THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
Depression is a state which must not exist in the theatre. A book might be written on what brings people into the theatre. Of one thing we may be sure: they do not come to be depressed. A matinee audience of woman may enjoy weeping painlessly for two hours over a young girl’s sad story, and come away happy, exclaiming over their wet handkerchiefs. “The Diary of Anne Frank” could easily be this sort of drama. Ours was not that sort of production -- which is to your credit. The other danger -- that of depression -- we did not completely avoid. It was fortunate that on Tuesday and Thursday the excellence of the ensemble work, the credibility of the characterizations, the general high quality of your acting, gave the audience a measure of satisfaction which mitigated the depressing effect of the drama to some extent. On the other nights, particularly on Friday, you struck the right note, played in the right spirit. Result: the audience was moved; they felt deeply; but they were not depressed for the nature of your playing implied: this must never happen again and when an audience thinks in such active terms: must not happen again -- they are lifted above depression. On Tuesday night, you were too close (as human beings) to the tragic consequences, perhaps. You played as if you felt a weight of responsibility for what had happened that is a state that must be left behind early in rehearsals. As actors you must have the capacity to realize the serious, the tragic, the pitiful consequences. Such realization gives your work depth and purpose and direction. It is something to think about between rehearsals as you check on what you have or have not communicated. This realization is a step in setting up the framework of your acting. Have comprehended fully realized deeply trust your subconscious mind to guide you and enter fully into the lives of the characters you play. The more tragic the drama is, the more necessary it is to achieve the paradoxical: to know the tragedy, to play as if you did not know. On Thursday night, a low energy level made for depressing effect. Ironically, with a low energy level, the better the acting is, the more completely depressing the play becomes. You still need to learn that no matter what your physical condition -- or mental -- may be, you must bring vitality on stage. it must become a conditioned reflex that the instant you step on stage your voice becomes resonant, full, rich, your body tuned up to concert pitch. A keyed up organism is essential to all acting -- not a faked keying up but a state of general tonicity which can be generated truly by exercises such as I have given you. Along with it must go a mental, emotional response to acting itself as a joy; it is exhilarating, it is vital.
Your ensemble work was of such excellence that it is difficult to analyze individual performances. A general weakness in the acting and directing must be commented on first. It must receive attention immediately in forthcoming productions. In your realism, in your desire to play truthfully, to let the subtext play, you went too far and let it play out before vocalization or direct action. As result dramatic conflict became nonexistent, bogged down. Your Friday performance came alive because you responded immediately with words or action and subtext followed along behind, with, ahead. Pauses come only as the shock of climactic action. In future: top in and then emotional stop you, choke you, change you in the middle of a line or word. Realize as you speak.
Jane, in particular, needs to keep this in mind, as she also needs to observe that it isn’t every sentence that is important, but rather the whole idea which may need a whole group of sentences to express. Jane seems to think in separate sentences. I think it may be merely a bad acting habit springing from a desire to make everything important. The tendency mars work that is otherwise very fine. Russel has something of the same difficulty. His characterization was excellent; he made me forget Russel; he became Kraler. He needs to tune up his dramatic sense which keeps the current of drama surging on. Directors must be on the alert for this tendency, and stop it before habits are established. (I was trying to do this in the Saturday A.M. rehearsal of “Ondine.”) Even in early rehearsals it is imperative to keep building up. Russel has authority on stage. There is strength and economy in all that he does.
Linda, I believe, is learning assurance. There is much less “trying to be” and more being than usual. Her difficulty always comes in emotional moments. Some relics of bad acting habits still push her too hard and voice and body get out of control. As emotion grips you, Linda, let it localize in the grip of the feet on the floor, in the diaphragm which expands rather than collapses, in the straightening of the spine, in the fullness of the tone, rather than high pitch. As emotion must be vocalized, grip the floor more firmly -- and that’s all. You don’t need to try to feel -- you do feel. You don’t need to try to express -- just breathe deeply and trust the words to come out as they should.
