I remember back to one of my very first acting classes at George Brown Theatre School, when I was first introduced to the method of physical actions. Although, at the time, I had no idea that this concept originated with Stanislavski many years back. My acting teacher drilled this into our brains. ACTION ACTION ACTION! Everything else did not matter. We played countless improvs (and I’m not talking theatre sports- we did some pretty serious scenes) with the main goal to be affecting one another in pursuit of attaining our main objective. One as simple as two people in a room, one is going to walk out the door, and the other has to find a way to stop them. This concept of using action verbs to manipulate my scene partner blew my mind. How had I never heard about this?! It was so crystal clear when a class mate would execute this and succeed in attaining their objective. I could feel the truthfulness when I myself succeeded- and it also made it crystal clear when I didn’t.
When this method works- it works. There’s no denying it. But MAN! Sometimes it is so ridiculously hard to execute! And deep down, I think I know that I (and others) find it so challenging because of the obvious amount of persistent, diligent and organically truthful work required to put into it.
My acting teacher at theatre school was well known as being a bit of a tyrant task master. He was tough on us. He called us on our shitty acting. He called a spade a spade and I really appreciated him for that. He taught me a lot and I valued his harsh honesty. His main question always was “what are you doing?” And we’d start some lengthy explanation and he’s cut us off and say again, “no! what are you doing??? simply physically- what are you doing to them?” It was from this teacher I learnt that “variety is the spice of life”. And isn’t that true? We would be encouraged to change tactics all the time. Clear verbal actions, as many as possible to get what we wanted out of our scene partner. And when it worked, it was explosive.
“Don’t act anything- just play each action. Don’t do anything for us, do everything only for your partner. Check your partner’s reaction to judge if you are acting well.” In a way- this makes things so much simpler. All I, the actor needs to worry about is obtaining my objective, and do everything in my power to get it.
I find the task of having bubbling emotions available to me on the spot very daunting and very unrealistically achievable. The method of physical actions speaks to this concern. If you know what you are physically doing every performance, if you are playing actions, the emotions will be a by product of that. Through their logic and their sequence, one penetrates into the deepest, most complicated feelings and emotional experiences. Isn’t that true in real life too? We are actively doing something or trying not to do something when emotions start to flow. We are committed to the sincerity of the moment with all it’s stakes- and that is what moves us.
If everything I am to speak in a scene is filled with action in pursuit of achieving my objective, then technically, I’ll never have to worry about empty silences, or awkward words.
Another highly important task for actors is image work. It is our responsiblity to transmit our images clearly to our scene partners. Recently I have experienced the benefits of investigating and dissecting each and every word of a text. We have done this with our sonnets in text class- and wow- can I ever feel the difference after I’ve done the work. (And also as an audience member). The images are crystal clear. This specific detailed work takes patience and dedication. But there is a payoff at the end.
The thing I loved most about reading Stanislavski In Rehearsal was his opinion about what is talent. He says that the ability to be sincere on stage is talent. He says sincerity is the most convincing quality of our art. Anything sincerely said or done never arouses doubt. And sincerity is the charm of a person. I love that. I believe we all have something very unique to bring to the stage. We just have to get OUT OF THE WAY of all our habits, and just “be there, fuck”. (P. Lampert).
Feeling is not repeatable night after night. Physical Actions ARE. So, although it takes a mountainous amount of persistent work and constant renewal, this method of physical actions is gold for an actor. Why do we think we don’t have to practice every day like any other artist?! Who do we think we are?
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- October 5, 2009 / 11:29 pm