NOTES FROM THE BLUE BOOKS - 1962 (As edited by Weldon Bleiler)
AK -- Bleiler's "Notes from the Blue Book" 1962
C49-1 NOTES FROM THE BLUE BOOKS October 2, 1962
Suppose you are attending a piano concert -- by Rubenstein, for instance. He enters with his usual brisk attitude, proceeds with preparatory flourishes, then strikes the first note. You feel vaguely “let down.” It does not “lift” you as it has before. The movement continues, but you remain passive. “He is not in good form tonight,” you think. Your mind wanders; or you listen passively. He does not command your attention. Later you learn that, by some accident, the piano had not been tuned to true concert pitch for that evening. The master had played as usual with all his musicianship, but the instrument had not communicated his interpretation.
The actor’s body is his instrument. It must be one that he can rely upon, one that he can be as objectively proud of as a violinist is proud of his Stradivarius. Every time the actors comes on stage, his instrument must be tuned to “concert pitch.” Even though he might be playing the role of a dying man, the audience must feel that the role is in the hands of a vital, competent player. A violinist can draw the softest, most tender notes from his instrument. Yet, those soft notesfill the auditorium with quiet, with silence, for they are being played by a master hand in full control of his instrument.
An audience must sense, unconsciously, through their muscles(empathic response) that the actor on stage is totally alive. In attaining this vitality, do not, however, fall into false energizing habits: do not jump up and down, swinging your arms about and shouting, “I’m alive, I’m alive!” The resultatnt effect will be the acquisition of a pseudo energy. Empathic response by the audience will reject it for its falsity.
The source of vital power is the area of the solar plexis, the center of the body, the area of the vital organs. We have been working (1) on rib support, not only for good vocal production, but for total well-being. Acquire the habit of never going on stage for a performance, rehearsal, or class without taking a deep, deep breath that fills your whole torso, and then holding that breath as long as you comfortably can. This is a simple and effective means of keying up the circulation in every fibre of your being. We have been working on (2) strengthening the abdominal muscles: the strong pelvic girdle, and the pull upward toward the ceiling (the extension from navel to sternum). Good posture, once achieved, projects confidence to an audience, at the same time filling you the actor with confidence.
We are total mechanisms, mind and body; the one affects the other. The Greek philosophy of a healthy mind in a healthy body should also be the actor’s philosophy. If your muscles are completely in tune, you may be exhausted to the point of dropping; but you will radiate vitality, and you will feel alive. We also have emphasized (3) walking with strong thighs and long free steps with a complete follow through. First, the heel touches the ground, the weight then being transferred to the ball of the foot, and the toes pushing off the next step. The movement is a flowing one.
Feel the top of your head touching the sky always. Even when playing a death scene, feel that pull up which provides resistance to the downward pull. Resist the pull of gravity; resist the forces pushing you down. This is the core of dramatic action: resistance to forces. Oppositions counter the backward pull with a strong forward pull -- head high, thighs strong. Work in group of two as follows: #1 should hold the shoulders of #2 to keep the latter from forward movement. At the same time #2 opposes with an upward pull. Carry all of this not only into your Greek drama, but into the acting of ALL drama. Creon pushes Antigone down (actually do it); he pulls her back; she resists with all that is in her: two opposing forces have met. In your rehearsals, work first on this physical level; the mental and emotional levels will follow naturally of their own accord.
--Alvina E. Krause (wb)
(WB means that Weldon edited and -- my guess -- rephrased. He was proud of his piano playing. Once at a variety performance, he came out to the grand piano to play, tried to bring along the microphone for his Victor Borge type intro, discovered the cord on the mike wasn’t long enough, and asked the stage crew to give him more cord. They didn’t seem to be there. So he went around to the other side of the piano and pushed it over to the mike -- proceeded from there. I think this is rather similar. He’s pushing AK to where he wants her. Luckily, a lot of valuable material is preserved.)
NOTES FROM THE BLUE BOOKS October 9, 1962
Levels of Concentration
Your minds have been occupied only with what your tongues have been saying. Note this: only the dull-witted respond on a single level. When a fool sees food, he says, thinks, and responds solely to “food,” until the next positive stimulus penetrates his consciousness. Minds of people endowed with full capacities race ahead of words; thoughts other than those expressed vocally flow around and past words, reject or accept images which may or may not express themselves in words. In brief: such minds operate on many levels. There is the response to the immediate stimulus -- words heard which must be answered, a look in eyes (anger, love, hate, questions) which demands a reply; or a movement of the body -- overt or covert (threat, affection, approval, disapproval, rejection) which is a stimulus to a response, vocal or physical. Such may be the upper level of response.
