I like to hang out in Samuel French and browse through books on acting, just to see if there is some revelatory insight or exercise that might be useful to me. I love the methodology that I teach, but it’s good to keep things fresh, you know? I have to say, on most of these excursions I come up empty; there are, alas, a lot of mediocre books on acting around. However, I recently came across this book, and have found it to be rather good. It’s not the “inspirational” book on acting, with a lot of important concepts presented but little that can be practically leveraged, nor is it an “inspiration”-in-the-form-of-a-how-to-book, which often tries to address concepts and practice and does neither effectively. It really is laid out like a textbook, and that was something I had to get past. My best teachers never taught acting or directing from textbooks, and both of those practices are art forms after all, so I have a prejudice against attempts to present the material in that form. Nevertheless, I think, after spending a little time looking through it, that Acting Through Exercises has a lot to offer. It explains a lot of conceptual stuff in a very concrete way, and provides exercises actors can do in pairs to explore these concepts. I can’t vouch for everything in the book, and I saw some particular concepts explained in a less than optimal way, but on the whole I thought the level of clarity about acting was above average, and the exercises nicely help to place the concepts presented in context.
One discussion I though was interesting involved what the book called the “three R’s” that form the title of this post: receive, reorganize, return. These three R’s attempt to describe the three processes involved in an actor’s engagement with a partner in a scene. Continuously, the actor has to receive what the partner is sending, in terms of language, tone and nonverbal behavior, to reorganize what has been received to attempt to transform what was received into useful feedback for the partner (or, more precisely, the character the partner is playing), then return the output of the reorganization process.
That actors need to receive and return is pretty uncontroversial, I think. Most approaches to acting would seek to promote these things. It’s in the reorganization part that the various approaches differentiate themselves. What is really happening inside the actor as stuff is received from the partner? In the approach that I teach, the actor is always measuring two things simultaneously in the reorganizing moment: is the partner giving me a piece of what I need from my relationship with the partner right now, in this moment, and am I making progress towards the outcome that I want (or plot objective, which is our term of art). These two things are always related to each other, tightly coupled, but also always distinct. To put it another way, we are always monitoring unfolding events with our gut and with our mind simultaneously (cf. this earlier post about the “second brain” in the gut) and conjointly (the mind and gut interact with each other), but also, the two monitorings always remain partially independent of each other.
When I see a student working on a scene who is not receiving from her partner, I will often ask the pair to do the scene again, but before delivering each line, rephrase the partner’s line as a question, and then say their line. So if Joe’s line is “I’m going to the store.” and Edna’s line is “Bring me some cigarettes and a bottle of wine,” then doing the exercise, if Joe says the first line, then Edna will say “You’re going to the store? Bring me some cigarettes and a bottle of wine.” Then Joe would answer says “Bring you some cigarettes and a bottle of wine?…” and then he would append his next line from the text, and so on. This forces the actor to listen to what the other actor is saying before proceeding with their own line. However, what often happens is that the actor will receive the line from the partner and return the response, but fail to forge a connection between the two, ie simply skip the reorg. Often, I will provide the actor with a sentence to say between the rephrased partner’s line and their own that gives direct voice to what they need in the moment. For example, I might ask Edna to say “I’m crying inside” between the rephrased partner’s line and her own line, each time she speaks. Or we might use her underlying objective, and she might say “I need my
- Houses on stilts, with cherry blossoms.
- Getting kicked out of Starbucks for refusing the Speak.
- iPhone users get lucky more than Android users of Blackberrys users. Yeah, that kind of get lucky.
- She has got a tough act to follow. Seriously.
- News of the grizzly: remains of two fetuses from the 30’s found in LA-area basement. I feel a movie coming on.
- Not usually into web lists, but this one is really good.
- Banana boats like you’ve never seen them before.
- Thanks, but I’ll take the bleached alabaster any day of the week.
- This caterpillar is as surprising as it is dangerous. I feel another movie coming on.
- Surf’s up. Way up.
- A film of pre-1905 earthquake San Francisco. Mesmerizing.
- I guess we all did crawl out from under a rock.
- The 13 favorite albums of the Moz.
- Fearless deer.
- OPERATION! with dominoes.
- Ties that don’t suck.
- Don’t fear the Crying Panda.
1. you like doing scenes from plays that surprise you
2. you want a scene partner that shows up every week, ready to work
3. you like being surprised by what comes out of you
4. you like working on a scene until it’s really, really good
5. you enjoy daydreaming and wondered how it could help you make a living
6. you like some irreverence with your seriousness
7. you play to win
8. you see props as opportunities to enrich the physical life of the scene, not something to mime and do without
9. you don’t rehearse your scene in the hallway ten minutes before class
10. you like to go deep
11. curiousity is your drug of choice
12. you don’t show cleavage at auditions
13. you think that anything worth doing is worth doing well
This is a cryin’ shame:
A troupe of 18 convicted murderers, robbers and other felons at Woodbourne Correctional Facility had been scheduled to perform an original play Wednesday at Eastern Correctional Facility in Ellenville.
But the state Department of Correctional Services has canceled the show because union workers threatened to picket.
This was a project that a very noble group had launched:
In January 2008, inmates began writing and rehearsing their own Broadway-style show about the difficulty of living behind bars and keeping a family. The play, “Starting Over,” was funded and supervised by Rehabilitation Through the Arts, a nonprofit group that seeks to reduce recidivism through arts enrichment programs. The group declined comment on the cancellation, but it forged ahead with a production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” last week at Sing Sing.
And why? The Prison Guards Union just didn’t see the point:
Kevin Walker, regional vice president for the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, said prison farms, annexes and print shops have been useful because they teach skills that can be applied toward a job on the outside. The union saw no value in theater work.
“How many of these medium-security convicts do you think will go to Broadway and get a job?” Walker said. “We believe it’s a blatant waste of manpower and funding.”
Un-effin-believable. This is a profoundly sad commentary on the pervasive, radical ignorance in this country about the way in which artistic practice enriches the lives of those who participate in it. These are men who have lost everything, and most carry horrendous burdens of guilt and shame with them, attempting to collaborate constructively to EXPRESS THEMSELVES!!! Oh THE HORROR!!! My take: the Prison Guards were jealous that prsioners were taking such initiative to transform their lot and enrich their lives. Cut a little too close to home for these philistines.
Please, pass this on!!!
And here are some people you can contact to complain about it:
Kevin Walker (mentioned above) firstname.lastname@example.org
New York State Department of Correctional Servies http://www.docs.state.ny.us/DOCSwebcontactform.asp
Thanks for reading!
I am excited to announce I am initiating Second Wedensdays:
an informal group of enthusiasts who will meet once a month (on the second Wednesday of the month!) to read a
play aloud. We will read all kinds of plays: European, American, classic, new, we will cover the whole map.
And I am very pleased to report that I have obtained the
consent of the owner of Cafe La Vie in Hayes Valley to stay open for
us once a month. This cafe is great. If you don’t know it, check out
what people are saying about it on yelp.com:
(Don’t miss the one that is written as a “break-up” letter to Peet’s
Anyway, it’s low-key, not a commitment, come when you can, meet some
new folks, look for dates, whatever you want. And get to know a great
play, or get to know it again. The first meeting will be Wednesday,
Sept 12, (yes, I know, two days after the talk) at 8 PM. Everyone is welcome. It’s a great way for people to get to know the Mother of Invention community a little bit.
Feel free to email me at email@example.com for more information.