In our lifetimes -- long or short -- we can scarcely say we know ourselves. We may explain our behavior in various ways, we may seek reasons, find excuses, but rare is the person who can truthfully say: “I know myself.” If years of living with ourselves provides only partial answers to who or what or why am I, how can you dare to become someone else, in the space of a few weeks, a few hours, with only a few lines, a few words as ground work. Yet several of you seem to believe that you can create character, that you can become another human being by mouthing words and moving according to directions, that personality goes no deeper than the words we speak and moving on cue. Such egotism can well be the death of an actor for it will lead to shallow, superficial, one-dimensional, character creations: bastards -- neither you nor yet anyone else, illegitimates. A dramatist can only give you the words his people speak, a descriptive phrase or two about behavior and from this an actor’s mind takes off to discover what pattern of living has produced this man, this woman. We are the sum total of our experiences.
To create you, an actor would need to know what experiences have made you what you are, how you met those experiences, how you adjusted to them, or failed to adjust, etc. . .etc. . . ad infinitum. the next time you are tempted to go into rehearsal not even knowing the lines to be spoken, much less the years of living which have made these lines inevitable at this moment, what era had put its stamp on personality, what the basic issues of that life are within the author’s framework, ask yourself what an actor would have to know to experience, to understand, if he were to play you in a play about your life. The finest actors, those who rise above the ordinary, the mediocre, the average, those who have manifestations of greatness, are people of humility before the challenge of creating human beings. Even with a background of percentage experience, of reading, of study, of observation, of thought, the task is a colossal one not to be undertaken casually as one tries on new garments, rejecting until an exterior is found pleasing. (Even a coat has to be worn months before it is you!)
The truth is -- the truth we have avoided for three weeks -- that you came to Barrie empty. Emptiness was the answer to all my questions. Actors -- and director -- empty, hollow. Nothing to touch off, nothing to ignite. You can fill an empty bottle with some kind of liquid, but how can you fill an empty actor -- twenty of them -- with the substance that is the life of the character, the spine of personality? Imagination can only work with realities: images, perceptions, stored-up materials; you can’t start a fire with nothing at all. A director can work only with what an actor brings. Next time you try out for a play, start rehearsals, ask what do you bring? What do you have the capacity to bring?
The characters of “Crichton” are not complex: no strange deviations, no neuroses to untangle, no mixture of racial characteristics, of economic involvements: just English men and women with recognizable British traits: but human beings who think and feel and have inner lives of their own, different from all other inner lives. Every character you play must have a subtext, a line of thinking behind all behavior. There is a line of thought that goes into words, another that is never expressed in words, another that will be expressed in the future. These must be present all of the time. With the exception of Tweeny, Agatha and Kitty and occasionally Crichton, there was no evidence of levels except the one that went into words. And so you were shells of people, exteriors of something that had no perspective, flat one-dimensional pictures that cannot exist offstage. If roles are well-played, we go away expecting to meet these people again, on the street. We think of them living their lives continually. Tweeny is the only person I feel I know, that I could meet in England, chat with if I do meet her. Crichton, the butler, I might know; Crichton the man, no. He never came into real being. He spoke the ideas of Barrie, but he was not the man Barrie created: he remained an actor playing a role.
Techniques finally pulled the show together but your techniques are shaky and techniques will never produce Barrie’s people. Of course, you had difficulty topping and linking because you had no thoughts which were linking and flowing. Of course you had difficulty with comedy because comedy springs from so many levels of thought and feeling. The Crichton-Polly love scene, the Brocky-Mary confession could not possibly come off because the thinking was shallow, was one level -- nothing amusing, or moving could happen.
Judy learned a great deal about acting, but she is not yet able to create character. Mary’s world had not come into actuality for her. Judy knew about this world, she did not exist in it; she did not follow the B43 process of character creation. And so, my after-image of Mary is a beautiful girl, and then a beautiful Tom-boy, and no more. Bob knew Crichton and Barrie well, but he did not become the man; the characteristics he knew about, he did not convert into internal thinking patterns, he did not assimilate these characteristic emotions. The last stage of the character creation process never happened: belief in the whole. And so the end of Sc.3 and Sc.4 were stage devices that left us cold. No tug at the heart strings as Barrie should have.
