Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Acting Workshop Day 3

Where to begin, loyal blog readers, where to begin?

I think the fairest place to begin is to reiterate a sentiment I have expressed previously in regards to this class; there is nothing intrinsically wrong about what we do, and I am certain it helps a great many people that are new to the craft.

That being said, however, I am sad to report that I am not getting as much as most people might, for several reasons which I will get into. But first an update...

I received the entire play on Thursday, via email. But, as the instructor explained in a separate email, I would no longer be doing a scene from Proof, but rather Doubt. Having not read either play, I didn't mind the change.

However, after three solid days of trying to reach my scene partner via email, it became clear that her and I would not be meeting a single time until class. I learned tonight that he computer died, and she had to work. My view on that, as it is in all such situations is that there are a hundred billion computers in the world, and that finding access to one to check one's email when doing a scene with someone really is not that difficult. I would have preferred this is what my scene partner had done, but she didn't and there is little use lamenting over that fact now.

As a result, we were the least prepared for the class tonight. But the class had changed to no longer require us to do the scene. It was converted to a class tutorial of sorts, wherein each group would run their scene with the methods discussed here previously. Because my scene was the least prepared, (we had not met once ever), we had to start with the basic method. The same one I hated from last week...the close reading. Wherein I must pause after each sentence, and sometimes several times during a sentence, so I can deliver the words while maintaining locked eye contact with my partner, who cannot deliver her line until she has checked the group, and established eye contact with me. Which I often forgot to supply, because I was busy looking down at my script to see what my next line was.

I despise this exercise. It breaks any semblance of rhythm I have going into a scene, and I said as much. (I rarely speak in the class, actually, but I was becoming quite frustrated with this activity.)

In short, the instructor does not want any of us to worry about doing things well, or looking for motivation, or creating a character or basically any of the things I do as an actor. He wants it to be poor right now, because all he wants us to do is practice looking into the eyes of our partner, and delivering the lines. "To make sure you hand it off, and that they receive it", as he said.

The problem is, I like to give real lines, and receive real lines, not automated regurgitation from a page, I realize that nothing is perfect the first time, but I would rather fall short while attempting to actually perform. Like Olivier, I went to go as far as I can go from the very first read through, and build on it from there. But in class, it's all about doing these small, tedious tasks for the sake of adjusting to these small tactics when we perform. Again, I am sure this is helpful to many, but to me, I think I am too set in the way I was trained to get a lot of use out of this. I NEED to give a character life, or I am just wasting time. But I was told by doing this I can give the character greater life.

The came the Q&A from the instructor. Here is where the obvious difference between his acting philosophy and my own became very apparent. He would pepper each of us with questions about the character we played,(objective, motivation, what did you have for breakfast, what is the back story). Which is fine, except we were required to answer AS the character. In other words, when asking me, "How long have you been a priest", I would have to say "I've been a priest for five years."

This was very awkward for me, because I have always made a very specific point to NOT refer to characters I play in the first person. I have always felt it is crucial to keep the separation, especially during early rehearsals. When things are still being discovered. "I think my character does this, or that", I will say when I talk with a director or a scene partner. I prefer, and find proper, that distance. Ty must be on control of the process, and Ty will talk for hours about back story, character motivation and such. But it felt very unnerving to answer those questions with "I". I disagree that such things help everyone get into character better, and in fact I have often cautioned against doing that. If it works for you, okay, I will not wrong it for someone who uses it. But I never do, and do not like being forced to do so, as though it were more appropriate.

To the instructor, it's ok to be wrong in what we do this early, and to change our minds. In this I agree with him, but to enjoy the idea of being wrong for it's own sake, I do not like. An exploration of character is great, but to give it the false conviction of "I" takes away an objective discussion. The concepts of not knowing yet, or still thinking it over are eliminated for the actor.

That brings up another aspect of approach that I fervently dislike in these classes. The idea how to know when you are motivated. For the instructor, every single motivation can be boiled down to the same three or four. Love, for instance.

"Why are you doing this? Ok, but what is the purpose of that? And if that happens what are you achieving? and why do you want to achieve that?"

