Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Acting Questions

I love the recent posts on various blogs about acting. Isaac on Parabasis, for example, recently posted:

One of the challenges in contemporary directing is dealing with actors from all sorts of different disciplines and techniques and school in the rehearsal room. we have a number of ways of dealing with this. One is to have a company that creates its own technique. Another is to simply talk about what you want as an end result and trust the actor's various methods for getting there. The problem with the first is that it is impractical in a lot of ways for most artists, the problem with the second is that it doesn't leave a lot of room for exploration. The real challenge is really discovering together and creating together even when you have very very different ways to go about doing it.

Having directed more than 40 plays (before I was full-time journalist, before Back Stage, before I was the founding editor of Theatermania.com), I came upon this challenge all the time. I remember once directing a new play at the Metropolitan Playhouse back in 1998 or so, and there were five actors, each with a different approach, if not outright ideology. Fortunately, all five of those actors were smart and well-versed in many different approaches to the craft, so one actor could use, in the course of a rehearsal, a particular piece of terminology that another actor might choose not to subscribe to, for it would not work for them, but would understand and be respectful of. What you need when casting, quite frankly, are actors who are secure in their process. Many actors are not.

Much of this challenge, in addition, really relates not to the director so much as to other actors: If actors are able and willing to speak each other in different "languages," it doesn't matter who uses what (small-m) method. The greater challenge is when directors have to mediate -- when Actor A wants to come at a particular moment a certain way, but actor B refuses to work that way and a standoff arises. I also feel it's foolhardy for directors to be dogmatic about acting styles -- in rehearsals, it can generate the opposite of an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual understanding.

But to Isaac's point -- that you either need to create a company in which everyone subscribes to one ideology or "trust the actor's various methods for getting there" -- it's up to the director in the first place to have a working knowledge of what those various approaches are, especially to understand their inevitable pluses and their minuses (and all approaches have both). I should add that rehearsals need not be a forum for debating acting styles.

The problem with everyone subscribing to a singular ideology is not, as Isaac says, impractical; many companies do fine and sometimes even glorious work all working off the same approach. If anything, having one ideological is, ironically, rather practical; there's nothing more freeing than a common aesthetic shorthand. That said, it's difficult to take hard-headed (cap-m) Method actors and put them in a room with Anne Bogart or the Tectonic Theater Company.

The problem with everyone not subscribing to a singular ideology is not that there's not enough room for exploration but, rather, too much room -- a danger that there will be no structure, no linearity, no one to regulate the flow of expressions, experiments and ideas. But I submit that's precisely why the director is there. In this sense, the director plays stylistic traffic cop. True, sometimes you see a play and think to yourself, "Gee, they're not all in the same play" (a good example is Norbert Leo Butz in Isn't He Dead?, which is what I wrote in my review.) But often, you can have lots of actors coming from different places and you'd never know. Truly brilliant actors understand the endgame is about their role, their character, their interpretation, their me, me, me-ness; they understand the endgame must be we, we, we. If it's not, they're not the kind of actors one should be working with.

Just to be clear, I'm not attacking what Isaac is saying. I'm just saying that, in my experience, there's another way to look at the conundrum.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: