investigate and display the human condition for what it is, evolving not only ourselves for selfish betterment, but to evolve culture, politics, social reform, equal rights, and service to mankind. Let the stage be a breeding ground for new life and let us be brave enough to let this life enter the world beyond.”
In an attempt to continue to evolve art, art must be challenged. Theater has been representational, self-exploitative, self-indulgent, all results in search of expressing the ‘life of the human spirit’ in an attempt to capture the soul on stage and fed back to the societies from which it came. Stanislavsky himself was constantly questioning his own work, investigating and testing new means for the actor to capture this ‘life of the human spirit’. In his own literature, of which so much of the so-called ‘Method’ derived, Stanislavski stated that the “power of this method” was “based on the laws of nature.” As art and theater have continued to evolve, as it had when Stanislavsky implemented new and alternative means to the actor’s work, then so too should the modern actor question and investigate the very nature within himself and the nature within others as a way to carry this tradition of bettering and transforming our art, our nature, our laws and how they translate to the stage; and once on stage, how such natural laws can be transmitted and translated to the audience through art.
“It’s spirit of continual, tireless, striving that spirit which nourished the genius of Stanislavski is especially precious. The system is, for us, an excellent directive to action, not a dogmatic compendium of fixed standards and truth.” – Kedrov at The Moscow Art Theater
Despite many years having passed since the introduction of Stanislavsky’s work and later Strasberg’s, success of translation has been contingent on language barriers and success of students in their interpretation of their “master’s” work. The term “master” connotes a sense of submissive adherence to a teacher; a process of another passed down, and an adherence to follow rather than a journey towards the self and an application of the tried tools in relation to the actor’s own unique nature and temperament. As Stanislavsky said “We are born with it inside us, with an innate capacity for creativeness.” In other words, following a “system” can lead one away from themselves rather than applying that “system” through themselves. The first approach is an attempt to achieve the proper way of addressing a “system,” and the second, how one could apply that “system” in their unique way. Many variables can be attributed to why such work and messages are lost in translation: This work is not an exact science and psychologists themselves refer to their profession as still being in the dark ages. Also, translating text to other languages, personal interpretations, or various irresponsible teachers who are more concerned with a sense of worth and significance attributed to being a “master” or “teacher” in adding value to their identity, or the emulation of the power they perceived in their instructor that they wish to possess; or the desperate search to reflect an expertise in their eternal search for final validation in their pursuit of the work. Stanislavsky remarked about his own work, “It is not my system. I did not invent anything. I am simply trying to put down something which is based on the laws of creation.” Stanislavsky was clear that such work was designed for each actor to possess tools that could perhaps help them find a system within themselves, based on the laws of their creation and nature, not like the Ten Commandments that all must abide by.
Bobby Lewis, an integral member of the Group Theater, remarked that “For over fifty years, Stanislavski was constantly changing and experimenting and improving. Up to his death, he was looking for new ways to help the actor work. I said that it is a pity that followers of masters are often inclined to be more dogmatic than the masters themselves. Stanislavski was very reluctant to put down his findings in any permanent form, hesitating for a long time, and only agreeing under great persuasion, there are others who will very quickly tell you exactly what those findings are.” Whatever the reason, whatever the conjecture, the point being that “the work” has been and always will be misconstrued due to infinite variables depending on the individuals teaching the process, the culture, monetary motives, etc … For the truth-seekers who find their calling, perhaps it can be their duty to say nothing for certain, but to explore and investigate, to live the the ‘life of the human spirit’ for anyone who wishes to bear witness.
Lewis, also a stage-director and professor of the Yale School of Drama, said, “What I seek here is illumination—not ‘the ultimate answer’. There are no boundaries in art. I don’t want to make more, but less dogma here. Dogma may be all right in some quarters, but it doesn’t agree very well with artists” … “We must also study all new techniques, thus constantly expanding our understanding of fundamental beliefs.”
Theater continues through a constant search and quest to define man, and paradoxically, therefore also questions what “acting” really is. Plato’s account of Socrate’s sentiment “I know one thing, that I know nothing” is a philosophical paradox: if Socrates ever said such a statement, and the irony of “knowing” that you “know nothing” is itself a sense of “knowing,” thereby contradicting ‘not knowing anything.’ But as GROK admittedly knows nothing, it hopes to follow the tradition of grasping for what we may learn or become to know, hopefully of ourselves, or a society, a culture, country, the human race; simply who we are. Paulo Frier contends that the “learner” be a co-creator of knowledge, not an empty vessel to which a civil-obedient, or submissive student blindly takes knowledge from a “master,” but conversely, the student at GROK is seen as his own master. Henry David Thoreau also argued for a civil disobedience, refusal to obey certain laws handed down from a governing power. While these allusions are derived of other men’s theory unrelated to acting, acting too can apply directly to the natural-governing laws of man — and so art can be approached in understanding that nothing is for certain. Perhaps the most-intimate dwelling that artists can find refuge is within their obedience to the internal laws and nature of themselves. After all, these principles flee from the governing laws of society and are to be a return to the governing laws of nature and to ourselves, the form from which we came; not the violation of it. We are domesticated beings, taught how to speak, think, behave and feel. It is only when the actor arrives at the theater that they must unlearn what it is to be man. Nietzsche said of ourselves that once we have too much, “Behold, this cup wants to become empty again, and Zarathustra wants to become man again.” What is man again? A question the theater should never cease to be asking.
“Yes! Our deep spiritual wellsprings open wide only when the inner and outer feelings of an actor flow in accordance with the laws fixed for them, when there is absolutely no forcing, no deviation from the norm, when there is no cliche or conventional acting of any kind. In short, when everything is truthful to the limits of ultra-naturalism.” Stanislavsky
Bobby Lewis, co-founder of The Actors Studio with Elia Kazan, references a time when Michael Chekhov visited the Group Theater in the 1930’s. Lewis tells of a time when Stanislavski remarked of Michael Chekhov, “If you want to see my system, working at it’s best, go see Michael Chekhov tonight. He’s playing some one act plays by his uncle.” Lewis continues that whenever the Group asked Chekhov a question about Stanislavski, he’d say, “I can’t answer that fairly. I haven’t been in contact with him for several years — and he was always changing.” Lewis also stated that Chekhov observed all of the “externals” as well as the “internals” on his acting. “He did not emphasize one to the exclusion of the other; his acting was absolutely complete, inside an out.” Lewis also said Chekhov was “reticent to call himself a Stanislavsky authority. We should emulate this attitude by always trying to examine the subject undogmatically.”
Lewis notes that “another fetish that has been made from the Method in some quarters is the one about terminology. It has created a kind of dogma out of what should have been a freeing principle.” Harold Clurman of The Group Theater said “This work began with the so-called Stanislavsky system — as well as his heirs — and will continue to be an approach to acting in continuous evolution and never quite the same with any particular teacher or director. There is NO ONE RIGHT WAY.” Clurman had iterated that “You can’t teach Acting.” “A good teacher can give certain hints to release expressivity, or strengthen some technical weakness. That’s about it. But then those hints and that strengthening are indeed crucial for the performer.”
Three-time Oscar award winning actor Jack Nicholson remarked “The reality is no one can tell you how to act. My own observations and feelings tell me it requires deep personal commitment to allow any individual to move from that vague desirous state of “I’m gonna be an actress (or actor)” to a point where the actor has some vague sense that every part in which he is cast is not some incredible piece of luck like saying the secret word on ‘You Bet Your Life,’ but the result of some solidly acquired skill which, in there, where the truth is, he can call his own.” Stanislavsky asked “Do you believe that such great art is to be had for the mere studying of a system of acting, or by learning some external technique? No, this is true creativeness, it comes from within, from human and not theatrical emotions. It is towards this goal that we should strive.”