Like breaking down matter into the elements, these question are designed to get an actor to acknowledge the overarching reason why his character exists. Except the problem is that we do not live life breaking things down in that fashion. There are gray areas and changing motivations, and specific circumstances that apply in their own right. To make things to broad is to remove their significance. Their power. After all, we could all say, on some reptilian level, that our motivation for being here is to be alive. To eat, sleep, take care of our bodies. Live. Yet, as the primordial desire to not allow our own death enough to build a theatrical motivation?

To me, no way, to the instructor, basically.

For one of the other scenes, having broken down one character's motivation (a nun) down to "Obtaining salvation", the instructor insisted that the actress must now use that idea in every thing she did on stage. The way she walked. The way she picked up a pen. The way she tied her shoe. Each mundane action specifically geared toward one meta-purpose...obtain salvation through Christ.

This to me is very problematic, because I simply cannot buy that a person's over all life encompassing purpose is the direct impetus for everything they do any given day, or for that matter everything they want. If my overall purpose in life is to find love, can I really conclude that the fact I had bologna tonight instead of turkey be motivated by that desire to be loved by people?? Could i truly express such a cosmically broad motivation to each and every action I take on stage? I myself could not, nor would I want to.

I embrace the FEELINGS of a character, and try to invoke them in a performance. And because people often feel things that they do not understand, there are gray areas in life. Or there are neutrality. We can be lukewarm, or confused, or uncertain. And if I find a character I am playing should feel those things, I use that and move forward. But the instructor insists that to do so is to allow a performance to fall apart because it has no backbone. The cure? Make every single moment be about the obtainment of your life's purpose. How is that communicated?

"By rehearsing over and over and over again until something looks right," we were told.

To me, this consigns success to Chance. Making a performance beholden to a roll of the dice. I think people are more creative than that. And I for one need to be, when I perform.

I felt the same constriction when he instructed one group to choose of each and every moment of a scene is "good or bad". Nothing can be neutral. A character that literally got up to answer a knock at the door was asked if hearing a knock was good or bad. She found it to be neutral, as in fact, I would have in the same situation. But she was forced to choose between one or the other, because we were told that it is only by responding to the good or bad in every moment that clear choices for an actor can be made.

Again I had to cringe at this notion. Sometimes a cigar is in fact just a cigar. To see each and everything as anything else is for me, to run the risk over thinking every line, every step, every moment of a scene or play. That has already begun to happen in this class, as I have mentioned here, and I find over thinking to be just as counterproductive sometimes as being unprepared. I need the visceral to combine with the labor. In this class, I cannot.

So, as odd as it sounds, the class today manged to be both too personal, (with the first person Q&A) and too shallow (no gray areas, everything you say eat sleep breath and do on stage is specifically so your character can attain his life's purpose) for me. I stress once more that I do not dismiss these approaches as illegitimate or wrong. But they do run counter to my training and evolution as an actor.

The part I do in fact take exception to is the notion that a performance suffers in the absence of these approaches. I have a hard time accepting that with any approach and any instructor. (Which is why I have always been a very firm advocate of a "No Method" approach to acting. See my very first month of writing this blog.) Whatever works in the situation should be used, and whatever works for a person is just great...for them. But it is unfair to conclude that the same goals of emotional connection, familiarity of character, and interaction on deep levels with cast mates cannot be obtained save for one way. I have never been, no shall I ever be, a theatrical monotheist.

We meet again in just under two weeks. (Due to 3 or 4 last minute scheduling changes for the class that had to be made.) Hopefully my partner and I will be able to meet and run through some of these exercises. (She got more out of them than I did.) In the very least I have to find a way to not find them distracting before we put on the piece. But I have a true fear that i will never be able to micromanage every last step, blink and sniffle in my scene, or any scene I shall do. I bring characters to life, and in so doing, embrace feelings an ambiguities. As dedicated as I am and have always been to my craft, I admit I don't always know why my characters blink when they do. Sometimes, they just do. So I won't be able to defend every choice I will make in this scene as I know I will be called upon to do.


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