The ultimate objective is form: communicative form. In our concentrated rehearsal period here, the only stage in the rehearsal period not concerned with form is the initial stage: improvisation for character. Even then we are concerned with the beginnings of form for we are developing character within the framework of a play. This stage of development the company understands fairly well.
Aunt Eller and the peddler were not fully realized characters but they were eventually credible. The other major characters had the ring of truth and the play-party had an authentic aura.
Dan is the weakest in this stage of an actor’s preparation. He still fails to respond spontaneously in character to situation and to people. His acting still has an I-think-this-is-the-moment-to-try-this-bit-of-action mechanics. He thinks about doing something instead of just doing in response to stimuli. But for the most part the company understands the initial stage of acting a role, even though they do not always have the capacity to create fully dimensional people. Katina gets too caught up in the emotions of character before behavior patterns and motivations are settled, and Striglos gets carried away by the excitement of acting or of the theatrical situation. But the company as a whole is weak in the final step of creation of form. It seems best, then in this critique to concentrate on the final step in the creation of form: that is -- meaning.
The excessively “method” actor, that is the-feel-the-emotion, think-the-thought, be-live-the-role actor, fights this last stage just as the mechanical technique actor (Dan) agonizes over the creative stimulus-response beginnings. But if acting is an art, then all acting must be both creative and yet formal. The aspect of this process I should like you to consider is this: at every moment the creative-artist actor must be aware of the response that he must evoke in the audience. At this moment in this sequence, I touch your heartstrings; at this moment, in this sequence, you understand why I do this; here you laugh; here you reach for a handkerchief, etc. A play is carefully constructed to do exactly this: to reveal, to interest, to delight, etc. The actors who leave this process to accident, to luck, to truth, to emotion. may have occasional stirring moments which grip the audience, or funny moments which amuse, but they have not reached the stage of superb artistry which I wrote about earlier: that artistry which gives an audience the confidence of being controlled by the performance of a team of artists who know what they are about every second, yet they are playing upon people with a spontaneity that conceals the manipulation.
In this production Robin and Vance excelled in this quality. They played with intensity, with truth, with freshness, with spontaneity; yet they knew every instant what they were doing to the audience. Robin is particularly adept at knowing exactly how long a moment can play, of exactly what is the right moment to let go with a line or a piece of business. She knows whether the response should be a chuckle, a laugh, or a signal to get ready for something. Among the farmfolk, Griswold and Nancy were particularly secure. Striglos and Katina have much to learn in this respect. Their work has delightful vitality, spirit, individuality, but they make their goals by accident, by luck, and only occasionally.
When it comes to delighting and charming an audience, Ellen wins. She evokes joy, delight, radiance. The second act love scene was beautifully played -- except Friday -- by both Ellen and Laird. It evoked exactly the right response: an awareness of the poetry of young love. In evoking a sense of tragedy, Ellen is less successful. Perhaps her sense of tragic elements is not deep enough; perhaps, however, it is a matter of achieving physical communication.
Laird’s last performance displayed an extraordinary ability to play upon an audience as he willed. When he can do this night after night, consistently, he will have achieved real mastery of his art. His progress since last year is tremendous.
Now, how this control is established. First, know, realize, that each each sequence has a definite objective to accomplish, a specific audience response is desired, must be achieved if the drama is to add up to a positive whole. But knowing is not acting. To act, to evoke, a sense of language is imperative, particularly in a drama of this sort where we are close to the origins of languages: living itself. Curly came closest to getting this richness of speech which evokes images, moods in an audience; Ellen achieved it in certain sequences, let it slip in others; Vance and Robin were consistently vivid in speech. Being aware of line construction, of speech rhythms, of lifting words and planting others -- all this is part of this audience relationship. Most important of all, however, is the kinaesthetic sense of stirring up the desired response through empathy. In life, you meet someone, you say: “I like him,” “I don’t like him,” “I’m afraid.” What tells you this? -- your muscles. Your brain may, later, supply reasons, but the first response is through the muscles. so with an audience your muscles, your movement, your physical rhythms msut evoke the response desired by you and the playwright. Robin sees the character she is to play, she sees that character in motion, doing something. Dan, with difficulty, describes a character he is playing; he may conjure up a feature or two, but the image does not come into life, does not move with sufficient vitality to make Dan’s muscles empathize. Vance’s muscles communicate.
Both Vance and Robin do a subtle thing in their acting -- Ado Annie is dumb, silly, etc. The audience sees her as such at the same time they admire the actress creating Ado Annie. Vance’s Jeeter was a hideous villain, revolting to the audience, but Vance the actor was admired. Vance and Robin are actors. Their attitude toward their work is communicated as aesthetic discipline over their material, through empathy. Ellen’s muscles are free, reasonably free, to communicate the happy emotions -- but the tragic sense, she leaves this to her mind, and it doesn’t work. Her body is not torn with fear of Jeeter, love for Curly. That empathy of tragic struggle is not touched off in the audience.
Laird has learned to let his body speak: he walks with opposition in action, he gets caught in mid-action, he stretches and he contracts -- and we say, “The audience is with him every minute; he can do what he likes with an audience.” Now: Katina and Striglos move only in angles, with little jerks, fits and starts; no muscle control. I tried to get Katina’s arms energized for pictures. It was almost impossible. She raises her arms like sticks; she walks the same way. Such movement does not evoke admiration for a hardy, hearty, vigorous, forthright woman. If you want to act, develop, first, a kinaesthetic sense, a kinaesthetic response to life, and second develop the muscles which will express that kinaesthetic sense. Develop the big expressive muscles. If it takes weightlifting, discus throwing, then lift weights and throw the discus. find the big muscles somehow. Once you have found them you can use illusion.
It is possible to play honestly, to play truthfully and at the same time to know exactly what must be happening in the audience every moment. GIRL FROM MAXIM’S”: do you know which lines are chuckles and what lines release laughs and how you play the reaction during the laugh? If you don’t, all your truth and honesty will result in confusion. Saturday night Tavonatti had perfect control over audience, lines and action. Can he do the same in GIRL?