- Comparing actor training programs
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Why do large numbers of people knowingly accept being lied to? If Tyrant speaks unmistakably to the present political moment, it makes a larger point, one for the ages: Tyrants, and those who enable them, have always been with us. This action might not be possible to undo.
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Comparing actor training programs
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Editorial Reviews. Published Reviews. Reviews from GoodReads. Comparing different modes of actor training is not an easy task. Because most training programs teach actors how to work on themselves and how to engage with a stage role, a description of the exercises for both kinds of preparation, noting similarities and differences, might appear to be a straightforward means of comparison.
But assumptions about the self and about the process of characterization may be unstated or elusive. Finally, acting programs always assume that actors have certain responsibilities to the audience. These assumptions, too, are culturally and historically situated. For these reasons, it is helpful to adopt a scholarly language that approaches neutrality when comparing two training programs and then use this relatively neutral terminology to pose the same questions of both practices. One scholarly approach distinct from any of the conventional orientations to actor training is conceptual integration, a branch of cognitive science.
Conceptual integration can help theatre scholars answer the following questions. The theory of conceptual integration is a part of the larger field of cognitive studies. While all acting involves physical, vocal, and emotional proficiency and commitment, the cognitive engagement of the actor with herself, her role, and her relation to the audience has been the most difficult area of performance to discuss. It is also the part of acting that has varied the most over time. This combination of similar features in the same place on a human body leads people in all cultures to understand the same mental concept, regardless of language differences.
Humans begin creating cognitive concepts as soon as they are born.
We create and blend concepts all of the time, mostly below the level of consciousness. When playing a character they believe to be close to themselves, actors can blend much more of their self concept of identity into the integrated mix than if they are performing a role that is very different from themselves.
Generally, however, the culture within which actors are working will shape their identity choices. In all of these cases, people conceive of their identity as a metaphorical concept for their inner life.
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In the abstract, actors may conceptualize any or all of these three identities in terms of the subconcepts of selves noted by Lakoff and Johnson, the physical-object self, the locational self, or the social self. In fact, the idea of social roles was the traditional way in which most people comprehended their identities before If most people named your identity in terms of your social role — if you were a mother, an aristocrat, or a slave in the culture — it was a logical step to see your primary identity as a social self.
Performers must learn through analysis, concentration, and imagination how to contain the world of their characters within themselves. According to Stanislavsky, actors in performance can sharpen their concentration by imaginatively dividing the stage and the auditorium into concentric circles of increasingly larger circumference that ripple out from the self. The largest circle takes in the audience and the entire auditorium.
Stanislavsky taught that actors must restrict themselves to the smallest possible circles necessary for the moment-to-moment performance of their roles in order to retain a sense of themselves as private people, despite their public exposure on the stage. In both of these acting exercises, Stanislavsky placed the self of the actor at the center of rays of energy and concentric circles.
Like them, he saw characters as complex human beings with many attributes, feelings, and unconscious desires with whom readers could be invited to empathize. As an artist of the theatre, Stanislavsky understood that spectators could engage with actors playing roles in a number of ways. In cognitive terms, spectators could distance themselves from actor-characters, objectify and laugh at them, brand them as villains or sympathize with them.
In one scene in which a young mother is attracted to the tutor of her son, Stanislavsky directed the actor to heighten the contrast between her inner desires and her outward distraction. By playing the identity of the character in this way, the actor pulled the audience into the problems of her contained character and induced them to empathize with her plight. During the s, Meyerhold frequently compared his biomechanics to the industrial time-and-motion studies of Frederick W. Taylor, who recommended changes in the routines of assembly-line work in the U.
Both Taylor and Meyerhold the capitalist and the communist experimented to understand how a given task might be accomplished by a worker or actor as quickly and easily as possible. The exercise involves a thorough workout of the muscular tension and release appropriate for each movement. After an intense regimen of this program, the Meyerholdian performer is ready for characterization. Stanislavsky thought of the identity of characters in much the same way as he thought of actors: both were contained, complex selves. Meyerhold, in contrast, considered actors as physical selves but thought of characters as social selves.
In one of his syllabi for an acting workshop, Meyerhold listed 17 set roles for men and women, such as the fop, the heroine, the moralist, the young girl in love, the clown, the matchmaker, and the guardian — all traditional type characters played by actors since medieval times. He gave his actors mask exercises in which they froze their faces into social masks and explored movements appropriate to their expressions.
So he forces her to sleep with every man in the village to discover the identity of the lover. Maria Babanova, a small, radiant, energetic actor, played Stella as a series of related types. According to one eyewitness report:. One moment, she is talking innocently to a little bird, the next she is a grown-up woman, delighting in the return of her husband; in her passion and devotions, she is tortured by his jealousy.
And now she is being attacked by a mob of blue-clad men, furiously fending them off with a hurricane of resounding blows. Although this report is not precisely worded, it is clear that Babanova moved quickly among several social types, dropping one to embody another, often without transition. Igor Ilinsky also deployed several character types to depict Bruno.
He even undercut his most prominent characterization of the miller with clowning. As a fellow actor stated:. Bruno … stood before the audience, his face pale and motionless, and with unvarying intonation, a monotonous declamatory style, and identical sweeping gestures he uttered his grandiloquent monologues. But at the same time this Bruno was being ridiculed by the actor performing acrobatic stunts at the most impassioned moments of his speeches, belching, and comically rolling his eyes whilst enduring the most dramatic anguish.
Where Stanislavsky primarily taught his actors how to induce a psychological response from an audience, Meyerhold mostly wanted spectators to engage with actors on physical and social levels. Meyerhold apparently allowed some psychological identification with her: when she fought off the advances of other men, the audience probably took her values as their own, for example.
But he mostly encouraged spectators to see her as a physical object.
Meyerhold always wanted his audience to understand that theatre was a game. Although these are complicated responses to describe from a cognitive linguistic point of view, it is important to keep in mind that they happened quickly and mostly unconsciously in the theatre. By the end of a production, the ideal ensemble of Meyerholdian actors will have created a series of actions that challenge the spectators to make use of what they have learned through their responses.
While Stanislavsky thought of audiences as similar to novel readers, bringing individual, psychological responses to what they saw and heard, Meyerhold conceived of spectators as a group of filmgoers whose social responses would help to transform the new Soviet nation. Rather than creating an illusion on the stage, Meyerhold sought to create a kind of carnival in the entire auditorium, and often had his actors breaking the illusion of the fourth wall or even running through the playhouse to engage spectators directly.
By training his actors to physicalize social types for the stage, Meyerhold wanted to call attention to the kinds of physical and social transformations necessary for the welfare of the new Soviet Union. In the s, Meyerhold believed that his theatre could help to move Russia toward a Communist utopia by providing new social models trained and energized with physical efficiency.
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Can an actor use training methods from both Stanislavsky and Meyerhold to join the psychological and sociological modes together in performance? From the point of view of cognitive science, there is no reason these methods cannot be fused. Even though our history and culture will edge us toward one choice or another, we have the natural capacity to understand ourselves as containers, social types, and as physical objects.