you gotta try this guys!

I believe Michael Chekhov contributed a very important and beneficial technique to the acting profession. The art of Psychological Gesture. This technique incorporates the imagination, body and intellect of the actor. One must transform the intellectual knowledge learned of the character’s objective and transform it through the body and voice. PG distills everything about a character- all of its objectives, feelings, and thoughts- down to its essence.

To the Actor: On the Technique of Acting is a perfect example of a text explaining a certain technique that must be put into practice to fully understand and appreciate its teachings. It’s not enough to merely read the book. It will all seem airy fairy and mystical (as the state authorities and some of his fellow actors at the Moscow Theatre believed).

Lucky for me, I have had the opportunity to put this technique into practice. If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have been able to understand the book. In fact, to be honest, there still are some parts of it that mystify me- but those seem to be the parts I have never physically experienced. I worked on Psychological Gesture at Ryerson Theatre School (I attended for the first year).  My specific experience, I recall, was incorporating the PGs into our Anton Chekhov scene study.

I was cast as Yelena, the 2nd wife of the Professor. She is terribly unhappy in her marriage,  feeling trapped and bored to death. She is young and beautiful; no match for the old fragile Professor. She lusts after the country doctor and philosopher, Astrov.

So, to begin this PG exploration, I started playing with archetypes. I experimented with many and then finally, The Goddess archetype felt right. I had an actual fully embodied gesture for this. But it couldn’t stop there; Yelena is much more complex than that! So, eventually (after many tries) I added the image of fire rising up through her. The heat and voracity of this fire was something I felt burning inside of Yelena. So, Goddess and Fire- but that wasnt enough! To go further with this gesture, I added the quality of pushing. I pushed slowly, extending my arms to either side of me, hands flexed. I did this with so much force- as if I was trapped within two steel walls, that were slowly trying to enclose me. This part of the PG embodied the feeling of being trapped. But the word ‘trapped’ doesn’t even do this justice- I believed Yelena felt suffocated. This is one of the beauties of the PG- it can express what words can’t!

In the end I had a fully developed PG: The first part was the raising of my arms above my head, the sensual feeling of Goddess, with the sensation of flames rising up through my body, then the second part of the PG was (while still holding on to the fiery Goddess I just embodied) I lowered my arms to shoulder height and pushed with all my will and strength- slowly. So slowly and painfully that I wanted to cry.

It’s funny I remember this work so vividly. I remember feeling like, “I am Yelena. I have never felt so fully embodied in a character as I do with her”. I captured her essence with this PG, and BOY! it worked! I would do this PG every time before I entered the scene. It inspired me and zeroed in my focus to Yelena’s core. It embodied her objective- which was to escape this humdrum life she felt suffocated by. Anytime I felt like I was losing her, I would do my PG and instantly be brought back. Even imaging my PG worked (if I was in the middle of a scene and could not physically do it).

I yearn to have this type of experience with every character I play. As an actor, it’s my goal to embody this woman’s soul to the best of my ability, and to be able to use my savage artist’s imagination to do this. It’s my job, as an actor, to create a complex human being: to make the character three-dimensional.

The Psychological Gesture is one of those incredible techniques for an actor to be able to put in her tool kit. I don’t believe it is the be all and end all to thorough character development, but it certainly is capable of having a profound effect on an actor who is willing to commit her imagination and body to it.



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