AK OUTLINE OF BASIC ACTING COURSE, SPRING QUARTER ('60-'61)
OUTLINE OF BASIC ACTING COURSE --
SPRING QUARTER (1960-1961)
1. To give students the experience of developing a characterization for a play and presenting its component parts onstage so as to communicate to spectators what the author wanted them to know about that character; to follow through on the actor’s Creative Process in connection with one role.
2. To acquaint students with the concepts which underlie the acting of comedy and to develop some techniques used in acting Comedy.
1. To continue development of everything else the student has been working on during the year. See outlines of previous quarters.
SOME CONCEPTS TO EMERGE FROM CLASSWORK:
1. Comedy of character results from opposite elements (incongruities) in a person’s makeup coming into evidence; the actor must dramatize the opposites, throw focus onto them, play them off against each other so as to evoke laughter.
2. Sample opposites would include: Prossy’s primness, efficiency, capability being upset by Marchbank’s reference to “love”, so that we see the real woman underneath; Prossy after a glass of champagne lets us see her two selves; a person who has a relaxed body and voice, but who uses “intense” language, is manifesting an opposite; a person wanting to help out in some way, but making a mess of things, etc.
3. Drama is the one thing coming in conflict with another; you can have comedy that is very close to pathos -- and this is the finest kind.
4. In comedy things are often in excess: there is too much excitement, too much intensity, too much eagerness, too much casualness, or something in relation to what is doing on, in relation to the other stimuli. (Athene Seyler’s idea that comedy depends upon the audience recognizing a “norm” of behavior from which the character in some way deviates.)
5. Actors must avoid doing too many different things, adding little extra wiggles and embellishments and the like, which distract the audience from seeing and hearing what is significant.
6. When comedy results from the situation, you are in the realm of farce; comedy of character is something else.
7. Opposites can be played simultaneously, or alternatingly; one can come in and cut off the other; actors: use arrests, realization!
8. In verbal comedy, lines have to be “landed”, to be made to hit out front and connect with the spectator.
9. Comedy acting -- or any acting -- will lack freshness if you just do a sequence of planned things without responding to the stimuli which touch off responses and actions. Avoid breaking lines up too much, or speaking too slowly.
10. Play reactions of surprise to the hilt.
11. Everything you wear and do must have a purpose, must make a statement to the audience; you must not offend us, for when we are offended, we will not laugh.
12. Before studying a role, the actor must study the play itself; ask: what is the author’s purpose in writing the play; since it is theatre, it is to entertain -- through laughter, through the exaltation of tragedy, or through enlightenment and making people think; a few dramatists want the audience to do something, like fight for the brotherhood of man. State in a word or phrase the subject matter of the play. Then state the theme of the play, which is always a comment on the subject. Theme must determine everything you do.
13. Too often actors deliver a line and then stop as if they wanted the other actor to go on. This looks false. Hence, the need for something else to concentrate on, something for the mind to be occuped with, for a divided focus, something else to go on reacting to.
14. Comedy of character is based on real character traits and does not make fun of people, does not caricature.
15. The dominant drive of a character can be summarized in a “psychological action”. Watch the eyes of people to see what their goals are; if they tend to put on a complete mask, watch their mouths.
16. You can’t just create a character; the character has to be part of an organic whole.
17. You illuminate a theme by finding your position in relation to it; then the audience adds it all up.
18. Be careful you don’t work to create the mood you think exists; do what the characters do for the reasons they do them and let the audience create the mood from this.
19. Voice and movement are an outer manifestation of something: curiosity, wonder, etc.
20. Improvisation has as its goal (or as one of them) creating the inner life of a character -- the many-leveled thinking that goes on; if words come out, they are only part of it.
21. In acting, start with essences, don’t act the “buts,” at least at first.
22. Remember that drama takes up near crises, moves towards crises; don’t key things too low, or you won’t get to the crises; intensify the conflicts; intensification is an imaginative process; make distances bigger.
23. Drama lies in the moments of transition.
24. Creation is creation of stimuli.
25. To stimulate imagination in connection with characterization, find the metaphor for your character and present it in fantasy form.
26. Bodies must reveal what is going on inside the person; you are faking if your bodies don’t reveal anything; start with a character’s spine.
27. The discovery that comes from analysis must lead into kinesthetic responses in your body.
There are two strong memories I have of the work along these lines. One was a character AK loved to play -- a runt of a belligerent Irishman, three sheets to the wind with his dukes up ready to punch out some offender. But wait, it’s necessary to find someone to hold his coat. Wouldn’t want to dirty his coat. The woman would be angry. “Now I’m going to knock your block off and you’ll rue the day . . . but first I’m that thirsty, I’ve got to have another beer!” She’d dance in and out, feinting at the shoulder of her victim and then backpedaling away, stopping to roll her sleeves up a little farther, thumbing "his" nose to look fierce, never really doing more than shadow boxing, the little banty rooster of a man’s intentions of aggression entirely undercut by his actual ineffectuality.
The other was a little game that Paula Ragusa/Prentiss used to play as an improv. She had invited the local parson to tea. She herself was an ever-so-proper but rather mischievous old lady who fully intended to put a spider into Rev. Applebaum’s tea. What a delightful thought! But one must not give away one’s intentions, so “Lemon in your tea, Reverend?” Maybe the spider could just be slipped in under . . .
This list looks less like a course outline than a compendium of remarks made in class. I suspect Weldon.
1. To acquaint students with the nature of Imagination; to show them how Imagination may be stimulated and developed and used in Acting; to begin mastery of the use of Imagination. Principle teaching device: the Fantasy Exercise based on three words, to be found in Modern Acting: A Manual.
