WHAT IMPROVISATION SHOULD DO
Directing Session II, C35
FROM ALVINA KRAUSE
These are indicated by the theme of the play. They should then be formulated exactly, with how they are manifested in behavior and how strong they are determined. See if the actor can epitomize the drive of the character in one single identifyng act.
Basic needs are for the preservation of life: food, shelter, procreation. As the simplest needs are satisfied, they can be intensified to a need such as greed, possessiveness; they can be sublimated to concern for the human race, a country, etc. They can be perverted by murder, sexual perversion, etd.
In order ot understand the drivs of others, the actor must analyze his own. They may not be crystalized as yet, they may be unconscious, but every moment of the day they are being formed.
RELATIONSHIPS AND HOW EXPRESSED
Regina (from Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes) has a different relationship with each of her brothers. She respects Ben’s greed, knows its strength, knows exactly how he will work: he is a worthy opponent. She sees Oscar’s greed, has contempt for his behavior, and recognizes that his physical power is greater than his mental. She despises her husband’s “weakness”: his tolerance, kindness and humanity. She kills him when it gets in her way. Zan scarcely exists for her until the end. She is merely a thing to be used when necessary, etc.
All relationships are expressed through the eyes, sizing up, estimating, accepting, rejecting. They are expressed through the mouth, through the spine and the walk: pulls toward, pulls away from, rejection, acceptance, indifference, escape from, escape to, etc., etc.
Can the actor epitomize these relationships in dance form? In pantomimes? In rhythms? In song? What tunes, what rhythms, would express Regina’s ruthless greed, Candida’s love, Marchbank’s poetic understanding? (Shaw's Candida.)? What music would best extpress the totality of character? What beat? 3/4 time? What kind of notes?: quarter, half, whole, sixteenth?
The last step must sum up all characteristics as expressed in behavior patterns, behavior patterns which the theme of the play requires.
Have the actor improv alone in situations which require minor or major decisions in the development of behavior patterns which are daily, ordinary habits.
Then improv him with someone to show these traits active in relationship to others.
CHARACTER TRAITS AS DETERMINED BY NATIONALITY
What elements have created the Scandinavian spine, the Polish, the German, the Italian, etc. What has created the British shrug, the French, the Jewish? In the small territory of the British Isles, what caused the Irish melody, the attitudes towards law, order, government, art, religion, morals? What physical character behavior patterns have evolved? Intellectual patterns? Emotional? What conflicts result? What attiudes? What character traits? What beliefs?
Design improv situations which reveal national character traits. Discover national traits through music, dance, poetry. Improv situations in which dancing and signing are required. What rhythms of movement evolve? What spinal carriage? What hand and shoulder gestures? What do eyes and ears hear? Results? How do these people see their world? What do they see? How do they adapt? Realize?
Fail to adapt? Compromise? Fight? Escape? Effect on mind and emotions? What behavior patterns result? Physical and vocal? Gutteral? Lyric? Nasal? Soft? Loud? Speak in monosyllables? Song? Sentences? Short? Breathy? Love language? Disregard language? Conservative? Radical? Indifferent?
CHARACTER TRAITS AS DETERMINED BY THE PERIOD
Determine first the character of the period as to: Politics, Morality, Ethics, Culture, Education, Uses of Leisure, Customs, Costumes, Transportation, Occupations for both men and women. Standards of living, Class distinctions, Speech, Music, Dance.
Does your individual “go with” the period, escape it, “go against” it, fight, succumb, does he realize what it is in regard to the influences playing upon him? Is he a realist? Romantic? does he mold his own form of behavior according to his own rules? Is he a traditionalist? A rebel? A reactionary? A pioneer?
What mental traits evolve as a result of the influences? How are they expressed by voice, by acquired patterns of gesture? If cigarettes were not in vogue, what was his pattern of nonchalance?
What physical patterns, rhythms, evolved from social customs? from clothing? from warfare? from peace? from occupations?
it might be wise first to characterize a man, a woman of the period. Then do the individual man or woman in reaction to influences.
Improvise daily tasks of work, play, social situations, parties, fighting, etc. Know the actor’s objective in each and lead into a situation in the drama.
Have the actor do the five minutes before the play opens, the time between habit patterns discovered in previous work. Use dialogue.
Before the actor can be an individual in the situation created by the dramatist, he must be the individual who can be, will be, must be, involved in the action in the framework of the play.
CHARACTER TRAITS AS DETERMINED BY ECONOMIC INFLUENCES OF ENVIRONMENT
Conflicts invariably arise from lack of money or too much money. And there are resulting differences in mental, emotional and physical behavior patterns between the characters in the play.
Regina killed her husband. Why? greed. She had money, more than enough. Her father made a fortune by dishonorable means. That money failed to put Regina in the position of the Southern aristocrats. A drive to rise became intensified to a greed that destroys. Visualization of her walk, her bearing, her eyes, her mouth, hearing her laugh; seeing the world with her eyes, eyes that sent Horace to his death -- These are the things an actor must be taught to do.
Awake and Sing (Odetts) shows a Jewish famiy caught in the middle of the depression. From the young to the aged we see the effects on the family, on individuals, on famiy relationships, on ideals, on spines, on philosophies, on attitudes. What does it mean to live at subsistence level? If you had to spend all your energies on basic necessities -- food, a roof -- how would you look at, see, the man in the Cadillac or the woman in mink? Would you escape in dreams? Sublimate your hunger in religion? Patriotism? Compensate with aggressions, or remain passive? rationalize? reason? accept? hate? love? destroy? Leisure time: how does its use show economic conditioning?
Some “IFs”: The character hears an evangelist declaring the end of the world is at hand. . . In church a minister asks: If you had only 24 hours to live, how would you spend that time? What would Regina (any character) think? do?
Have the actor write up the improv, telling what changes took place within the character and how behavior concealed or otherwise expressed the change. Have him describe the rhythms of movement and speech that developed.
Have the actor find life studies of people in the same brackets as the character who have in the same manner adjusted, compensated, escaped, etc. Have him study their behavior patterns, then assume them, play them, until vicariously he becomes them. Carry everything over to the character. Repeat, until he believes in it.
** All improvs should lead into a situation in the play.
INHERITIED TENDENCIES, PHYSICAL OR OTHERWISE, AFFECTING CHARACTER
Some inheritances could be beauty, ugliness, deformity, abnormality, mental patterns. What social pressures occurred? Results: adjustment, aggression, sublimation, escape, compensation, etc.
What mental patterns were formed by the conflict between inherent traits and social pressures? How expressed? what emotional patterns? how expressed? What exterior behavior patterns? What speech patterns?
Include here: religious beliefs acquired from family, beliefs that may come in conflict with social pressures. Consider family position or practice in conflict with changing conditions.
Design improvisations in which traits first came in conflict with society. When did Cyrano first realize his nose was too large? What happened to him? What code of behavior prevailed?
Actor: Avoid playing what you would feel: your environment may not be the same. Discover what it is like to be someone else by bringing his basic traits in conflict with his world.