Acting is creating -- acting is a creative art. Imagination is the actor’s Creative Capacity. Creative imagination and capacity can work only with and from realities, from tangibles, from things. Tangibles: things, sounds, a necktie, a train whistle, a whiskey bottle, a jar of ginger snaps, a scuff on the floor, a brown coat, a blue dress, a teapot, etc. . . . ad infinitum. These are the tangibles with which imagination works, creates; these are the tangibles which start off associations, from associations, linked associations stem the subtext of our inner lives. These and our choices -- and you need to think a lot about this if you want to be great actors! What is character? The sum total of the choices we have made. To paint a picture or go to market square; to take a drink or go for a swim, to buy a Chalmers or an ice box for Sally; to go to the movies or read “War and Peace,” to visit great great Gran-maw -- think how that event determined Rufus’ life, not to mention Jay’s and everyone’s! we are the sum total of our choices -- the people you create are the sum total of their choices. The author -- a playwright -- cannot put these on paper; he can only give you the words which are the results of choices and associations with the environment which has posed the alternatives. To marry a Catholic or not -- To live in Knoxville or the Canal Zone -- To stay a mail clerk or go into law -- to be an undertaker (they get rich) or to pay the mortgage or take a little trip (Great Grandmaw’s) farm is not clear of debt -- did any of you make associations relating to that fact?)
Never again set out on the process of character creation without asking questions such as these, and without setting up the facts of environment which touch off the choices and which forever after are associated with that choice and the results of that choice. Emotional, mental and physical patterns of expression and the words we say and the things we do are the results of this process of associations. When I walked into rehearsals that Thursday morning the situation was alarming: you were saying words, doing things you had been directed to do, and playing at emotions which you thought belonged to these words and acts. In short, you were headed straight for the boring performance of a Broadway flop -- and naturally you disliked the play. (The people who dislike are following your procedure, believing the lines are the play). The lines and the stage directions are keys to character, they provide a framework, they set up the situation -- But actually they are the skeleton which the actor, through the creative process, turns into a flesh and blood living human being with a past, present and future. This author takes you back to the roots far up on the mountain, and puts five generations on stage -- a scene which was an empty things until your characters became people with emotions -- then you must have sensed how it gripped the audience, how it evoked realizations based on intangibles. When there are associations happening onstage you can rely upon it: they happen in the audience and you need not fear boredom. Remember: I had you look at tables, chairs, things and forced you to make associations: to make you see and touch, stage articles as if they belonged to certain people, had been purchased or acquired under specific conditions, so that associations started. (It is dangerous to call these memories for we have too much sentiment connected with memories and we start playing emotions.) Keep these associations true responses which evoke something, somebody, sometime, somewhere. We played, too, the question/answer identification game which showed you how little you knew about these people and how much you need to know. This metaphor game is a good one to use for note how it touches off your creative minds. Use it with any play -- not just realism. Try it on Hamlet! You may be shocked to discover how little you know about people you think you know well. In the end you gave performances of great beauty: not boring past tense performances, not harrowing “real life”, but evocative performances that were above the personal, performances with style and form that made the evening an experience in the theatre -- you achieved a psychic distance that is illumination of life in terms of art -- not life itself.
All of you reached a higher level of acting that you had achieved before. For the first time I did not think of Suzie Houstle on stage, I thought only of Aunt Sadie. Suzie was submerged in Sadie, yet Suzie the actress, steered the performance into straight, forceful communication. The same can be said of Pamela, Bambi, Jim Mennen. When I think of them today I think only of members of a family of generations of a family. Note, all of you! As the inner associations developed, as you really saw and responded to Paaw, grandmaw, etc. . . . you did less and less in overt action. The need to make points with gesticulation with emotional inflections, disappeared. You simply were, you existed, you responded, you did not try to make something happen, it happened. As a result all the scenes which might have been so harrowing were not harrowing for your being people through focus where it belonged -- not on the hideous accident and death, but on what was happening to the inner lives OF THESE PEOPLE -- of the changes, the adjustments they had to make and how they made them. You let thoughts speak louder than words, and that is the secret of good acting. (Jon: you have been asking about Chekhov. All I have written is the answer.)
This same process tempered Phil’s work. He was believable, he did not manipulate his character as usual, he did not force him to do, to feel, to communicate: he responded. Marc, too, was freed from excess tensions, he still needs to guard against excess release of tensions in emotional moment, to dam them up, to localize tension in a foot pressing hard against the ground, but we understood Ralph through his work. I believe his vulgarity was accepted by the audience which means they understood why he was vulgar and profane. Sally was believable, too. Why she was helpless was clear, why Ralph was jealous was clear, why he lashed out at her: their little unwritten drama was beautifully implied. Catherine stays in the mind as Catharine, not as Mary. She motivated beautifully Joel’s helplessness, frustration and love. The union of agnostic and Catholic was present in all its implications without being preached or made explicit. that was one of the distinguishing marks of the entire performance -- its meaning, its conflicts were ever present but were implicit -- not thrust explicitly at the audience.
Tom evoked genuine interest and concern for Jay. At the coffee table each night some one would say: “Does he die -- I hope not.” Tom plays in response, always, makes associations which add up -- from the toy dog to the whiskey bottle was inevitable, what thoughts carried him there; the associations evoked by the whiskey bottle were implicit drama. Later when we heard Mary talk about him and when Andrew and Joel talked, they were talking about a Jay we knew -- Tom had created him for us; he made valid Mary’s epitaph: “In his strength.” Tom identifies with things, present or imagined: a train goes by and he is on it, a pipe is an extension of himself, Rufus is his son, Ralph his brother. The relationships are implicit through his associations.
Shannon is on his way to doing the same kind of work of implicit inner action, of relationships. He established a beautiful tie-up with the Rufus that grows up to be a writer. Jim needs only to think a bit more of intensification for purposes of communication.
This was Marianne’s best work to date: warmer, more total than usual. Responses, direct responses to people should be carried out still farther. Marianne tends to turn them off just before they go into the following emotion or the expressive act -- moments with Hannah could have materialized farther for instance. Next year: work on voice.
Hannah: a truly superb creative performance. For the first time: genuine outgoing directness; real eye to eye, mind to mind, body to body transfers. What she was to people on stage she transferred to the audience. Nothing could go off balance with Hannah about. She did not carry out stage directions, she was Hannah doing what only Hannah could do: care for others, anticipating their needs, concerned for them and understanding all. Understand how you achieved it and start in the right direction from the beginning next time.
And it would be a good idea to apply this to “Brigadoon.” None of you have created the place, as yet, you have no relationship to it. No doubt you know there is heather, but you have not smelled it -- and it must be particularly sweet after 100 years’ sleep. And the mist -- none of you respond to it -- sea mist is different from any other -- and a mountain thunder storm -- and what about relations to each other: special friends -- or foes -- let me see implicit relationship as you look at each other. Who is the town bum? The business man? the doctor? The driver of hard bargains? Etc. -- create -- from realities. Is Galati’s wool 100% or shoddy? The Scott’s drive shrewd bargains, they know their merchandise: some evidence of this would help your character bits that have not yet developed. What do you think of the Anderson girl -- really? Is Fiona as pretty as her sister? What is your real opinion of the dancing? Ask yourselves some questions that start your creative minds going if you want a performance above the trite Broadway level.