2. To acquaint students with concepts of Thought Between Lines (Sub-text); Multi-level Awareness and Response; Interplay; Transfer of Thought and Emotion; Playing from Moment to Moment; Recognizing Climaxes (the exact moment of transfer or change) in Scenes; Realizations; the Use of Metaphors in Acting. To develop skill in the use of this knowledge.
3. To acquaint students with the nature of the Vicarious Experience; to show them how vicarious experiences derived from reading and observation may be utilized in acting. Principal teaching device: The semester-long study by each student of a character from a good novel of character, and the presentation by the students of a series of improvisations and situations from the novel. The students’ objectives in this work are (1) to make the audience believe he is the character and (2) to love himself in the role. The written Journal and weekly laboratory exercises continue to supplement the classwork.
1. To continue the work of the first quarter, the comprehension and use of Concentration, Observation, the Visual Sense, the Auditory Sense, the Taste and Gustatory Senses, the Kinesthetic Sense; of Sense Memory; of Memory for Experience; on insight into the reasons for human behavior; of insight into the nature of what is “dramatic” and “theatrical;” the use of body and voice in acting; of improvisational techniques; of the discipline and ethics required of theatre workers; of insight into play construction; of Truth in Acting; of the influence of environment on people; of how to show Reality onstage; of how to communicate with audiences and control one’s work; on allowing analysis to move into the realm of action; of theatre and acting terminology.
SOME CONCEPTS TO EMERGE FROM THE CLASSWORK:
1. Imagination is the actor’s creative faculty; it involves using what the actor has observed, knows of himself and others, and has experienced -- is the faculty which selects, recombines, intensifies what we have in us to work with.
2. Belief in whatever is created by the actor as truth also stems from the imagination.
3. The ability to visualize completely the appearance of a character comes from the use of the imagination.
4. Fantasy exercises get the imagination going; fantasy takes up where experience leaves off.
5. There must be continuity in acting, as there is in life; bad theatrical performances have “gaps” in them.
6. It is possible to analyze inanimate objects (like the lectern in the auditorium, or a brace of pistols, or a Greek column) to see what qualities these objects possess -- qualities which could be carried over into a person if that person were “like” the object; this is how metaphors are used in acting. The kinesthetic observation of objects can be done without even having to think.
7. An audience must never be in the dark about what you are doing onstage; give one positive cue after another that will add up tomeaning.
8. You establish an environment (in a fantasy, say) by doing single things; there has to be an arrest, a focus, on the first significant thing you do; when you sense that the audience begins to “see,” you add the new cue on top of the old one; the first thing you do onstage is especially important; acting is a process of supplying details that will “add up” for the audience -- it is a process of funding.
9. There must be no vagueness onstage; in performing a fantasy, tell your audience when the “curtain” is going up; every movement must have a beginning, middle, end.
10. If, in a fantasy, you are going to twinkle like a star, first you must find the way to establish the idea of your being a star in space before you twinkle; if the star is to “turn human,” the audience has to be able to watch the evolution from object to being. Never assume that an audience can read your mind; give them what they need to know to comprehend.
11. Along with doing things one at a time, each detail must be sustained long enough for the audience to focus on it; often an actor can create suspense: we may not know at first what he is or what he is doing, but it will be done with such intensity that it will compel our attention and make us watch intently for the cue that will tell us.
12. When an audience becomes aware of an incongruity (say between an intense body position of a performer and his wide-open, innocent eyes) it may laugh. Comedy depends upon the dramatization of such “opposites.”
13. To help carry off a Transfer, the players must concentrate on their characters’ purposes, must have goals to play toward.
14. Playing together results in a scene which seems natural, true, inevitable in its development; too many actors try to manipulatesituations, scenes. Response to one another, to what you see and hear, makes for interplay.
15. Onstage, the flow of thought continues all the time; when it comes up against a problem, words may stop for a moment, but not the drama of the situation.
16. In rehearsal, use the most real props you can; the handling of them has something to do with the truthfulness of responses.
[THERE’S A MISSING PAGE HERE. I’LL SEE IF I CAN TRACE IT. I'm not entirely sure whether this is from the Van Meter notes or the Bleiler notes or even possibly something that AK composed for the administration. But it rings true.]
31. Sample questions asked of students working on characters from novels, questions designed to steer their thinking and to touch off visualizations, the use of their imagination, etc.; What kind of tables are going to be in her (Emma Bovary) life? What does she want? Where do we want things? Why does the author call her EmmaBovary? . . . Anna Karenina sits on a “settee.” We should begin to sense the road she will travel the moment we see her . . . “Emma!” What does she hear when her husband calls her? . . . Kathy is outside? Think of the title: Wuthering Heights; What kind of heights? What’s the word? Shout it! Name should tear her in the vitals. What’s the wind like? Show us! Too much face; how do you walk against the wind? Heights: it’s on top; barren; stark; covered with mist; you can see valleys below; a particular place for her is a crag; get the joy of conquering; etc.
32. Surround your character with the little things that make up his world; it’s our responses to our environment which makes us what we are.
33. Test for how well performer may be doing with his improvisation of a character from a novel: do you begin to see the character, rather than the actor? An hour from now will you remember the character? Have people onstage begun to change? To what extent have they changed? Has your thinking changed? Have you done something different physically? Everything around you -- objects, noises, aromas, etc. -- part of your new subtext.
34. “If --” is a good starting point . . . “If my father is --,” “If I lived in --”, etc.
35. To get at characters: do the things they do -- their work; go for their walks; develop their attitudes toward everything in their lives; dosomething.
36. A goal of acting: to show three-dimensional people emerging from a background.
As I type this material I am 75 and fairly widely read, so naturally much more strikes me than did when I was 18 and only read novels. One thing I note (maybe I read it somewhere) is how much AK comes back and back to the Elizabethans and the Greeks as epitomizing what it is to be free and alive. Other writers have noted this. In the Sixties, just before the cultural renaissance called New Age (if you accept that characterization), American culture was celebratory. We had won WWII, we all owned cars and houses -- but it was unseemly to show off our conviction that we were a “peak culture,” so we implied it by associating ourselves with two other periods that were grand and cultured.
Now, of course, we are looking at the end of things, diminishment, confusion, and want to think about neanderthals and the end of the Roman Empire as well as the end of the English empire. It’s a playwright’s problem, but also one for the actors. Perhaps AK is so fond of Ibsen and Chekov because they are critical and see “modern” as not so fail-safe. But my high school teachers in the Fifties also held up Elizabethans and Greeks as exemplars. Were the Sixties and Seventies an attempt to return to those periods in some way?
The point for an acting teacher is that a sound knowledge of culture and history is vital. How did AK come by her opinions of how people did things long ago?
V. GUSTATORY AND OLFACTORY SENSES
Can be put together but are separate. Gustatory is in tastebuds in tip and sides of tongue, but there is also a response in the stomach. Other sense is in the nose. These are two senses that have become dull -- very. [Sometime I wonder how much of what AK thinks is true of the society is in fact her own self projected. She is aging, thus her senses become more dull.]
Begin acting by asking why is this character in the play, why is this scene in the play. One Foot in America (opening U.T. show of this season) is filled with eating scenes. How you eat, your response to food, is you. One Foot is folk drama -- delineates a folk through their love-making, hatreds, etc., exists to reveal a people. We saw a group of people onstage acting -- sitting around a table and doing what? Why does your mouth water at the thought of food? . . . Once there was a reason for a prayer before a meal; when our attitude toward food changed, the prayer went. AK recollects a man who smiled at food, another man who thought a baked potato was “beautiful.” Comments on how long a novelist takes to describe about food, eating, etc. which we can show in an instant onstage. She refers to other eating scenes in Studio Theatre plays class has seen: Sicilian Limes,Demi-Monde; recollects her first French breakfast: “Ze butter is in ze roll!” an article in the New Yorker about a restauranteur who goes around tasting food, asks class to distinguish between a gourmet and a gourmand.
Eating reveals national characteristics. In the last scene of R.U.R. there are people in tails after dinner drinking brandy -- have reached the highest level of sophistication, but only one man onstage recalls how to handle a brandy glass. If you have a drink to handle onstage, know what it must tell. You say you can’t eat and talk? People do it. The way you size up your plate (or don’t), put in the first fork-ful, etc. all reveal something about us. Think of your favorite food; what happens? Your mouth begins to water. Think of Falstaff. He tastes beer before he’s got it. Where does he want food? Elizabethans were very open about it. You can’t fake these things onstage, can’t “play an attitude.” What do you get in an animal? It’s a necessity to have food. When he has enough he quits. Eating scenes provide dramatists with one of the best ways to show family and social relationships. Noel Coward went to the cocktail set for his material; a whole era was caught and on top of it are the clever, brittle lines. Do you know the mark of your own eating? What epitomizes you? What food?
One girl says German beer is her favorite. Not just beer, but German beer -- she’s gone up in the scale of discrimination; the girl explains why and comes alive as she talks about drinking the beer in particular surroundings with particular friends under particular circumstances; she describes the taste, color, richness, glass it is served in, where you go for it, etc. and almost makes a stein of it materialize. The stein itself is an expression of part of the German temperament -- German word for “friendship” mentioned, for love they can be very sentimental -- can weep, sing, be warm, you belong, you are welcome in their little places. . .
Do you know spices? The names of them perhaps, but do you really known the essentials of them? Acting is illusion; that’s why we’re training your senses -- so that you can turn stage oatmeal into -- ?
Critique of a student’s efforts to reproduce someone’s drinking: Give me a character sketch of him? What do you know about him? A professional gambler? (He was throwing dice and drinking.) Why do you use the label “professional”? It looked kind of amateurish. Was it whisky? How do you know it was whisky? You mean you didn’t know what he was drinking? Was he rich, poor, in between? What sort of place was he in? Was he a heavy drinker? A light drinker? We ought to know a great deal about him by the end. What size glass was it? What are his eyes like? What makes him sit there for a long time between drinks? WHY? HOW DO YOU KNOW? AK says, “I’m still asking why.”
Critiques of other eating scenes: Class are giving situations rather than character responses to food. . . AK wants to know what a character’s attitude toward food is . . . What role you would identify the character with -- Juliet? Hedda? Clytemnestra? it should be possible to take the character into some other situation once his or her eating habits have been established. . . One student seems to be acting anyyoung girl, to be acting attitudes; each person is a unique being in a specific situation: look at her head, feet, eyes, etc. From the cigarette exercise onward you’ve been looking for the why of behavior.
Critique of an exercise in which a boy attempts to create an Elizabethan: you’re faking. The listening was inadequate, the voice was wrong. Now you’re really listening (to the critique!) Before you didn’t hear. No, you’re going through planned sequences. You were a little modern man rather than an Elizabethan with curiosity, wonder, love of life. If you wore tights all the time you would be free, and you would show your legs to advantage. We see something prissy. Where’s your weapon? How do you know you’re not going to be attacked? Murders occurred in broad daylight as well as at night . . . Create an Elizabethan who might be in Shakespeare’s plays. Before you weren’t alert; you’re a little alert now; London must be full of smells, etc. He talks about there being “garbage” around; is that all there is in the room? He is “attacked” by another student who has been hiding in the shadows. There’s always something going on around you. Student look up several details on Elizabethan life, but made the mistake of stopping there. Put into action the child’s principle: “IF I wore tights -- IF I lived in dangerous times -- IF I were a man and wore a necklace -- IF I wore a ruff.” Pictures? What did you see in the pictures? Hands must be ready to draw weapon, but must not touch weapon unless someone else draws. Protect the vital parts of the body -- where the organs are. In this era of Elizabeth you doneed to to be prepared. No “buts!” something has to transform you or else it does no good to read dozens of books. I’m giving you what is typical. . .
Critiques of other Elizabethans: Did she have a quality of open-eyed wonder? Why did she walk sideways, crab-like? Only crab-like people walk sideways. Where’s your big skirt? Twirl it, kick it out of the way. Arms being out away from body at the beginning was good, but don’t let them get stuck there. Don’t get so close to a chair as you approach in your voluminous skirt; some women wore farthingales, but not all. How much do skirts weigh? Feel resistance against them with pleasure.
To a boy acting the death of Christopher Marlowe: You are giving us an elaborate “plot.” You must achieve a much stronger walk; sitting needs more room; never let yourself get squeezed up against furniture regardless of what the play is. Handle the cloak easily; experiment with possible ways to dispose cape around you. Now feel the weight of the cape and enjoy the movement of swinging it; these people haveenergy. Don’t swing your weight from side to side. Keep a pull upward; work on stopping the middle of a strong step. Let all parts of body “follow through” on a movement. Exercises tried to get strength and suppleness and follow-thru.
Girl dressing herself before a mirror: her happiness was excessive to the motivation; no reason for being so happy. What was she, anyway? I’m going to say she was a high school girl doing her first costume show. Were you an Elizabethan? assignment was to get an Elizabethan body responding. To another girl: You’d be carried out of court for a little bow like that. The bow goes down and under, with nothing sticking out. Circle around rather than pivot; the skirt must follow you. Feel the skirts; where’s the pull felt? What about her step? What’s inconsistent? It’s little and tiny. Women, too, must take long steps to get somewhere. Do exercises; enjoy them. Everything (parts of body) needs to be in alignment; bodies “resent” an off-balance position . . .
To students attempting to be Romeo and Mercutio: you aren’t holding our attention; if you can’t hold attention something is very wrong. Mercutio should be the best swordsman in Verona. He is not an animal but an element: quicksilver! Moves quickly, all in a piece.
To another girl: leap, leap for the joy of it; walk; leap; reach for something -- a star, a man, anything! Elizabethans have so much to reach for they can’t choose. The Queen is coming! The Earl of Leicester! A musician! Strange animals! Strange people! . . .
To another girl: Nothing really Elizabethan in her portrayal of a Catholic woman at a shrine. Her religious feeling would be very intense, because she’s had to take sides, or evade the state’s decree. The worship business restrains you; try being at a theatre with a mask on, in a world of intrigue; skirt must have weight, a concealing cape; enjoy it! What play is it? Why are you there? . . .
To another girl: Movement actually suggests a dainty delicate person! Be Juliet running to meet the Nurse, with the “why” of Nurse bringing Romeo’s first message. Running on tiptoe to life. What is life to a young girl in love for the very first time -- and with a Romeo! What does the sky look like? The grounds? The trees? She wants to take it all in! Don’t think about it -- feel and sense it all. Make one good run across the stage and stop; good because it had suspense in it.
Side comment to girl who “doesn’t feel like it” when it comes to doing a scene: What do you do if the curtain is going up in five minutes and you’re scheduled to play Juliet? What do you do? Never let an audience down: never, never, never. The rule of the theatre is: the show must go on. If you aren’t there, that’s the end.
Other Elizabethan: You’re acting attitudes. There was no reason for picking up that skirt. It is stupid to walk in straight lines; your clothes wouldn’t follow you; you must go in circles. How many petticoats do you have? Many. Don’t tell me, feel them. It is nothing to intellectualize: you must be kinesthetic, not mental.
Actor showing Krapp’s response to banana -- and other stimuli. Everything was “more than clear.” What dimension did performer add? Delight. A man who knows how to get what he wants out of a watch, a banana, etc. who has the delightful recognition that everything is “working as it should,” that the watch is running, that the banana tastes as it should, etc. His joints had to be manipulated as a result of extreme age. Everything he did was beautiful. What did you learn? -- that what the author gives him has to be motivated.
Critique of actress setting table: Class is asked to give a biography of the character they have just seen. Why does she do it this way? She did each thing one at a time. Finished one thing absolutely, then took up the next. Tiredness without martyrdom was clear. She realistically checked everything. Woman seemed older than student actress because she had a “settled” quality of middle age.
Same student as Kate the Shrew: Let’s see her express joy in living. You have so much energy it has to be expended somehow -- in climbing to the sun, in choking a man, etc. Cry out; leap; run. Now pick up that little lute, used to sing insipid songs to Bianca. (Movement is too inhibited.) Get on a horse. Swing up! Get on a bike. Two men go onstage to “tame” her -- real men, not Bianca men. (Now actress feels “just great.”) Her society is is trying to make her conform to being a Bianca -- she replies by being the opposite. Then she meets Petruchio and falls in love with him. Recognize first that hedares, then respond. . .
Critique of boy presenting a character study observed from life: Everything onstage tells a story: tell me a story here. You saw a timid little man absorbed in his paper and less in his food? If you were writing a play, how would you use him? This is character study. I’m not interested in plot. One person eats at a particular time -- so, when it gets to be that time, he eats; is this the man you saw? He felt he had to read the paper? What page did he read? Was that the actor or was that the man observed? “He reads the comic section first?" Howdoes he read the comic section; why does he read it first? Does he laugh inside? Does so because it doesn’t take any concentration? Because he doesn’t feel like plunging into world affairs or high finance? Because comics provide a certain positive thing that comes up day after day -- provide a kind of safety, certainty, security. What did the eating tell? College student? Businessman? Does he taste his food? What’s he eating? An egg? Oatmeal? Does he enjoy it? If it is not so good as usual, would he know it? Is he in his own home? Go on doing it, and while you do, tell us what you’ve discovered about him. Give us a “hand study” again. Does he smoke? Is there anything you notice particularly about his hands? Does he use his fingers separately, or the hand as a whole? If the former, it says that this is a man who has time and/or taste to know what his fingers are doing. Next time you do anything, take your opposite, somebody as different from you as possible.
Critique of a boy doing an Elizabethan: We don’t like the laugh; it’s a self-conscious snigger. Show us you can laugh like an Elizabethan. Movement excellent -- had pull-up, follow-through, balance, ease.
Critique of boy eating: A laborer? An Italian -- or some excitable nationality? A person who hasn’t had much education, but who gets through life well enough? A college student showing off? Go up onstage again. Something needs clarification. Study him more. Enjoyment of food, showing off, etc. coming through better . . .
Critique of girl impersonating an old woman eating: A very old woman. Some good observation of character. She did walk in between counter and stools. Why didn’t she take napkin to begin with? Why was coffee put where it was? It is an actor’s job to give the audience cues to understanding. Did spectators believe in it? Was it caricature? You tend to say this whenever you see something extreme; Evanston is full of extreme people. Scene still needs “the reasons why,” although some of these were there. AK asks actress if she is satisfied? Actress feels she hasn’t got inside woman yet. AK says audience wanted to know why she became old in this particular way.
Critique of boy who impersonates a literary-minded college student who does nothing but talk, talk, talk at table. Next time choose an opposite kind of person. When class laughs, AK points out they are laughing at a comic irony.
Critique of a girl’s exercise. What did you get from this? Did you believe her? What kind of person is she? What is her personal drama? How does she look at life? I’d say that she rejects practically everything. What we’re searching for is the reason why -- otherwise you will act stereotypes.
Side Issue: Stream of Consciousness Term is introduced when two students are having trouble with an exercise they are presenting. “Let’s hear your stream of consciousness,” says AK, meaning let’s hear you vocalize what you are thinking, noting as the scene progresses. If you look at the floor (a response) it has to be because there is something on it (to stimulate your thinking.) Girls are trying to create an imaginary room, to respond to it. Do this responding with your senses, says AK, not your mind; do it with your muscles. When you see that real table, what does it make you want to do. (i.e.: what empathic response does it set up in you, which of the table’s characteristics or your muscles tend to copy?) Find something you like to look at and surrender to it. What are you? A person? Really an organism, a total physical being -- which responds to physical things around it. Why are you different from somebody else in class. You are all the same age, all speech students. But one’s makeup is different from another’s because his past experience is different from another’s. One is “a bunch of conditioned responses.” We are “products of our environment.” What were the actual tangible forces which led you to this room in this building? (Answer lies in the whole past lives of the students: parents, family attitudes, choices made, etc.)
Reference to a recent Bergman film with scenes in a train compartment. Three people in a specific environment; what did theydo -- shut up in four feet of space in a railway carriage? What was there in the compartment to use? A book, a window, a cigarette; consider what each of these objects was like in relationship to the possible variations on the same objects. Why does the author-director give him or her these books? (To reveal who and what the people are by their attitudes toward relationships to these objects.) Where do one’s conditioned responses come from. We all do the same acts differently because we have our own conditioned responses to living, to life. (What we do and how we do it constitutes our behavior patterns; characterization is reproducing the behavior patterns of other people -- together with their motivations.)
Critique of an exercise in which a girl crosses a room onstage: An acting job you can praise to the skies. What she gives is something that has scarcely been seen in class: response to stimuli! Whom did she see in the street? To whom did she bow? She looked at someone for a long time that eyes that almost devoured him.
Another critique: Actor attempting Macbeth’s dagger speech goes into “false emotion” after seeing the dagger. His difficulty is the common one of not making transitions -- of going from this to that. Transitions are the most important part of acting: fill them in. Boy dismisses servant and then has a transition into seeing the dagger -- and is better as a result.
Student impersonates a bird he has seen at the zoo. AK points out that Voltore in Volpone is a character who is like a bird, is a vulture. But the vulture observed at the zoo did not move, did not respond. Well, if this vulture moved, how would it move. Go back at feeding time.
Girl reproduces behavior of a cat-like animal, even parries taunts from a class member with an umbrella, in a way that animals in cages who are used to people doing things like this to them would. Girl got the lurching of the shoulders, power of the paw blows, the line that goes through the whole body when the animal lunges. AK has her slowly turn into a person who has these qualities: a person who “pulls from the spine” when walking, when coming down on an enemy. Animals are bundles of energy; you can sense in an second what they are like.
New Idea: a girl imitates some sort of prancing animal and the class laughs. Why do we laugh? Analyze what makes comedy. It isincongruity of things -- here the growls of aggression vs. the abrupt backing up. Animal is a hyena. AK has girl buy a dress, wear it at a party, laugh, listen to election returns coming in -- all in the manner of the hyena. Animals don’t think; they react with their senses. There are contradictory impulses in animals just as in people. Theseopposites make for humorousness.
Students imitate monkeys. AK asks what they learned -- about monkeys and about their own kinesthetic senses, asks for the monkeys’ motivation, for a state of why they did what they did. Student says they are motivated by curiosity. AK says actors did not show one scrap of curiosity. Another actor says that male monkey “didn’t want to be bothered” by anything else that was going on. AK says that fact was not given to the audience. Also that why the monkeys came out in the first place was not made clear. The scene was diverting and amusing but not believable. If a creature is curious, how do we know this? How does he observe. Is there anybody in class who has curiosity? She helps them identify three or four people who have curiosity and whose eyes reveal the fact by the way they light up with “eternal wonder.” She admonishes the class not to talk or think in generalities, saying they will never be actors until they get over this. (Someone has answered the question, who is curious, with the statement, “everybody.”) As students continue to do other monkeys, AK adds first monkeys to their scenes, then a man with peanuts, etc., so that students have to respond to new stimuli spur of the moment as their animals would. AK points out that of two monkeys onstage, the lady one will get any food that is available because she’s more alert -- her senses are.
AK has one of the monkeys begin to “turn human.” A gradual process: when she begins to lose her monkey spine, AK has her go back to being more monkey again. Then she starts a business of selling candy, feeling animals, still trying to give a sense of swinging along branches; she dances a while, a Charleston, goes out for basketball, goes to a sorority after-the-game party -- all in the monkey manner.
Discussion of “curiosity.” The word is a label we put on some act. Curiosity comes from: “I’ve never seen that before; what is it?” It is an open attitude. Curiosity is necessary to acting itself. What was an Elizabethan curiosity like? Some people in class with imagination can develop a whole sequence of things that come into Elizabethan England on ships from India or elsewhere -- things never before seen: amber, jade, ivory, spices, slaves, lace, animals, stories about far places. Along with curiosity, Elizabethans have pride and independence, too. You can create an Elizabethan by developing these traits with specific details. This opens up an area of creating characters through a kinesthetic approach -- looking at pictures, clothing, statues, furniture, etc. and letting them carry you into an experience of the past.
Critique of another animal study: Why did you walk across? You have to have a motive. Animals seldom go crazy but yours would turn into a neurotic. What did you observe about its spine? (Observations must start with a study of the spine.) Where are you going? Where are you? Create your environment and respond to it. Your shoulders are still not being manipulated by your spine; your neck is still not part of you. To test actor’s kinesthetic resources: telegraph to me that you want to climb; that you don’t want to climb, that you’d like to be up in that airplane flying overhead, that you want to swing on those chandeliers. A really kinesthetic person does things before he touches the actual objects involved -- he sizes up the shape and weight and location of things with his muscles, eyes, etc. Muscles lift objects, kick balls, etc. before we take the time to think. What is a kinesthetic person? Have you been watching for one? Is there a kinesthetic person in this class? A kinesthetic person is kinesthetic every moment of his life; they size everything up with their muscles; their muscles feel chairs, the floor, everything -- and won’t get stuck in an awkward position. This isn’t an intellectual thing, it’s muscular. We enjoy watching highly kinesthetic people onstage because our muscles more readily copy what theirs are doing. Kinesthetic people don’t waste movement. The whole body anticipates a step they plan to take. The whole body is behind a movement. The muscles enjoy what they do.
When an actor does something wrong onstage, out front our muscles reject, refuse to accept. (Much of what we call enjoyment at the theatre is the result of acting empathetically along with the actors.) There aren’t many kinesthetic people left. However, if football players weren’t kinesthetic, they’d get killed.
Sense memory means that one’s senses are responding more vitally than other people’s and that one is capable of storing up sense images. Without a sense memory, one will never be an actor. The class as a group did not continue its search for people who were visual or auditory people so that you could study them. There isn’t time to search out and study someone of the current type once you get into a play. It is through kinesthetic responses that we understand, and understanding is being in somebody’s body for a moment. I don’t have to tell you so-and-so was a dancer and one of our best actors; his body telegraphs this.
Elizabethan improvisations: People onstage and put in motion, walking with some objective to secure food, shelter, clothing, etc. They are told that now it’s 1600 and there’s a ship in from the Orient and they’ve money in their pockets and there’s a new play opening at the Globe . . . Hamlet . . .
More animal imitations: One girl tries a penguin. The “whys” of its behavior, its motivation discussed. She then changed into a human like a penguin. The question is raised, is a penguin as dumb as this? Why did Anatole France write a satire on penguins? They have no legs and so can’t move rapidly, otherwise they’d be thrown off balance, but are a graceful bird. . .
Monkeys are so alarming because they are so close to being human that we see ourselves. Even if these animals take a stationary position for a long time, they have a latent possibility for quick and ready movement . . . How do you know when a cat that it still has latent power? It begins with the eyes. What’s back of the eyes? Cat opens and closes lids, but its eyes are already in focus when they open, as if it has been alert all the time the lids were closed. They are awake often when they appear to be asleep. . . Five animals are put onstage as if in their natural setting and allowed to respond to one another, thunder, lightning, wind, a falling tree, fire. Then they turn human and are at a cocktail party. Back to animals. Back to party. All are advised to “preserve your instincts” as they go back and forth between animal and human states. Self-preservation! Ladies, you’ve got to have a man! Dance! What do you do at cocktail parties. Drink! Talk about plays! Make it realistic! Snub her. Etc.
Old age studied through kinesthetic sense. Nerves in lower spine usually control movements: in old people they are not responsive and the mind has to consciously direct the raising and lowering of an arm, a leg. Fatigue hits the lower spine and causes us to droop. Actors act with their spines. Watch people’s spines. Even animals in a cage have a sense of self-preservation; watch their eyes. Movement should start in the spine, travel into the shoulders, out arm . . .
Boy does snake. Excellent; all spine. Turn human now. What are “snake” qualities? It attacks; it is often a slow thing; its protective device is its fangs -- but as a last resort; quick movement is another; camouflage; could easily get lost among a group of people; frightens us because we don’t see him until there is a movement; are a part of the landscape; are close to ground and the same color; can slip among things; you meet a snake often in drama.
Hard core. No pics. Inside stuff. These pages are more clearly written out by Van Meter watching the class and taking notes, rather than AK talking. This is a longer section. I’m up to page ten of seventeen.