Paula’s best work was Saturday’s performance when the need to reach a full house over rode other Paula concerns. In Paula’s mind Mrs. Van Daan had so many nuances, so many complexities. Paula wanted to express them all. She must trust in the fact that having established all of these characteristics, they will play themselves in the given circumstances. As some people have to learn to forget lines, so Paula must forget all the mannerisms, habits, thoughts she has discovered. Simply trust that they will play themselves as the situation calls for them.
Dave Zegers has learned this. I doubt that he knows how or when it happened. he probably can’t explain it, but he knows that having established what Van Daan is, what his behavior is, he can simply be Van Daan. he can trust his responses to play. The result was dynamic acting every moment. He was free -- free to respond to anything, to everything. Opposites in his character were free to play against each other: the beastly against pain, etc. His breakdown after the stealing was not as effective as it might have been, but I think now, that staging was somewhat at fault. Preferably he should have been upstage somewhere, above the table, or at the window or door. Such an outburst needs a physical object on which emotion can be spent. At all other moments Van Daan’s behavior was inevitable, rooted in character, motivated by situation, relationships were realized. And on our “slow” nights Dave’s vitality saved many a moment.
Roberts, too, established and played relationships. There was development and change achieved unobtrustively. When he arrived at “just crazy” it was logical, inevitable, it added up. He still has things to learn about timing and pointing, but he is arriving at such knowledge in a logical way. Techniques and realism are developing together. He is achieving good acting without striving for it. The scenes in his room with Anne was simply played without any striving for simplicity. As he is learning techniques he is also learning to conceal them.
Miep became more and more convincing as she took part in the scene changes as concentrating on ordinary tasks gave her practicality, scope. Though absent from the main action she became part of the whole.
Tom’s Dussel is a little difficult to evaluate. It was a complete characterization; it was well played; it offered relief and contrast; except for certain moments of too long delayed response, the comedy was well played. His performance was vital and consistent. Yet, in some way, I felt that Tom was too outside his character, commenting on him as he played him. In another framework, Shaw, for example, this would have been acceptable but in the realistic framework Tom needs to submerge self a little more in character. There were many moments when he did it -- usually the moments when the acting was completely serious. Tom’s comedy is excellent; his realism is not quite complete enough to conceal it. For example, not as complete as Claris’ realistic comedy after the kiss which was beautiful comedy within the realistic framework. It sprang from Claris’ complete assimilation of character traits to the extent that one could not tell what was Claris and what was Anne.
We can remember when Claris and Anne seemed to have little more than youth in common and when Claris was trying to use behavior patterns not her own, how she had to concentrate on exterior techniques of communication. In the end, all were assimilated into a whole: Anne. Claris plays with a wonderful totality; she believes in everything she sees; she has a radiance on stage that is compelling, moving. I spoke of her comedy which was delightful when it was character response to situation. She has difficulty with comedy inherent in lines. She needs to learn to get surprise as the ending of a line, to use contrasts of tone, of timing, to toss off part of a line after creating suspense as to the ending. Her vocalization of a line does not give play to her own imaginative creation behind the line. Tune your ear to vocal techniques of comedy.
Creation of Mr. Frank was perhaps more difficult for Dave had to play an age different from his own and play it straight so it might seem truly that he was 50 plus. Davie, like Claris, has remarkable ability in assimilation of traits. He has learned to respond without thinking or planning how to respond. He interprets, illuminates the play without seeming to so. His pointing of meaning grows out of involvement in chracter situation. Dave, the interpreter, does a good job of steering the character he plays to the dramatic ojbective. Dave needs to acquire more confidence in his ability to intensify and extensify sufficiently to reach a large auditorium. He tends to strain when faced with the need to reach a large auditorium. it’s merely a matter of spatial relationships. Put the fourth wall at the back of the auditorium rather than the proscenium. Extensify your thinking to those proportions and feel confident that your thought can fill that space. Intensification will naturally follow if your work has been sound. Most members of a company need to think in terms of this spatial relationship. What you do, say, think, feel must fill an auditorium without strain. Sense how long it takes a thought to travel to the balcony or a word to hit the back wall. The very act of sensing this will touch off the process of intensification needed.