As I type this material I am 75 and fairly widely read, so naturally much more strikes me than did when I was 18 and only read novels. One thing I note (maybe I read it somewhere) is how much AK comes back and back to the Elizabethans and the Greeks as epitomizing what it is to be free and alive. Other writers have noted this. In the Sixties, just before the cultural renaissance called New Age (if you accept that characterization), American culture was celebratory. We had won WWII, we all owned cars and houses -- but it was unseemly to show off our conviction that we were a “peak culture,” so we implied it by associating ourselves with two other periods that were grand and cultured.
Now, of course, we are looking at the end of things, diminishment, confusion, and want to think about neanderthals and the end of the Roman Empire as well as the end of the English empire. It’s a playwright’s problem, but also one for the actors. Perhaps AK is so fond of Ibsen and Chekov because they are critical and see “modern” as not so fail-safe. But my high school teachers in the Fifties also held up Elizabethans and Greeks as exemplars. Were the Sixties and Seventies an attempt to return to those periods in some way?
The point for an acting teacher is that a sound knowledge of culture and history is vital. How did AK come by her opinions of how people did things long ago?
V. GUSTATORY AND OLFACTORY SENSES
Can be put together but are separate. Gustatory is in tastebuds in tip and sides of tongue, but there is also a response in the stomach. Other sense is in the nose. These are two senses that have become dull -- very. [Sometime I wonder how much of what AK thinks is true of the society is in fact her own self projected. She is aging, thus her senses become more dull.]
Begin acting by asking why is this character in the play, why is this scene in the play. One Foot in America (opening U.T. show of this season) is filled with eating scenes. How you eat, your response to food, is you. One Foot is folk drama -- delineates a folk through their love-making, hatreds, etc., exists to reveal a people. We saw a group of people onstage acting -- sitting around a table and doing what? Why does your mouth water at the thought of food? . . . Once there was a reason for a prayer before a meal; when our attitude toward food changed, the prayer went. AK recollects a man who smiled at food, another man who thought a baked potato was “beautiful.” Comments on how long a novelist takes to describe about food, eating, etc. which we can show in an instant onstage. She refers to other eating scenes in Studio Theatre plays class has seen: Sicilian Limes, Demi-Monde; recollects her first French breakfast: “Ze butter is in ze roll!” an article in the New Yorker about a restauranteur who goes around tasting food, asks class to distinguish between a gourmet and a gourmand.
Eating reveals national characteristics. In the last scene of R.U.R. there are people in tails after dinner drinking brandy -- have reached the highest level of sophistication, but only one man onstage recalls how to handle a brandy glass. If you have a drink to handle onstage, know what it must tell. You say you can’t eat and talk? People do it. The way you size up your plate (or don’t), put in the first fork-ful, etc. all reveal something about us. Think of your favorite food; what happens? Your mouth begins to water. Think of Falstaff. He tastes beer before he’s got it. Where does he want food? Elizabethans were very open about it. You can’t fake these things onstage, can’t “play an attitude.” What do you get in an animal? It’s a necessity to have food. When he has enough he quits. Eating scenes provide dramatists with one of the best ways to show family and social relationships. Noel Coward went to the cocktail set for his material; a whole era was caught and on top of it are the clever, brittle lines. Do you know the mark of your own eating? What epitomizes you? What food?
One girl says German beer is her favorite. Not just beer, but German beer -- she’s gone up in the scale of discrimination; the girl explains why and comes alive as she talks about drinking the beer in particular surroundings with particular friends under particular circumstances; she describes the taste, color, richness, glass it is served in, where you go for it, etc. and almost makes a stein of it materialize. The stein itself is an expression of part of the German temperament -- German word for “friendship” mentioned, for love they can be very sentimental -- can weep, sing, be warm, you belong, you are welcome in their little places. . .
Do you know spices? The names of them perhaps, but do you really known the essentials of them? Acting is illusion; that’s why we’re training your senses -- so that you can turn stage oatmeal into -- ?
Critique of a student’s efforts to reproduce someone’s drinking: Give me a character sketch of him? What do you know about him? A professional gambler? (He was throwing dice and drinking.) Why do you use the label “professional”? It looked kind of amateurish. Was it whisky? How do you know it was whisky? You mean you didn’t know what he was drinking? Was he rich, poor, in between? What sort of place was he in? Was he a heavy drinker? A light drinker? We ought to know a great deal about him by the end. What size glass was it? What are his eyes like? What makes him sit there for a long time between drinks? WHY? HOW DO YOU KNOW? AK says, “I’m still asking why.”