Exercises reproducing behavior of a blind person: (Part of the work on the visual sense, since this is the inability to respond to visual stimuli.) A real blind person has such keenly developed senses that he can always tell where he is. What does each specific blind person you study hear? How does he identify objects, places, people? What associations follow upon more identification? We have sequences of responses. What happens to a blind person’s voice? Often they talk softly so as not to interfere with the intake of other stimuli. Why do some blind people carry their heads so high? There is no reason to look down and it’s easier to hear, to feel sounds, makes one more open and perceptive; you can feel light on your face. To give a student a sense of being deaf, AK has other students around her mouth words but make no sound; often they ignore her. She begins to feel “out” of things, that she must strain awfully hard to keep up with others; that she needs to watch every second. Student has an experience of what the world of deafness must be like and begins to make some of the adjustments a deaf person must . . . There are deaf people who can dance because they feel the music’s vibration on the floor or on their skin. When there are silences around you, how do you know what is going on? From vibrations in the air? . . . AK sends someone onstage to be a blind man standing on the edge of a cliff (i.e.: Gloucester in Lear); There isn’t any cliff, only level ground; someone goes with him, his objective being to make the blind man think he’s climbing, going up -- to make him believe absolutely; this is a transfer.Find the thing that will make him believe: tell him how high he is; what do you see? Create a visual image for him -- a valley -- people -- how big are the people? -- Is there a river in the valley -- what does one see from the height? -- what is this power of suggestion that makes a blind man believe? She is applying what the class have been working on to an actual play . . .
New exercises involve creating the stimuli around Lady Macbeth or Macbeth on the eve of murder. She is concerned about Macbeth, wants to be with him, near him, but something keeps her here in this room. What does she respond to in it? What stimuli come to her? Create the thing that halts her, keeps her here, causes her to jump owl [? sic], and ends with “My husband!” How do you keep “Is this a dagger --?" from being a histrionic speech? How do you create a dagger in the air? Have you had any personal experience? Have you ever seen anything materialize? Why does it? You’ve been thinking about it so hard it does. When he comes from the murder, what has he seen that won’t ever leave him? The images will never be lost from this great man’s life. Movies would take us into the room; Shakespeare brings the murder onstage through Macbeths. Have you stored up any images in the last three weeks that you can build to the sleep-walking scene with? Sleep-walkers use senses better than when awake, are in danger only when someone wakes them up unexpectedly.
[There was a story going around at the time that the students who lived in rented rooms upstairs in AK’s house heard night noises, came out on the landing, and found AK balanced on the railing in her nightgown! Probably apocryphal, but then -- what does it stand for? What was she doing in her sleep? They were afraid to waken her.]
Her eyes are open -- seeing -- but seeing more. She sees with her subconscious. Lady Macbeth sees the blood there, smells it. Juliet accepts the potion, then realizes she is going to be put in the tomb. What do actresses do? Run around the stage screaming? Can you see the rows of people in the tomb? Tybalt, newly dead? Images must materialize before you -- out there. Lady Macbeth relives the moment when she smeared the grooms with blood. Have you ever had human blood on your hands? For a lifetime she has to conceal this. It’s pushed down in her subconscious but comes out in sleep. Don’t dare act emotions: they will come if you create the stimuli. “The Thane of Fife" -- where does that come from? A message which said -- “The Thane of Fife’s wife has been murdered.” There isn’t one moment in drama that you can act without an image behind it. The Greek drama class (second year acting) is having trouble because they didn’t learn to create a stimulus last year. You’ve somehow got to see (if you’re doing Antigone) the brother’s corpse, smell the stench, sense the hot sun, see the vultures, etc. The words that Sophocles gives come in response to these stimuli, which you must create for yourselves.
Side comment on stagefright: AK has a student who confesses to being afraid come off the stage and study the setting which has been put up for a forthcoming production. What kind of play would you act in this setting? Ibsen? Tennessee Williams? What does it do to you? Does it make you fight? Is it frustrating? Does it lift you up? Does it warm you? If the curtain went up and there were no actors onstage for 60 seconds, what would the set do? After actress has forgotten herself by concentrating on something hard (here, the setting) AK sends her back up to present her scene.
Lear scene again: Two actors have been working on it. AK asks if actor playing Gloucester was “psychologically on a cliff.” Tells both of them that they have to get some of the “why” into it, especially at the beginning, to show the compulsion in it. Says it has to be more kinesthetic than they are making it, must seem to be really climbing, although on the flat surface.
Critique of actresses pretending to stop to admire baby in carriage: there seemed to be “blank spaces” in it -- too many did not believe there was a baby there -- you couldn’t describe the baby even now -- you were acting in a plot -- you didn’t hear the baby cry -- you didn’t ask yourself questions: is it big or little, etc.
Critique of actress doing Lady Macbeth reading letter and trying to motivate what she says and does: Walk tells nothing, with which scene was begun -- and Shakespeare begins in the middle of the scene and the letter reading. If there was to be a messenger to bring the letter, what became of him? You’ve been standing all day, perhaps days, waiting for a messenger to bring a letter from Macbeth. Plays don’t begin when you come onstage -- they begin offstage. If there are other people present when the letter arrives she must get to a room alone. What does the letter look like? What kind of paper is it on? What is she learning? What does she do? The scene leads to: “Glamis thou art, etc.” and a tragedy is underway. On a later try at the scene: Work until you can sustain a horizon there (at the back of the audience) as long as you want. What is on it? What color is the sky? Are you listening for the sounds of the battle? Don’t stay on one stimulus longer than you need to.
If an object materializes for you, or a sound, we out in front will see it or hear it, too. Use your senses, not your minds. You see, hear, with your senses.
Critique of actor doing Macbeth and imaginary danger: He did see something, but then began emotionalizing; he was aware himself that he was faking part of the time. AK adds an “if.” "If you are a general, strong, brave, courageous -- now go on with the situation.” Posture of actor has changed: “You are a leader, you have just won a battle. . .” You create Macbeth or Lady Macbeth one step at a time.