Jeff’s Brocky was totally empty. Jeff apparently has stored up nothing from which he could work -- no ideas, no impressions, no images to use as building material. A director cannot provide you with an inner store -- he can only touch off what is there. Even the outer resemblance was wrong and meaningless. Jeff looked shoddy -- it wasn’t the clothes his wore, it was his failure to create the Britisher’s attitude toward clothing and appearance. A Britisher dresses for dinner even in the jungle -- whether he has a change of clothing or not: he dresses for dinner. It’s an ingrained way of living, a way of thinking that your shell of a Brocklehurst did not possess: a fastidiousness toward self and clothing and the world: he could appear to be dressed for dinner in rags as Charlie Chaplin’s tramp in tattered, oversized garments had -- the fastidious sense of gentlemen. These qualities are expressed by exterior patterns of behavior, but they spring from within. Jeff -- and others -- tried for the exteriors, particularly of speech, with no idea of the cause, the motivation for the exterior. And it came out as ridiculous posturing and made the 4th scene completely impossible to do. Jeff, before you can act, you will need to do much reading, observing, thinking, and understanding on the subject of human beings and why they are as they are, do the things they do, say the things they do. Store up materials which you and a director can use.
For instance, Vance’s entrance in Sc. 1 -- a brief moment, but a person was created: out of a Dickens novel or film. It wasn’t what he did -- you all brought on “bits,” but his bit cast a light on a whole below-stairs way of life. I don’t know what Vance drew upon: reading or observation or imagination -- but it was a second of reality. Susan Houstle created a definite image, too. She did not develop it sufficiently, but it had a reality which took stage. The rest of you had to be satisfied with “bits” which directors in turn had to settle for in order to save the act from boredom. The three maids would have been fired from a British household -- study your British movies.
Ernest, too, was made up of generalities, mannerisms, vocal sounds which had no roots. I fear Phil tends to work from generalities -- as do many of you. You must be able to see the person you play projected like a movie before you. You should be able not only to see him there, but to hear him and understand why he is as he is. If you can’t do this, you are playing from emptiness and from emptiness comes emptiness. Effective techniques may partially conceal the vacuum, but we discovered that your techniques are extremely shaky. Bright tones were a necessity to cover other lacks, but Phil and others cannot produce them consistently. And Phil -- and others -- have not yet learned how to terminate a sequence with a flat, tossed-off understatement.
Chris did a good job of most of his pointing and a good job of suggesting the healthy, outdoor, cricket-playing curate.
Reimold is at the unhappy stage of trying to learn inner and outer techniques all in one lump. He knows what he wants to do with the outer techniques, but since he has not yet assimilated them, he works too hard at it and evidence of work always ruins the effect. For the inner ones: he thinks of how Lord Loam looks at things, of what he does and says instead of letting Lord Loam taking possession of Reimold to the extent Reimold never had to think of what to say or do, that an inner line of action is set up, thought occur involuntarily; they flow into words and action. It’s an unhappy, uncomfortable state to be in -- Judy is there, too -- to know enough to know that you are wrong but not yet to have discovered the remedy -- which is not easy to give in one lesson: to see from the eyes and viewpoint of another person -- not to try to see, but to see, hear, respond. Not to try to respond in the manner of someone else, but simply to do it as you yourselves hear, see, smell, respond. Judy has B43 to draw upon; Rich will have to discover it, perhaps through watching others.
Marianne was effective because she is vital and her techniques are fairly secure -- not quite secure enough to conceal the fact that Marianne did not really know why this woman is as she is. Consequently there are moments that went dead because there was little inner triple-thinking. You have the capacity for illuminating character, Marianne; don’t be content with shallowness even when it gets laughs.
Ellen has some good moments of double thinking. Her role needed heightening: it was too near the miniature stage when it should have been more than life-size. Kate was probably the most Barrie and the most British being on stage and she played with Barrie delight. She was British, she was also Barrie poking fun a little of the British.
Tweeny was perfection. I do not know what Nancy draws upon but you feel she has a whole treasure house of images stored up just waiting to be tapped. Words on a page, a director’s suggestion, and a whole new world opens. Note how secure Nancy was in her image of the role from the beginning. Visual, auditory, vocal, action images were concrete. It isn’t that she saw herself doing Tweeny: she saw/heard Tweeny so strongly that empathetically she had to become her. There was no fumbling in that role, no changing traits: she had her design, her blueprint. The role grew, developed as rehearsals progressed, as the situations developed, but the original conception was so true. Why? Because Nancy has stored up the materials with which imagination can work.
The next time you approach a play whose author you do not know, read other things he has written, read what has been written about him, discover the world he was writing about, find out why he was loved -- in short: identify with his people and his world. Every night we met people who had come to this one play of the whole season because they loved Barrie. Our audiences were amused and entertained, but they did not depart in that glow of delight which is J. M. Barrie.