Critiques of other eating scenes: Class are giving situations rather than character responses to food. . . AK wants to know what a character’s attitude toward food is . . . What role you would identify the character with -- Juliet? Hedda? Clytemnestra? it should be possible to take the character into some other situation once his or her eating habits have been established. . . One student seems to be acting any young girl, to be acting attitudes; each person is a unique being in a specific situation: look at her head, feet, eyes, etc. From the cigarette exercise onward you’ve been looking for the why of behavior.
Critique of an exercise in which a boy attempts to create an Elizabethan: you’re faking. The listening was inadequate, the voice was wrong. Now you’re really listening (to the critique!) Before you didn’t hear. No, you’re going through planned sequences. You were a little modern man rather than an Elizabethan with curiosity, wonder, love of life. If you wore tights all the time you would be free, and you would show your legs to advantage. We see something prissy. Where’s your weapon? How do you know you’re not going to be attacked? Murders occurred in broad daylight as well as at night . . . Create an Elizabethan who might be in Shakespeare’s plays. Before you weren’t alert; you’re a little alert now; London must be full of smells, etc. He talks about there being “garbage” around; is that all there is in the room? He is “attacked” by another student who has been hiding in the shadows. There’s always something going on around you. Student look up several details on Elizabethan life, but made the mistake of stopping there. Put into action the child’s principle: “IF I wore tights -- IF I lived in dangerous times -- IF I were a man and wore a necklace -- IF I wore a ruff.” Pictures? What did you see in the pictures? Hands must be ready to draw weapon, but must not touch weapon unless someone else draws. Protect the vital parts of the body -- where the organs are. In this era of Elizabeth you do need to to be prepared. No “buts!” something has to transform you or else it does no good to read dozens of books. I’m giving you what is typical. . .
Critiques of other Elizabethans: Did she have a quality of open-eyed wonder? Why did she walk sideways, crab-like? Only crab-like people walk sideways. Where’s your big skirt? Twirl it, kick it out of the way. Arms being out away from body at the beginning was good, but don’t let them get stuck there. Don’t get so close to a chair as you approach in your voluminous skirt; some women wore farthingales, but not all. How much do skirts weigh? Feel resistance against them with pleasure.
To a boy acting the death of Christopher Marlowe: You are giving us an elaborate “plot.” You must achieve a much stronger walk; sitting needs more room; never let yourself get squeezed up against furniture regardless of what the play is. Handle the cloak easily; experiment with possible ways to dispose cape around you. Now feel the weight of the cape and enjoy the movement of swinging it; these people have energy. Don’t swing your weight from side to side. Keep a pull upward; work on stopping the middle of a strong step. Let all parts of body “follow through” on a movement. Exercises tried to get strength and suppleness and follow-thru.
Girl dressing herself before a mirror: her happiness was excessive to the motivation; no reason for being so happy. What was she, anyway? I’m going to say she was a high school girl doing her first costume show. Were you an Elizabethan? assignment was to get an Elizabethan body responding. To another girl: You’d be carried out of court for a little bow like that. The bow goes down and under, with nothing sticking out. Circle around rather than pivot; the skirt must follow you. Feel the skirts; where’s the pull felt? What about her step? What’s inconsistent? It’s little and tiny. Women, too, must take long steps to get somewhere. Do exercises; enjoy them. Everything (parts of body) needs to be in alignment; bodies “resent” an off-balance position . . .
To students attempting to be Romeo and Mercutio: you aren’t holding our attention; if you can’t hold attention something is very wrong. Mercutio should be the best swordsman in Verona. He is not an animal but an element: quicksilver! Moves quickly, all in a piece.
To another girl: leap, leap for the joy of it; walk; leap; reach for something -- a star, a man, anything! Elizabethans have so much to reach for they can’t choose. The Queen is coming! The Earl of Leicester! A musician! Strange animals! Strange people! . . .
To another girl: Nothing really Elizabethan in her portrayal of a Catholic woman at a shrine. Her religious feeling would be very intense, because she’s had to take sides, or evade the state’s decree. The worship business restrains you; try being at a theatre with a mask on, in a world of intrigue; skirt must have weight, a concealing cape; enjoy it! What play is it? Why are you there? . . .
To another girl: Movement actually suggests a dainty delicate person! Be Juliet running to meet the Nurse, with the “why” of Nurse bringing Romeo’s first message. Running on tiptoe to life. What is life to a young girl in love for the very first time -- and with a Romeo! What does the sky look like? The grounds? The trees? She wants to take it all in! Don’t think about it -- feel and sense it all. Make one good run across the stage and stop; good because it had suspense in it.