Critique of actress doing sleepwalking scene: What should be your first question? What is blood? It is an image which runs throughout the play. The blood is where? You’ve got to get it there (on your hands) first. And if you’re squeamish about blood, you look anywhere else but at it. If you have no response to the image of blood, to smearing blood, you are no actor. If the idea hit you, it would show in your stomach. You have to sense it now, every time you do it.
Bad method acting is: getting lost in yourself.
What does your dramatist tell you about Lady Macbeth? That she is revolted by blood. She is driven to suicide by it. Actress must be able to get to this ultimate point of the role. Lady Macbeth’s subconscious mind will not tolerate it. Again: she cannot look at it ; she is sleep-walking; she even has nightmaries when awake; the things she sees are out here. Work for images that will come instantly.
Critique of girl doing potion scene as Juliet: I’m going to question the position of that chair. For four weeks we’ve seen people placing chairs center stage. Chairs are placed in relation to something. Chairs center stage cause me to question the truth. What is now in relation to the chair (which has been moved)? A bed? Walk around it. Where is the head? If a piece of furniture is not in relation to something else, you’re acting in a vacuum. Tell me what the dramatist gives you; he is always very specific. A holy man has told a young girl: here is a potion, take it, and you will fall asleep and seem dead. It begins withtrust. If she hadn’t trusted, she wouldn’t have accepted it or wouldn’t take it. How big is the potion? In a tall glass !! Who put it there? Why didn’t family see it? You violate something when you make it big. I had you create a room so that you would know what it is to be alone alone. Start with one reality and build from this -- justify. You’re in a room that has suddenly become empty. You’d love to hear voices in the passage . . .
Critique of girl doing sleep-walking scene: She wasn’t sleepwalking, was awake and using her “thinking mind,” which should be shut off -- it’s just the subconscious that is going. Have you ever come up out of ether? What happens? You hear sounds, buzzings, drumming; then you see colors -- blue, green, etc. Doctor and Nurse seem to be miles away. In sleepwalking you do not think, you re-experience more vividly than you have before. What tells me on Monday morning you’ve had a wild weekend? Your eyes don’t focus. Well, her eyes don’t focus. Then images begin to come. What is her objective? Sleepwalkers always have a very strong objective. How does she enter? Slowly? Nooo! If there is something she has to do (wash her hands), she comes with terrifying directness. She is reliving that moment of “Come, come, a little water --” (irony!)” -- cleans us of this deed.” It is horribly ironic. It is the moment of leading of Macbeth and washing his hands for him and her own and being at the gate to meet people -- which moment lives in her memory forever? Voice? Something is cut out of it, as it is out of her mind. The vocal tone is direct, but something alive is missing. they both physically get the blood off, but neither really do.
Now you hear voices. “The Thane of Fife has lost a wife.” The stimulus comes in and then another on top of that. Shakespeare gives the whole scenario. How do you get at sleepwalking if you’ve never done it? One does things clearly, positively, decisively (like you do when you turn off the alarm and then get back in bed and pull up the covers and go to sleep.) She can’t touch her garments and doesn’t. Associate sleep-walking with hypnotism -- you are fully aware, but “looking through the wrong end of the telescope.” Doctor says: “Her eyes are open, but their sense is shut.” Don’t get too involved, but get at producing the stimuli. We are trying to get you to discover what acting is and where emotions derive from. You’ve got to store up sensory images, sensory memories, so vividly that they come to you, bang; you can’t wait ten minutes. And all the time you’re doing this, you’re asking yourself -- not me -- am I an actor? A good director give you images to build on; a director has to have an actor’s approach when working with actors.
Actress playing waiting scene from Macbeth must not say to herself, “Lady Macbeth is tense.” Find instead the verb that states what she is doing. She is listening for a sound which will say, “Duncan is dead,” after she has left people she has drugged, hoping they won’t wake up. Offstage the man she loves is killing the king who is a guest in their house and she knows her husband well enough to knows her husband well enough to know that at the last minute he may turn “milk-livered.” You must walk silently down the hall, but part of you trails behind, and she must be close to something, like a wall. Shakespeare does a brilliant thing: he brings the murder onstage when it is off. Actress who tries scene is criticized: “You come onstage anxiously, as if thinking, I wonder if the refreshments have come? Or, is that the children stirring in the nursery? Not enough. You have to recall an experience of your own, observe someone, or else read something hoping for a vicarious experience.
Side issue: A class in body movement is announced; it will meet at an hour convenient for enrollees, maybe limited to upper class students.
Critique of girl attempting Juliet’s potion scene: What was your working objective? “To show why Juliet has to drink this potion. Why carry a candle? (Poor reading of scene when studying it.) What does Shakespeare give you? What is the correct actress’ objective? Actress has to find what will get her to: “Stay, Tybalt, stay; Romeo, I come!” Why does she take two or three minutes first? If she has doubts, why? You must find the inner motivation for the lines the playwright has given. She has made up her mind to take it, but she hesitates; why? What happens during the hesitation? The hesitation has something to do with the appearance of Tybalt’s ghost, with the quality of an imagination that conceives of things as hers does. This scene is full of realizations, one after another. She realizes the room is empty, there is nobody in it. Tell me what you see that says to you the room is empty. What does she see as she turns around? Her shadow? She’s been alone in this room before but now sees a shadow of some sort. Potion is where? (If it is at her breast, your hands will go to this spot when you sense it.) Bed is where? How does she look at dagger? What does the dagger symbolize? Death is what a dagger always says. Maybe you can’t play through a whole scene, from moment to moment, realization to realization, stimulus to stimulus; but it is your job as learning actors to find out what a sensory response is and bring it off onstage.