Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stanislavski, Meisner, Beckett and Bogart

Well, I'm sure all of you know who Stanislavski is. Who Beckett is, who Meisner is and who Bogart is. But for the select few who don't, I'll explain.

Constantin Stanislavski:
A Russian actor and theatre director who has been cited by numerous people and sources as the father of the modern western acting style. He's the first one to say "feel it first, then the acting will come naturally" as opposed to the English way of "outside-in" acting. Ever heard someone say, when someone needs to cry onstage, "think of your dead puppy?" or your dead mother? That's Stanislavski. Relate something in real life to your acting to make it more real. This is the most commonly taught and accepted form of acting.

Sanford Meisner:
"live truthfully under imaginary conditions." Don't do anything until something makes you do it. Don't say a line just because you have to, say it because you need to say it, because you can't possibly hold it in if you don't. I had it explained to me once as this "Meisner used Stanislavki-type approaches in rehearsal. But in performance, it is all in the moment. your character has had those experiences, dead puppies, etc, but isn't having them at that moment. He's living " Make it a real history, not a choppy, un-related history. He believed, as he said,"the foundation of acting is the reality of doing"

Samuel Beckett:
Was a Nobel-Prize winning playwright and many say the father of the Theatre of the Absurd movement. But he also had a lot of things to say about directing. Or, rather, how his plays should be directed. (In fact, he directed all of his plays first productions after 1962-3.) And most importantly (in my opinion) was that he said that his characters were clowns. Clowns meaning: a character with no past and no future. They exist and live for the moment. Key points to understand about Beckett's idea of theatre: 1)Characters have No Past, No Future. 2)If Looked upon from far away, this moment is absurd. 3) We are strangers to each other, People cannot have meaningful relationships.
And directions on directing Beckett: A)Beings as strangers B) Communication does not work- language is a tragedy C) non-traditional plot structure. (We don't move on.) -Let Moments exist. D)They say what they mean. If they are gonna show people waiting, then the audience is gonna wait too, and miss out on buckets of other things that they could be doing in life, just like the show.
Beckett, as he grew older, became increasingly more minimalist. one of his last plays, Breathe, lasted only 35 seconds, and had no characters, just breath. Are you beginning to see the differences between these directors now?

Anne Bogart:
The inventor of The Viewpoints system. A way of navigating space and time in manageable chunks in order to create more compelling and real theatre experiences. These include shape, tempo, duration, kinesthetic response, repetition, architecture and She is also the author of a book, 'A Director Prepares' a play on the book written by aforementioned Stanislavski called 'An Actor Arepares' in this book, she gives 7 essays on what she thinks make s theater. one of my favorite quotes fomr her book is :
"Every creative act involves a leap into the void. The leap has to occur at the right moment, and yet, the time for the leap is never prescribed. in the midst of the leap, there are no guarantees."
-Anne Bogart (about embarrassment)

.She is a tony-award winning director and has directed many shows as well as start her own theater company.

Now, I bring all this up for you to see how many differnt styles of acting and directing there are. these are just four very small sampling of what there is in the world, for example, Brecht, who thought that the audience should be detached from the play and never connect to it emotionally, that way they can think about what they are seeing and learn from it... But, i found these four directors a good sampling of what there is.

I wrote a play and was involved in the producing of it (as you can see by my previous blog) and we originally cast one actor to play the lead part. He kept feeling the need to go all Stanislavski on our butts. finding a past and being true to his character. which is fine i guess if thats how he wants to do it. But then after like, two weeks, we had gotten nowhere with him. He still wasn't memorized, and still felt like he needed to connect to Devon as a person (Devon was the name of the character) before he could even memorize or do blocking. We humored him for another week. at this point we had one week until performance and we still didn't have a lead who was memorized or blocked at all, and the energy of the show was non-existent.

We had told him several times, in several ways that we didn't need a real person. that this show was presentational, nor representational (Representational theater: making the audience feel like what theya re watching is real. Presentational theater: showing the audience a story, letting them know they are watching something) Anyway, we told him that and he just didn't get it. i tried explaining parts of Beckett's directing to him,a dn it didn't mesh at all. So i tried to go Meisner on his butt. Get a character, but don't rely on it. It's there for you, not the audience. use whatever part of a character you may have to make your performance more real. it didn't work. He just didn't understand the concept of Presentational theater. he felt like he needed to completely believe and know the exact reason for everything he said before he could say it. An dthe thing was, that only happened in a rehearsal once, and even then, it wasn't stupendous. it wasn't waht we needed. it lacked the energy needed. So we gave him an ultimatum and
ultimately, we replaced him.

I guess i just needed to vent and thought that in order to properly vent, you'd need to understand those directors and how they differ. He wanted to be Stanislavski, we needed a more Beckettian approach. Becket / Brecht. and he couldn't understand that there was a different way to do it.

I think that is a flaw in the common Theatrical education system, is that the Stanislavski method is so highly taught and regarded that many students believe that it is the only way. I would have to if it hadn't been for my high school drama teacher that came my junior year. he opened my eyes to other worlds of theatrical possibilities, not only acting wise, but with the whole concept of theatre. And so i was fairly well educated when i left high school, and i thought that what he taught was what every other high school taught as well, and i had just had a poor teacher my first two years. but no. No. Most teachers teach out of 'an Actor Prepares" and do shows like Oklahoma and Annie Get Your Gun and don't even acknowledge that there is any kind of theater beyond what was happening in the 1930's & 40's. and even there, only the Broadway stuff.

It is just so surprising to me how much teachers stifle their students. sure, they teach them very well in Stanislavski, and even Mesiner, if they are edgy. But not a single other, Non-Bob-Bauer-trained high school student I know of knows the difference between symbolism, surrealism and Dada. Or the difference between Absurdism, Dada and Postmodernism, or how to do a Marxist deconstruction of a play or a feminist deconstruction of a play. or even the difference in directing styles between the two Absurdists, Beckett and Ionesco. And even in college, one has to search out this kind of information and classes. I'm just so glad i learned what i did when i did or else i wouldn't be where i am.


Erika said...

Thanks for saying "on your butt" A lot.

topher clark said...

Ethan - we teach Stanislavski, Meisner, and Hagen in our department, but we also teach Viewpoints (Bogart), Laban, Suzuki, Donnellan, and a variety of other theories. Each class in the performance track focuses on one or more of these. I think you should take an acting class with us - I would love to see you acting. You would be fantastic.