Wednesday, May 28, 2014


SPRING QUARTER (1960-1961)


1. To give students the experience of developing a characterization for a play and presenting its component parts onstage so as to communicate to spectators what the author wanted them to know about that character; to follow through on the actor’s Creative Process in connection with one role.

2.  To acquaint students with the concepts which underlie the acting of comedy and to develop some techniques used in acting Comedy.


 1.  To continue development of everything else the student has been working on during the year.  See outlines of previous quarters.


1.  Comedy of character results from opposite elements (incongruities) in a person’s makeup coming into evidence; the actor must dramatize the opposites, throw focus onto them, play them off against each other so as to evoke laughter.

2.  Sample opposites would include:  Prossy’s primness, efficiency, capability being upset by Marchbank’s reference to “love”, so that we see the real woman underneath; Prossy after a glass of champagne lets us see her two selves; a person who has a relaxed body and voice, but who uses “intense” language, is manifesting an opposite; a person wanting to help out in some way, but making a mess of things, etc.

3.  Drama is the one thing coming in conflict with another; you can have comedy that is very close to pathos -- and this is the finest kind.

4.  In comedy things are often in excess: there is too much excitement, too much intensity, too much eagerness, too much casualness, or something in relation to what is doing on, in relation to the other stimuli.  (Athene Seyler’s idea that comedy depends upon the audience recognizing a “norm” of behavior from which the character in some way deviates.)

5. Actors must avoid doing too many different things, adding little extra wiggles and embellishments and the like, which distract the audience from seeing and hearing what is significant.

6.  When comedy results from the situation, you are in the realm of farce; comedy of character is something else.

7.  Opposites can be played simultaneously, or alternatingly; one can come in and cut off the other; actors: use arrests, realization!

8.  In verbal comedy, lines have to be “landed”, to be made to hit out front and connect with the spectator.

9.  Comedy acting -- or any acting -- will lack freshness if you just do a sequence of planned things without responding to the stimuli which touch off responses and actions.  Avoid breaking lines up too much, or speaking too slowly.

10.  Play reactions of surprise to the hilt.

11.  Everything you wear and do must have a purpose, must make a statement to the audience; you must not offend us, for when we are offended, we will not laugh.

12.  Before studying a role, the actor must study the play itself; ask: what is the author’s purpose in writing the play; since it is theatre, it is to entertain -- through laughter, through the exaltation of tragedy, or through enlightenment and making people think; a few dramatists want the audience to do something, like fight for the brotherhood of man.  State in a word or phrase the subject matter of the play.  Then state the theme of the play, which is always a comment on the subject.  Theme must determine everything you do.

13.  Too often actors deliver a line and then stop as if they wanted the other actor to go on.  This looks false.  Hence, the need for something else to concentrate on, something for the mind to be occuped with, for a divided focus, something else to go on reacting to.

14.  Comedy of character is based on real character traits and does not make fun of people, does not caricature.

15.  The dominant drive of a character can be summarized in a “psychological action”.  Watch the eyes of people to see what their goals are; if they tend to put on a complete mask, watch their mouths.

16.  You can’t just create a character; the character has to be part of an organic whole.

17.  You illuminate a theme by finding your position in relation to it; then the audience adds it all up.

18.  Be careful you don’t work to create the mood you think exists; do what the characters do for the reasons they do them and let the audience create the mood from this.

19.  Voice and movement are an outer manifestation of something: curiosity, wonder, etc.

20.  Improvisation has as its goal (or as one of them) creating the inner life of a character -- the many-leveled thinking that goes on; if words come out, they are only part of it.

21.  In acting, start with essences, don’t act the “buts,” at least at first.

22.  Remember that drama takes up near crises, moves towards crises; don’t key things too low, or you won’t get to the crises; intensify the conflicts; intensification is an imaginative process; make distances bigger.

23.  Drama lies in the moments of transition.

24.  Creation is creation of stimuli.

25.  To stimulate imagination in connection with characterization, find the metaphor for your character and present it in fantasy form.

26.  Bodies must reveal what is going on inside the person; you are faking if your bodies don’t reveal anything;  start with a character’s spine.

27.  The discovery that comes from analysis must lead into kinesthetic responses in your body.


There are two strong memories I have of the work along these lines.  One was a character AK loved to play -- a runt of a belligerent Irishman, three sheets to the wind with his dukes up ready to punch out some offender.  But wait, it’s necessary to find someone to hold his coat.  Wouldn’t want to dirty his coat.  The woman would be angry.  “Now I’m going to knock your block off and you’ll rue the day . . .  but first I’m that thirsty, I’ve got to have another beer!”  She’d dance in and out, feinting at the shoulder of her victim and then backpedaling away, stopping to roll her sleeves up a little farther, thumbing "his" nose to look fierce, never really doing more than shadow boxing, the little banty rooster of a man’s intentions of aggression entirely undercut by his actual ineffectuality.

The other was a little game that Paula Ragusa/Prentiss used to play as an improv.  She had invited the local parson to tea.  She herself was an ever-so-proper but rather mischievous old lady who fully intended to put a spider into Rev. Applebaum’s tea.  What a delightful thought!   But one must not give away one’s intentions, so “Lemon in your tea, Reverend?”  Maybe the spider could just be slipped in under . . .

This list looks less like a course outline than a compendium of remarks made in class.  I suspect Weldon.

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