However, behind and along with that level is a level still existent from a response to the stimulus just past. (While I write this in response to your need, part of my mind still is occupied with the thought that as I answered the telephone a few moments ago, someone at the other end of the line hung up. That thought is flowing along withthis thought which I am writing: a second, or middle level of consciousness. A present moment always comes out of a past one, and moves into a future one, carrying with it a medley of levels.
Besides the two I have mentioned, there is always on the periphery, at least of attention, a multitude of sensory responses to the physical world which cannot be shut out except by sleep, drugs, or death. As I write now, a sparrow is chirping . . . I caught sign of an unopened New Yorker . . . I heard a car pass by, yet I did not stop writing for an instant. All such levels must be present in ALL acting, the nature depending upon the framework of the drama itself.
You will note that levels are the result of response to stimuli. You have been having difficulty recently because you have not created stimuli; nor have you heard, seen, or perceived those created by your companion(s) in the scene. In Greek drama there is a total lack of personal properties. All the more important then is the vaster world of tragedy. The sky, the horizon, are ever present in the consciousness of these people. This unspoken level is imperative in the acting of Greek drama. From the very beginning, Antigone is moving toward the grave alone. In all the world -- far as the horizon, high as the sky -- there is no one to share her tragedy. The final realization is a tremendous one, which is made inevitable because it is an adding-up, a summary of all the smaller realizations of this moment-by-moment drama.
Create this physical world so vividly that you will respond to it as unconsciously as I now hear a plane far overhead, or sense the picture of King Lear over my fireplace. As for the other levels, you must learn to hear not cues, but spoken words that strike as blows. We are organic wholes -- the mind and body are one: first, the senses perceive the stimulus; second, the body reacts (runs, strikes, contracts, etc.); and third, the brain interprets the stimulus. Change the order of these responses, and the result will be unreal, a faked response. Never respond to words unless they have had an impact that demands a response.
To help you, use the physical aid of ball-throwing. All drama is conflict; and all physical games are conflict. Play ball as champions do; take aim carefully, deliver the ball exactly (on the final word), and follow through, being ready at the same time to receive the ball from anywhere and return it quickly and accurately to score. Note the impact of a swiftly pitched ball as you catch it; note the second of arrest and the recovery before you can return it. This is the kind of impact that lines must have. To understand more fully the levels operating behind words, try the experiment Carlos used -- speaking in a foreign language. It forced him to find the words necessary for communication.
--Alvina E. Krause (wb)
THURSDAY, JUNE 05, 2014
NOTES FROM THE BLUE BOOKS -- October 15, 1962
Assignment: A Chorus (“Numberless are the world’s wonders . . .”) -- Theban elders, Antigone. The group signed up for Friday of this week will begin this assignment. Perform it singly or in groups, either spoken, chanted, or both. If you use accompanying movement, make it say something; if you don’t, then readiness for movement must be visible in posture, stance and vitality.
Before beginning this assignment, review the functions of the chorus: exposition, narration, presentation in a lyric and a dramatic mood, reflection. The audience must see through and with the eyes of the chorus.
To ascertain the rhythms and cadences, distinguish between long and short sounds; use onomatopoeia. The chorus is several persons’ thinking, speaking, and moving as one. Learn to breathe together, to articulate together, to move together as in singing and dancing.
Read the article by H.D.F. Kitto entitled “The Greek Chorus” which can be found in the
Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Mar., 1956), pp. 1-8. Apply what you read there to all your work in Greek drama. Copies below are some of the more important statements made by Kitto in the article:
1. The first point is that what the Greek audience heard and saw was something that we are not likely to see and hear today: a combination of lyric poetry, dancing and singing, integrated with drama. I use the word “dance” in the Green sense, meaning any ordered physical movement.
2. (These movements) covered a big emotional range, and they were not in the ordinary sense pictorially mimetic.
3. The choral performance was indeed a combination of the three arts of poetry, dancing and singing.
4. Of the three allied arts, the Greeks themselves put the poetry first; and next to the poetry, I suspect, they would put the dance.
5. The metres used by the dramatic poets were not speech-rhythms at all, but music-rhythms.
6. In certain of Euripides’ later and non-tragic plays, the choral style became distinctly operatic. Roulades, the singing of one syllable to several successive notes, became common; so too did the repetition of words, which becomes so tiresome as a literary device, that ordinary politeness compels one to assume that Euripides was thinking of the musical effect first, and of the poetry second.
7. It is quite plain that the Greek dramatists used ‘lyrical relief’ in much the way that Shakespeare used what is innocently called ‘comic relief.’
8. About their dance nothing definite can be said; the rhythm is the very common glyconic, which was found suitable to many different moods. But although we cannot form any precise idea of what the chorus did, at least we can appreciate, in a general way, the dramatic effect of music and movement at such a moment: a liberation rather than a relating of tension.
9. If the modern producer relies throughout on speech, he is, so to speak, representing in three dimensions a drama that was conceived in four.
Try the “Antigone” chorus first; then use one of your own choice. This assignment must be finished by October 26th. Select immediately your characters for your final stage performance. Class previews and discussion of them should begin no later than November 2nd.
PAPERS ARE DUE TODAY -- Monday, October 15th.
--Alvina E. Krause (WB)
C-49-1 NOTES FROM THE BLUE BOOK -- October 16, 1962
“My partner is not here. I can’t do anything.” This is equivalent to saying, “I have no one to talk to, and so I am not me; I have no character when I am alone. I am somebody only when I am with someone else.” Hereafter you are to be ready to get on stage anyday or everyday, with or without a partner, whether or not you are signed up! If you are working, you will ALWAYS be prepared!
Being a character is not speaking words. We are not what we say; we are the sum total of our behaviour patterns, and speech is only one of those patterns. All that we think and have thought, and all that we have experienced and are experiencing: all of this is expressed in behaviour patterns. Our walk, stance, hand and arm movements, shoulders, and particularly the spine (AN ACTOR ACTS WITH AND FROM HIS SPINE!) form the various patterns of our behavior. The eyes reflect or conceal thoughts.
Everyone wears on his body the marks of his era. You areunmistakably today: marked by your curved spines, your weak and dangling arms, your uneasy hands (unless they are holding a cigarette!), your empty eyes lacking lustre, your sagging shoulders, etc. etc. And it is with these contemporary behaviour patterns that you have spoken Antigone’s and Creon’s lines. Ridiculous!
The Greeks wore clothing which did not restrict; they wore sandals which permitted their feet to grip the ground. They could move as one unified whole, not in pieces as you have been doing. Further: they were athletes, active athletes, not sitters-on-the-sidelines; and their living ideal was the perfect, healthy, strong, vital body housing an equally healthy and vital mind. Until you have assimilated these characteristics, you cannot truthfully speak a line. We have discussed this for four weeks; and you have been given the necessary exercises to work on in private. LET’S SEE RESULTS!
For inner motivation for the particular situations of the drama, remember this: the characters reveal only the dominant traits, those traits which one shares with all men, the traits crucial to creating a pattern of life in which men could reach their highest stability. Man, not an end in himself, is but a part of a whole scheme of life: all equal in a total universe. “I am a man, and nothing in mankind is alien to me.” Tragic suffering comes from a sense of the worth of life. Electra goes to extremes to make men realize the enormity of the crime that has been committed. Antigone dies for a crime against justice. I have not yet seen this on stage. Your poor weak bodies, shifting feet, weak thigh-gripping hands, little piping, rasping three-note voices make liesof the lines you speak and the dramatist’s themes.
Greek drama has revealed your own impotence. Try to move on now to the correlative truth of your own potential greatness. Greek drama does not make the individual helpless or irresponsible; it emphasizeshis responsibility, forcing him to face the consequences of his own acts. The world is human and, like men, rational. Use sane reason in connection with forces beyond reason. The human being has the capacity to endure against the forces that destroy. For this quarter, you must incorporate these thoughts, these principles into your thinking and behaviour. You must believe with a passion. When you do (IF you have acquired physical and vocal range and flexibility), your bodies will corroborate your thinking and the dramatist’s words as well.
What’s your goal? Mediocrity? If so, you hit it yesterday, and the theatre is no place for you.
Assignment: Messengers -- to be ready for class presentation on Monday, October 29
Choose for now from the following:
“Friends of this house . . .” -- Oedipus Rex
“Jocasta, our Queen . . .” -- Oedipus Rex
“Fly, Medea, fly . . .” -- Medea
“I will tell you plainly all that I have seen.” -- Antigone
The function of the Messenger in Greek drama is to bring news of the final catastrophe to those waiting who are deeply concerned. The character who serves as the Messenger is usually a servant or one closely connected with the household. He is not a principal character; further, he is not involved in the tragic action. He has been an immediate witness of the fatal act. He is compelled to carry the newsimmediately to those who are concerned with the outcome. He is a messenger only; he has no specific name, indicating that he is not to be individualized as a character.
The Messenger’s scene is a climactic one: it brings on stage the horrendous event which has taken place off stage. His tale must be told, even though the details are too hideous to be spoken. What pours out is the ultimate in horror, but back of it is a well of horror so great that it cannot be vocalized.
Images are so vivid that they cannot be erased: like a moving picture, present even when the eyes are closed. Sights, sounds, kinesthetic responses are as vivid as if they were still occurring before him. However, he must tell it to those listeners whose very silence demandsthe entire truth, who are almost overcome with horror.
Capture the immediacy of the action, the compulsion to tell, thevividness of the images.
Remember always that lines are memorized to be forgotten. Each time we speak words, we must first find them, formulate them and articulate them. If you have no second language at your command, think of the particular sounds of another language, and use these to convey your thoughts. Alternatively, revert to the origins of speech -- grunts, noises, unarticulated sounds -- keeping in mind always that these must be conveyed to the listener in such a manner that he will comprehend, and in a way that will force you both into many levels of concentration. If these methods should fail, then while you are delivering the lines, multiply by 13’s or 17’s, or solve an intricate puzzle. Try any or all of these exercises to discover those levels of concentration that operatebehind the actual words of the text.
Those term papers assigned first this quarter will not be accepted after Friday of this week. The grade of “F” will be recorded for those who fail to fulfill these written assignments on time.
ORAL STAGE FINALS begin on Monday, November 26th. For the weeks of November 5th and 12th, present in class improvisations and episodes from the drama you are using for your stage final. Your objective: development of character with the classic framework.
--Alvina E. Krause (wb)
AK 10-23 Objectives
Know the character-objective of each scene, and achieve that objective. Know the desire of the character within the sequence; then, as the character, fulfill that desire. You are still -- almost all of you --acting in general. The Antigone-Creon scene (Love-Winkleman) yesterday was a supreme example of acting in general, with its empty emotionalization signifying nothing. if your minds and bodies are fully occupied, you will be completely engrossed in fulfilling an objective -- not in playing an emotion that you have assumed accompanies the words. Hereafter, before you start a sequence on stage, state briefly and succinctly in action verbs the objectives of the character you play in the particular place and for the particular reasons the playwright has given.
For instance, Antigone’s objective is to justify her act by (1)acknowledging it publicly, (2) advocating publicly God’s law, (3)convicting Creon of folly, (4) approaching directly the minds of others, and (5) choosing death. Another example is the Chorus’ objective: to condemn anarchy by (1) extolling man’s achievements, the highest of which is the creation of law and order (the state), and (2) supporting law and order.
Once you are truly concerned with achieving the specific objective, once you concentrate -- in character -- on that achievement, it is certain that a particular feeling will be aroused, not the general hysteriaof yesterday’s Antigone. What should be there is the specific, greater, deeper indignation of the true Antigone.
Never again let me see you take up positions downstage right or left -- or anywhere else -- unless a specific purpose has brought you there at a specific moment for a specific reason. You saw how dynamic the action became, and how alive the whole stage became when Niki and Carlos played with purpose. If the actor is fully engrossed in achieving the objective of the character by the means the playwright gives, then the action becomes credible and vital. Achieve this intensity of attention on real objectives, and the inevitable emotional response will also be true.
If you want to continue working on Creon-Antigone-Ismene scenes in class, present new sequences. In four weeks we have reached a stalemate in class discussion of these opening scenes. If you want to submit the old scenes for discussion, they must be done for me privately during office hours listed on my door.
NOTE: Early this quarter, I reserved the stage for your use on all Tuesdays at 1 PM. since then, I have observed that it is not being used by you. Shall I then assume you do not want or need the use of it and release it for the use by other students who do need rehearsal space? If you can and will use this space at the time I have indicated, notify me to that effect at once.
ADD TO YOUR FINAL EXAM PAPERS: A statement, in active verbs, of the character objectives in the scenes you will present for your final stage performance.