Clurman cited Martha Graham “The aim of the technique is to free the spirit” and Stanislavsky, “Anyone caught on stage playing his technique instead of the scene gives a bad name to any serious investigation of the problems of the acting craft.” “The best thing that can happen to an actor is to have his whole role form itself in him to its own accord. In such instances one can forget about all ‘systems, techniques, and give oneself up wholly to the power of magic nature.”
Lee Strasberg’s relationship to Stanislavski’s work came from Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskya at The American Laboratory Theater in New York, they were students of Stanislavski. Strasberg expressed that he had often been questioned as to what the relation was between Stanislavski’s “system” and what is commonly called “the method.” “I have always stated simply that the Method was based on the principles and procedures of the Stanislavski system. I began to use these principles in the early thirties, training and working with young actors in the Group Theater, and then later in my own classes and at the Actors Studio. However, I have always referred to our own work as a “method of work,” because I never liked the implication of the term system. Additionally, in the view of the many discussions and misunderstandings as to what “the system” is and what it is not, plus the confusion about the earlier and later periods of Stanislavsky’s work. I was unwilling to make Stanislavsky responsible for any of our faults.”
By understanding the evolution of the actor’s journey and search for truth, its obviously apparent that the architects of this work were careful not to write anything in stone or to refer to their tested findings as complete or the only way to approach the work of an actor or the actor’s work on himself. Despite their contribution and constant search to innovate, there are those teachers that still exist today who insist that no other way could work, or that certain process can only be executed a certain way. Some teachers demand that actors must follow a certain protocol of procedure to achieve relaxation, and yet cannot conceive that any given actor may have conveniently found what works for them. We are all different and raised differently, what may work for one actor may not necessarily work for another, and who is to say that there are only but a few teachers who discovered the only ways an actor could achieve these truthful results in their work? The work and art is constantly changing and evolving, and it must evolve just the same as man evolves. Bobby Lewis praised Michael Chekhov’s view, in that “we should emulate this attitude by always trying to examine the subject undogmatically.”
By continuing this tradition of questioning the very nature of our art, let us remind ourselves to question the nature of ourselves and one another.
“Always keep nature in mind . . . Seek to be in society as much as time allows, study man “en masse,” don’t neglect even the smallest scene, and you will discover why things happen one way and not another. This living book will serve you well until we have a body of theory, which, unfortunately, our art does not yet possess. Therefore, scrutinize all classes of society without sharp prejudice toward one or the other, and you will see that there is good and evil everywhere. This will give you the ability in acting to give yourself to every society . . . Then, no matter what situations are taken from life, you will always play them truthfully. Sometimes you may play poorly, sometimes only satisfactorily, but you will play truthfully.” – Mikhail Schepkin
It is not blashpeomy or necessary to condemn an actor of “the method” if they choose to find within their own nature the playing of a part, contingent on their own natural instincts. For example, people do not constantly go to the market, and when reaching for items on the shelves perfect the way in which they control their body, nor when ordering coffee, say to themselves “I better order my coffee well, I better do a really good job ordering my coffee here.” Why must an actor follow a body of work from outside themselves, rather than trusting the nature within. This is not to say these moments of ordinary life on stage must not be played truthfully. But such strict adherence can infect the actor following his natural impulses as he would in life. Simplicity can be a good thing. It is simple to order coffee. We understand that the stage and the presence of an audience changes all of these mundane functions of our day to day monotony into sequence of unordinary. Bobby Lewis said “It would be very nice if theater people could give up, as wasteful of time and energy, the accusations of phoniness that are flung from one side to the other. The fear of being phony has become one of the phoniest things in the theater. And I would like those who call people interested in the Stanislavski, or any other method, phony, to save their energy to study their own insides.” “On the other hand, I would like to say to those who call any attempt at theatricality phony, to study their outsides and find out if their acting instrument (including speech, gesture, movement, appearance, stage charm, personality, sense of rhythm, etc.) is really developed. Is attention being paid to these aspects of the acting art with the same devotion that is given to squeezing out some feeling? And to whether or not this fine feeling that they might have is really being used to serve the particular artistic problem at hand?”
