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My Acting Approach??
June 7, 2016
I was asked recently about my thoughts on various acting techniques and how they influenced my approach when it comes to teaching. This was my response for what it's worth. I may disagree with myself tomorrow. See what you think.
Each and every performance approach that has existed since the development of Stanislavski in the early 20th century has been a direct rebellion or reaction to what has come before, as well as the current environment the performer must engage in. Lee Strasberg's 'The Method' itself, though often considered limited in its understanding of Stanislavski's intentions and potentially unhealthy for the actor, was very much of its time. In post World War II society where it's people and art were taking a long hard look at themselves, he brought forth actors that were tremendously introspective and catered to this social need - e.g. Jane Dean, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe. The staying voices of modern method in acting tend to be those of Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Sandford Meisner and their younger contemporaries. Voted most popular acting teacher in New York the last ten years running has been William Esper, essentially an evolution of Meisner. Approaches that have been developed in the reaction or rebellion to these systems are Practical Aesthetics, View Points, Michael Checkoff and Leqoc to name just a few.
The lesson is simple. The actors approach must always be questioned, must always reflect the industry in which it works and must be simple and practical in its explanation. It must sell not only to its audience but to the actors of its time. In this day and age, not unlike mixed martial arts in the fighting world, an actor could do with learning more than one philosophy in order to make them a whole practitioner so they can answer to the needs of their industry.
My own approach lends heavily from the terminology that is common in most modern method acting because it is most compatible with playwriting and story construction and is the common language of the industry, but it is also heavily influenced by the truthful and free-flowing work of Sanford Meisner and the highly efficient script analysis approach of Practical Aesthetics.
Without going further into the academics & history of techniques, my own approach to teaching lends itself to certain values, statements and questions:
1. Be specific. - in your choices, your images, your emotions and point of view.
2. Make it real. - in your own imagination, in the minds of your colleagues and audience.
3. If the audience can't see it or didn't hear it it never happened. - this goes to the heart of misunderstandings between actors and audience all the time. Without evidence of behaviour the audience can not assume that something is true or not true, and the actor has a very limited time in which to state the characters case, after which there are no do overs.
4. Does it sell? - Does the audience believe it? Does the audience accept it? Is the performance style right for the genre? Is the performance 'size' right for the medium? Is it right for its intended market or artistic statement?
5. Is it sustainable? - For how long with this performance continue? Is what you are doing emotionally healthy and physically safe to continue over the course of production? In the case of film, can you do this thing for as many takes as will be required to capture the action? If not, how will we manage that?
My current teaching also focuses heavily on what I would call 'free fuel' that the actor gets to fill themselves with (emotionally) from the application of good-quality stagecraft, text execution, physical characterisation and other independent activities that provide deeply personal focus without the need to always be going into some form of emotional preparation. The aim is to keep the practice light, flexible and dynamic without cutting short the search for emotional truth and depth.
I'm also exploring the clear circle that mask and physical character work has come in becoming relevant all over again, especially when it comes to industry needs for talented actors in motion capture and animation. To this end I found myself designing workshops bringing actors back into physical character work and mask work as well as exploring workshops in motion capture and dealing with professional motion capture artists.