Monday, January 21, 2008
Occasionally, I stumble across a book I read voraciously in the past - and when that happens - it's like running into an old friend.
Such was the case with "RESPECT FOR ACTING", written by seasoned actress, Uta Hagen.
When it comes to acting tips hers are bang-on - and ultimately - amount to a "Bible" for actors.
According to Ms. Hagen, there are two kinds of actors: the representational and the presentational.
The representational actor deliberately chooses to imitate the character's behavior.
In contrast, the presentational actor reveals human behavior through a use of himself, through an understanding of himself - and consequently - through an understanding of the character he or she is portraying.
The representational performer finds a form - based on an objective result for a character - then carefully proceeds to execute it.
The presentational actor, on the other hand, trusts that a form will result from an identification with the character and works on stage for a moment-to-moment subjective experience to realize it.
In her opinion, formalized external acting (representational) has a tendency to follow fashion.
But, an internal performance rejects fashion - and consequently - can become as timeless as human experience itself.
Gee, wish I'd said that.
A lot is said about emoting and the fourth wall (about whether to speak directly to the audience or not).
In addition, Ms. Hagen provides tips on how to deal with "emotion" when developing aspects of the character.
As an example, Ms. Hagan notes that actors often contend that they "lost themselves" in a role - to effect realism - let's say.
Ms. Hagan assures the insightful actor that it is much better - and more rewarding - to avoid grandstanding and techniques that amount to "showing off".
She asserts that competent actors without concern for outer form - or as she refers to it - "without pyrotechnics or personal sale" - are then able to deliver up a more believable performance that resonates with truth.
But, there is more work to do.
"Once we are on the track of self-discovery in terms of an enlargement of our sense of identity, and we now try to apply this knowledge to an identification with the character in the play, we must make this transference, this finding of the character within ourselves, through a continuing and over-lapping series of substitutions from our own experiences and remembrances through the use of imaginative extension of realities, and put them in the place of the fiction in the play.
There is some focus on emotional memory or recall, as well, in the self-help book.
The process of "emotional recall" is used as a sort-of trigger.
In fact, Hagan contends that a substitution is the smart way to go to dredge up emotion, start a rush of tears, whatever.
To many, "Emotional memory" means "sense memory", notes Hagan.
But, according to the celebrated acting coach, the two as different.
Emotional memory is the psychological link or emotional response to an event which produces the desired effect - sobbing, laughter, - whatever.
On the other hand, sense memory - or the physiological - refers to sensations of hunger, cold, pain, etc.
All techniques are utilized in the service of the play or to bring about a true revelation about the character on stage without gimmicks or self-indulgence at play.
"Respect for Acting" is packed with solid advice on how to prepare for a role, in addition to, wide-ranging rehearsal techniques.
The exercise are geared towards piecing together a believable, in-depth characterization, that will ring true to the audience.
Ms. Hagan, was a respected actress who was known for classical roles she played in Chekhov's - "The Seagull" - and for her stellar performances on stage with the legendary "Lunts" which received widespread acclaim.
Brooks Atkinson noted that Uta Hagen's book - "Respect for Acting" - is not only pitched on a high artistic level - but,
"It is full of homely practical information by a superb craftswoman."
In sum, Respect for Acting is an illuminating discussion on the standards and techniques of enlightened stage acting.
Pick it up and thumb through the pages, you'll be glad you did.