Therefore, perhaps the actor can ask questions of themselves, how they relate to the world, and those around them, understanding that these questions may penetrate more into their soul and a revealing of who they are and how such discovery can be used to reveal the character and story. This approach could serve the actor rather than a teacher who may apply technical terminilogy in how you decided to order your coffee on stage. Perhaps adherence to a particular “system” not coming from that of the actor themselves will lead them away from the organic nature that resides within them to begin with. These are tools, tried and tested that can be used as a guide for the actor in search of truth. If acting is to be living on stage, then how can someone tell you how to live your life? This is not to say an actor should irresponsibly disregard the life it is that they are needed to play. “We have learned certain laws concerning the creativeness of our nature — this is significant and precious — but we shall never be able to replace that creative naturally our stage technique, no matter how perfect it is.” Stanislavsky
Stanislavski himself said “There are scientists who find it extraordinarily easy to juggle with the word ‘subconscious’, yet whereas some of them wander off with it into the secret jungles of mysticism and utter beautiful but most unconvincing phrases about it, the others scold at them, laugh them to scorn and proceed, with great self-assurance to analyze the subconscious, set it forth as something quite prosaic, speak of it in the way we describe the functions of our lungs or livers.. The explanations are simple enough. It is only too bad they do not appeal to our heads or hearts. But there are still other learned people who offer us certain thoroughly worked out, complex hypotheses, although they admit that their premises are not yet proven or confirmed. Therefore they make no pretense of knowing the exact nature of genius, talent, the subconscious. They merely look to the future to achieve the findings they are still meditating on. This admitted lack of knowledge based on deep study, this frankness, is the outgrowth of wisdom. Such confessions arouse my confidence and convey to me a sense of the majesty of the searchings of science. To me it is the urge to attain, with the help of a sensitive heart, the unattained. And it will be attained in time. In the expectation of these new triumphs of science I have felt there was nothing for me to do except to devote my labors and energy almost exclusively to the study of Creative Nature — not to learn to create in her stead, but to seek oblique, roundabout ways to approach her, not to study inspiration as such but only to find some paths leading to it. I have discovered only a few of them, I know that there a great many more and that they will eventually be discovered by others. Nevertheless I have acquired a sum of experience in the course of long years of work and this is what I have sought to share with you. Can we count on anything more since the realm of the subconscious is still beyond our reach? I do not know of anything I can offer you: Feci quod pout—facet mealier potentes (‘I have done what I could, let him who can do better’).
Despite the findings and research that Stanislavski and Strasberg produced, some disciples of their teachings follow on a close leash, hindering the evolution of the art where their teachers admittedly did not always know which direction to head. In his time, Stanislavsky’s sentiment of ‘the realm of the subconscious is still beyond our reach’ was likely not a statement he intended to be permanently employed in the “system’s” evolution. These proponents of the craft that wish to remain in the same place are those same prisoners of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave who perceived the returning of the freed prisoner as being in a state of harm and disease, and therefore themselves chose to remain in the cave. Socrates though, urged that the freed prisoners share their excellence just as Nietzsche’s Ubermensch descended his cave-dwelling to share his overflowing wealth of knowledge with man:
“You great star, what would your happiness be had you not those for whom you shine?
“For ten years you have climbed to my cave: you would have tired of your light and of the journey had it not been for me and my eagle and my serpent.
“But we waited for you every morning, took your overflow from you, and blessed you for it.
“Behold, I am weary of my wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to receive it.
“I would give away and distribute, until the wise among men find joy once again in their folly, and the poor in their riches.
“For that I must descend to the depths, as you do in the evening when you go behind the sea and still bring light to the underworld, you overrich star.
“Like you, I must go under—go down, as is said by man, to whom I want to descend.
“So bless me then, you quiet eye that can look even upon an all-too-great happiness without envy!
“Bless the cup that wants to overflow, that the water may flow from it golden and carry everywhere the reflection of your delight.
“Behold, this cup wants to become empty again, and Zarathustra wants to become man again.”
Thus Zarathustra began to go under
This ‘realm of subconscious’ Stanislavsky referred to still exists today in a time where scientists claim that psychology remains in the dark ages. But this should not underscore or limit the incredible progress since the time of Stanislavsky or Strasberg. Perhaps it is the dedication and observation one must strictly follow that deters so many instructors from investigating the ‘realm of the subconscious’ within the actor’s instrument, albeit carefully and responsibly, to cite Stanislavsky, “What art, what perfection! Alas, how rare are actors of this kind!” Like the prisoner pained and harmed by the burning Sun, so too are those that wish to look away and turn themselves blind to the problems and evolution of the actor’s instrument. Lee Strasberg expressed “A lot of confusion has resulted from the misunderstanding of the work with the actor which I’ve described. Some charge that these issues are more properly within the sphere of the analyst, psychiatrist, or physician. The accusation has been made that this work really amounts to amateur analysis or ‘cheap’ psychiatry. It is true that often the work leads to results unrelated to acting.” … “His instrument responds not only to the demands of the actor’s will, but also to all those accumulated impulses, desires, conditioning, habits, and manners of behavior and expression. They are so automatic that the actor is not aware of them and is, therefore, unable to deal with them. The extent to which unconscious habits of thought, feeling, and behavior influence the actor during the actual process of acting still demands greater recognition and clarification.” However, rather than pursue evolving the work in this area, some instructors would rather cut the body of such great work off at the legs by refusing to at least even becoming aware of the significance in the continuing investigation of the actor’s instrument. Some of Strasberg’s students to this day wear a suit of armor in battle against employing other’s very tried techniques that reveal the specific and unique problems of a particular actor’s instrument—the very component that Strasberg strived so much to free. Perhaps they too see the ‘freed prisoner’ in pain, and Zarathustra felt he had too much honey that he needed hands outstretched to take it. Therefore, the question of such prisoners is not necessarily the distrust in those that have offerings, but in their capacity to take in more light, more honey, more life. So while it is not a question of whose reality is superior or inferior, but to the state of that particular actor’s instrument. If there are those that proclaim to teach or strive to evolve the work but not question or outstretch their hands, then hopefully their communication is limited only to the other prisoners residing with them in that cave of arrested-development. This sort of practice is not preservation but a fear of the unknown and perhaps a fear of weakness or inadequacy stemming from the not-knowing. Perhaps if we follow in the Socratic paradox, and admit that we know nothing, we may be freer to then learn more…
It was knowledge of the Forms that was considered as real knowledge, or to Socrates as “the good.” (Watt, Stephen (1997), “Introduction: The Theory of Forms (Books 5–7)”, Plato: Republic, London: Wordsworth Editions, pp. xiv–xvi) In Allegory of the Cave, Socrates professes that those with excellence must follow the highest of studies, beholding the good — and they must not remain in this state, but return to the prisoners of the cave and share their wealth. Humans are motivated to find “the good”. To Plato, knowledge did concern itself with material objects or imperfect intelligences that we encounter in our monotonous day to day lives with society, conversely, it is an investigation of nature; the purer and more perfect patterns which are the models after which all created beings are formed (Wikipedia). Another concept of “the Good” is embedded into the morality of Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange — ‘After aversion therapy, Alex behaves like a good member of society, but not by choice. His goodness is involuntary; he has become the titular clockwork orange — organic on the outside, mechanical on the inside. In the prison, after witnessing the Technique in action on Alex, the chaplain criticizes it as false, arguing that true goodness must come from within (Wikipedia). Alex’s transformation into a moral being is the flip-side of the same coin in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave; whereby Alex is trapped himself to a chair and forced to watch images that will shape his reality and who he is — which is why the chaplain deems this transformation and resulting behavior as false, it does not come from within… To be forced to adhere by or follow a system that does not come from within were the very proponents to which the ‘system’ or ‘method’ attempted to avoid, it was a system that came from within and through the organic laws of nature.