Side comment to girl who “doesn’t feel like it” when it comes to doing a scene: What do you do if the curtain is going up in five minutes and you’re scheduled to play Juliet? What do you do? Never let an audience down: never, never, never. The rule of the theatre is: the show must go on. If you aren’t there, that’s the end.
Other Elizabethan: You’re acting attitudes. There was no reason for picking up that skirt. It is stupid to walk in straight lines; your clothes wouldn’t follow you; you must go in circles. How many petticoats do you have? Many. Don’t tell me, feel them. It is nothing to intellectualize: you must be kinesthetic, not mental.
Actor showing Krapp’s response to banana -- and other stimuli. Everything was “more than clear.” What dimension did performer add? Delight. A man who knows how to get what he wants out of a watch, a banana, etc. who has the delightful recognition that everything is “working as it should,” that the watch is running, that the banana tastes as it should, etc. His joints had to be manipulated as a result of extreme age. Everything he did was beautiful. What did you learn? -- that what the author gives him has to be motivated.
Critique of actress setting table: Class is asked to give a biography of the character they have just seen. Why does she do it this way? She did each thing one at a time. Finished one thing absolutely, then took up the next. Tiredness without martyrdom was clear. She realistically checked everything. Woman seemed older than student actress because she had a “settled” quality of middle age.
Same student as Kate the Shrew: Let’s see her express joy in living. You have so much energy it has to be expended somehow -- in climbing to the sun, in choking a man, etc. Cry out; leap; run. Now pick up that little lute, used to sing insipid songs to Bianca. (Movement is too inhibited.) Get on a horse. Swing up! Get on a bike. Two men go onstage to “tame” her -- real men, not Bianca men. (Now actress feels “just great.”) Her society is is trying to make her conform to being a Bianca -- she replies by being the opposite. Then she meets Petruchio and falls in love with him. Recognize first that he dares, then respond. . .
Critique of boy presenting a character study observed from life: Everything onstage tells a story: tell me a story here. You saw a timid little man absorbed in his paper and less in his food? If you were writing a play, how would you use him? This is character study. I’m not interested in plot. One person eats at a particular time -- so, when it gets to be that time, he eats; is this the man you saw? He felt he had to read the paper? What page did he read? Was that the actor or was that the man observed? “He reads the comic section first?" How does he read the comic section; why does he read it first? Does he laugh inside? Does so because it doesn’t take any concentration? Because he doesn’t feel like plunging into world affairs or high finance? Because comics provide a certain positive thing that comes up day after day -- provide a kind of safety, certainty, security. What did the eating tell? College student? Businessman? Does he taste his food? What’s he eating? An egg? Oatmeal? Does he enjoy it? If it is not so good as usual, would he know it? Is he in his own home? Go on doing it, and while you do, tell us what you’ve discovered about him. Give us a “hand study” again. Does he smoke? Is there anything you notice particularly about his hands? Does he use his fingers separately, or the hand as a whole? If the former, it says that this is a man who has time and/or taste to know what his fingers are doing. Next time you do anything, take your opposite, somebody as different from you as possible.
Critique of a boy doing an Elizabethan: We don’t like the laugh; it’s a self-conscious snigger. Show us you can laugh like an Elizabethan. Movement excellent -- had pull-up, follow-through, balance, ease.
Critique of boy eating: A laborer? An Italian -- or some excitable nationality? A person who hasn’t had much education, but who gets through life well enough? A college student showing off? Go up onstage again. Something needs clarification. Study him more. Enjoyment of food, showing off, etc. coming through better . . .
Critique of girl impersonating an old woman eating: A very old woman. Some good observation of character. She did walk in between counter and stools. Why didn’t she take napkin to begin with? Why was coffee put where it was? It is an actor’s job to give the audience cues to understanding. Did spectators believe in it? Was it caricature? You tend to say this whenever you see something extreme; Evanston is full of extreme people. Scene still needs “the reasons why,” although some of these were there. AK asks actress if she is satisfied? Actress feels she hasn’t got inside woman yet. AK says audience wanted to know why she became old in this particular way.
Critique of boy who impersonates a literary-minded college student who does nothing but talk, talk, talk at table. Next time choose an opposite kind of person. When class laughs, AK points out they are laughing at a comic irony.
Critique of a girl’s exercise. What did you get from this? Did you believe her? What kind of person is she? What is her personal drama? How does she look at life? I’d say that she rejects practically everything. What we’re searching for is the reason why -- otherwise you will act stereotypes.