classes in the Hagen Process to actors working on TV and Film and Telenovelas I
have the privilege of working with top talents with wide ranging creative
expression. They all want to affect their audience with powerful performances.
The ways they seek to do that range even wider.
experience more and more each day when new actors present their first Hagen
Exercise and when they experience our 1-2 structured improvs is the almost
universal assumption that learning to act must start with expressing emotion.
Fundamental exercises developed by Hagen, all extensions of Stanislavski, are
presented in class to reveal the connection 'tween thought and behavior. We do
the simple to uncover the sublime, the truthful. What I see over and over again
are attempts at entertainment deluged by the actor's generalized, imposed,
supposed, forced attitudes. All without a specific cause in relation to the
specific circumstance thus preventing any of it from being true emotion which
are bright, attentive, vigorous people from all walks of life, from the four
corners of the globe, from a myriad of cultures and languages, and yet, they
all, invariably, start their work in class with the assumption that they've got
to 'feel' and they must be 'interesting'.
their desire to serve the audience but you can't when starting from such a
false premise. Acting is taking action; doing something specific in reaction to
a specific cause. That is the root of all future performance but no one
wants to start there because so much of our industry doesn't require it.
Pleasing looks and an affinity for mimicry is often all that's necessary to get
do I say to all these bright, worldly people who've seen so much of life from
all different perspectives when they present an exercise in class that is
hidden 'neath presumption and cliche stylization? I say, "What's your
action?" And they most often reply, "Angry, disappointed, confused,
sad, cocky, etc." They answer with States of Being, or Feelings. All
points to be considered but not answers to the question. I ask again and
receive various synonyms for the original terms and, ask again. They look at me
puzzled, even defensive. They've been conditioned by decades of TV that acting
is an imposed emotion, and assumed attitude, an emphasized line reading, a
perfectly timed raised eyebrow.
And so I
exemplify my point, life's point, with scenes from the 1939 HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE
DAME film starring Charles Laughton where he transforms into half a dozen
different personas, each with a different action, within seconds, without any
lines, and half his face covered by a mask. I show the kitchen scene from
BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY where Meryl Streep reveals to us her every thought as
she makes breakfast for her family. And the 'pen' scene from DEATH OF A
SALESMAN with Hoffman and Malkovich where words are used as daggers, bludgeons,
scalpels to hurt and skewer and exorcise. And then I ask, when these new actors
have seen our great artists, "What are their actions?", I see the
dawning of understanding creep across faces or once in a while someone actually
hits themselves on the forehead with discovery! Of course!: Acting is Doing!
really is crystalized for them when 'tween setting up scenes on the stage I
overhear conversations in the classroom and I break in with, "What's your
action?", the slight pause as they review their relationship with each
other is filled with a burst of precise verbs, "To understand, to mock, to
inform, to tease" and on and on. They get it, and they get if from the
best source; not the teacher and not the process, but rather from their own
life. As it should be.
our work in class each text is investigated in terms of what the character
wants and what the are willing to do to get it. The passion of the character is
not in their tears or in their rage but rather in their actions to get what
they want. Acting that zooms in on the emotion is melodrama: exaggerated,
histrionic, hammy. We are just surround by so much of it in our media today
that we can't see the forest for the trees. Today's commercial acting with all
its cliche and mannerism is the performance variant of Orwell's New Speak
designed to limit true thought and expression and individuality. There is so
little individuality in the prepackaged 'biz'. But it was that issue of
sameness, of carbon copies, of generality and sensationalism that stirred
Stanislavski to examine and reform the actor's approach to creating character
100 years ago. A century has passed and we find ourselves in the very same
place as did Stanislavski: the acting world is a mask hiding it's deceit. The
commercialization of our art into the world wide industry it is today is an
insatiable hunger for product rather than creation.
dissect, methodically, as ballet dancers and violinists and figure artists do,
the elements of our art essential to express its depth and breadth. Our canvas
is life, our brush strokes are actions, our colors are emotions, our subject is