A Clockwork Orange
Eric Morris, author of No Acting Please, wrote “Stanislavsky, Strasberg, and some of the other Method pioneers dealt with the need to eliminate tension. However, there are literally dozens of other instrumental problems and conditions that stand in the way of the creative process: fear in all its shapes, insecurity, behavioral conditioning, and social obligations, to just name a few” … “Preparation, then, must relate to the human instrument with the emphasis on exercises that deal specifically with problems standing in the way of the actor’s personal truth.” Morris goes on to say, “If, for example, an actor makes a choice to stimulate an anger state and uses Sense Memory to reach the anger, the technique would be useless if the actor had, for a lifetime, been taught to deny impulses of that kind. Conditioning can be very subtle, but our parents and peers have an enormous impact on our growth. Without realizing it, we can develop inhibitions that cause us to redirect real feelings and impulses into more socially acceptable areas.”
The example Morris gives above can actually be directly correlated to a time in the Group Theater when these pioneers of the Method encountered an instrumental obstacle in one of their members and brother to Stella Adler, Luther Adler. The example can only be drawn from what Strasberg wrote and not personal witness of course as this was in the 1930’s. Strasberg wrote that “Luther Adler had been cast as a hot-tempered class-conscious stock boy who pushes his way to the top. The character was motivated by an all-encompassing anger at his class situation. Luther could not find the true emotion of his character. I told him we needed a reaction that showed his anger, but Luther had never felt a personal wrong in his life that produced such a reaction. After some work in rehearsal, I finally asked him, ‘What makes you angry?’ Luther replied, ‘When someone does something awful to someone else, I get furious.’ Luther therefore created a substitute situation in his own mind: a wrong done to someone else close to him. This allowed him to produce the character’s destructive energy.” Adler was able to achieve this state of anger truthfully according to Strasberg, but there are plenty of young and new actors who all would have their own obstacles and inhibitions in some area of the work, based on “unconscious habits of thought, feeling, and behavior” that Strasberg says “demands greater recognition and clarification.” There certainly are exercises that will cut to the heart of an actor’s anger or vulnerability and exercises to open others up to the passion and beauty of the world. But as the prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of The Cave initially only saw shadows of which they perceived true reality, it was the freed prisoner who turned his eye to the illuminating Sun and eventually was allowed to reason about such a body of illuminating essence. While this work can be recoded, theories and tools written on the pages of books, “We have learned certain laws concerning the creativeness of our nature — this is significant and precious — but we shall never be able to replace that creative naturally our stage technique, no matter how perfect it is.” Stanislavsky
Having conjectured on so much history and theory, it should be noted again that words and language can be a huge detriment to the actor following his nature, so much language is nurture. This recording is intended to “communicate” the laws of knowledge being passed down and the evolution of man and the actor, so language is needed here to convey such. But in the theater, it is intended that the actors feel rather than talk, respond rather than think, and surrender to the organic laws of man. Again, we turn to Stanislavsky to demonstrate now what cannot be demonstrated in person through expression and witness.
“One must not speak in dry scientific language with actors, and, in any case, I myself am not a man of science; I couldn’t think of doing something out of my line. My task is to speak with the actor in his own language. Not to philosophize about art, but to reveal in simple form the practical methods of psycho-technique needed by him for the artistic embodiment of inner emotional experience.”
“The method we have been studying is often called the ‘Stanislavski System.’ But this is not correct. The very power of this method lies in the fact that it was not concocted or invented by anyone. Both in spirit and in body it is a part of our organic natures. It is based on the laws of nature. The birth of a child, the growth of a tree, the creation of an artistic image are all manifestations of a kindred order. How can we come closer to this nature of creation? That has been the principle concern of my whole life. It is not possible to invent a system. We are born with it inside us, with an innate capacity for creativeness. This last is our natural necessity, therefore it would seem that we could not know how to express it except in accordance with a natural system.”