Thursday, May 22, 2014


This section starts out dealing with listening and soon drifts over to the kernel of AK's message:  watch people closely and try to understand why they respond to their environment as they do.  None of AK’s work that I can remember is very “psychological” in terms of inner patterns like id, ego, libido.  Nor is much of it about relationships like intimacy or domination.  The questions are always specific and her examples often reveal HER!   Hedda in particular, wrestling with her boredom and gender confinement.  And yet AK suggests Hedda doesn’t smoke cigars because they are ugly!   So much for a cherished male symbol!  Just a cigar -- maybe not.

Watching AK write material like the following was always interesting, though I didn’t think much about it at the time.  She used those half-size bluebooks without a clipboard.  (My high school teacher used a clipboard for notes and often used it dramatically, slamming it to the floor when her adolescents were out of control.)  She usually used a pencil, but didn’t erase -- more likely to cross out.  She underlined a lot.  An English teacher would discourage all those three dot pauses, those dashes, those semicolons that are everywhere.  It’s not that she’s punctuating in an old-fashioned or ignorant way, but that she’s trying to record the spoken words she’s hearing in her head as she writes.

I wish I had a painting of her and Lucy in a rowboat out on the water at Eagles Mere on a Sunday afternoon, an umbrella shading AK while she scribbled, and Lucy alternating between rowing and just basking.  A public and idyllic intimacy, entirely blameless.

It’s interesting to ask why AK’s life was confined to the small world of academic theatre on one campus.  She was not competitive or ambitious in any obvious way, though she clearly threatened those who were like that in her small world.  She didn’t try to go to Broadway and always spoke against the star system, even as she served it.  She didn’t produce books.  It was almost as though she were creating family with students for children, cherishing and punishing them, sometimes controlling a little too much, very occasionally driving one out.


Side Activity:  Nobody has talked about voice work in journals.  You begin with breathing.  Correct breathing is based on rib support. Place hands on side of waist to find correct position for ribs.  Or lie on floor with book on diaphragm.  Get feeling of movement.  Actors must keep ribs expanded and out all the time.  Take supplementary breaths with ribs expanded.  Work at this fifteen minutes a day.

Behavior Patterns, Basic Drives and Observation:  AK:  “What makes me the individual I am?”  She ruffles hair of one of the students.  “Why did I do that?”  So-and-so, another teacher, would never do that in class.  This is part of her behavior.  Through observing what people do, through speculating on why they do it, we begin to understand human personality, human motivation, human character.  This is where characterization begins for the actor -- through insight coupled with the skill to reproduce meaningful behavior.  To grasp why people do what they do or do not do what they they don’t, you have to find out what drive motivates their lives.  Drives are basic; they are modified by environment.  Self-preservation is one drive.  They become elevated, sublimated, degraded, turned into other things through living.  It is miraculous how you can turn yourself into someone else by simply doing what they do.  When you feel low, you might ask yourself who you have been seeing, who you have been with; we tend to take on the qualities of people we are with.  There is nothing mysterious about reading people’s characters through their behavior.  What we are is written all over us -- what we think, believe, feel, etc.  Most people are so concerned with selves that they simply don’t notice what others are going through.


Study your own auditory pattern.  What constitutes sound?  Vibrations.  Is a voice you hear nasal, denasal? What is its pitch, its timbre?  What rate does the person speak at.  No two people hear the same thing, hear the same way.  Note how differently two people describe the same experience -- a musical composition, say.  Two-thirds are satisfied when they hear the theme; others go farther.  Sharpen your own hearing.  The fog horn in Anna Christie: sound crew produces a sound that is O.K. out front; but onstage it may be a distortion.  Act I of Seagull:  A song comes from across the lake.  For each person onstage it has different connotations.  As actors you have to create imaginary sounds and respond to them, have to create people who have keener auditory senses than you may have.  Marchbanks has a keen auditory sense but is not what we call neurotic.  What does Lady Macbeth hear?  Macbeth?  Watch people listening.  What can you learn about them as people from the way they listen?  Put a person in a situation where he has to listen and individual differences begin to come out.  Listen to someone speak a foreign language; what do you hear?  Out of several listeners, one may be caught up completely in a sound or series of sounds.  If you completely use a sense, you lose yourself.  Some people listen only for the sense of an utterance.  Others hear and can reproduce vocal tones that go along with the utterance.  Actors onstage must not only hear words spoken onstage but overtones and undertones that creep into voices onstage -- or that are missing and which tell so much more than the words.  Actors must play to voice quality just as they play to eyes.

Side comment:  Remember that whatever you do onstage by previous plan may have to be changed when you come to rehearsal; there may be other actors onstage to stimulate you . . .  On writing:  Good writers don’t state how a character feels, in a story or novel; they record what the character does and the reader draws the correct conclusion.  How do we know who and what people are?  By the small things they do.  If I ask you about Hedda, you will say she is bored.  She is.  But how do you act boredom of that size?  [AK demonstrates by having responses to the ugly brown cover on the piano which is also locked in the classroom.]  Things add up into boredom.  You have to find something tangible to begin with.  You are bored in response to something.  Hedda’s boredom is going to lead to destruction.  Actors are lucky; in plays the playwright tells you what the character does -- now and later.  But the actor has to fill in between the moments the playwright gives.  These are the five-finger exercises of acting we have been working on.  It is basic that lines must follow from a stimulus;  every time an audience knows whether a response is real or faked.  Your -- the actor’s -- little empathic response to the stimulus (which an audience never analyzes) tells the truth . . .  There is much made of a light bulb in Streetcar.  Three people respond to it.  Blanche says she can’t stand that naked bulb (it shows up her age).  First you must feel its heat, then wince, then speak.  It should be a hanging bulb, too, that can be set to swinging, be made to dance; it must be there -- to reveal character. . . . 

Onstage inner lives are being revealed . . . Special project: observe spines of people for a while -- and nothing but! . . .  Why does Hedda smoke?  It’s just come into vogue; not many women do it in her circle.  Would not smoke a cigar -- she loves beauty too much.  Hedda would take her feelings out on a cigarette.  Take her out of the world of women and put her into the world of men, where she wants to be . . .  A student imitates a smoker who he thinks is like a young Biff Loman.  He has observed the person’s traits, but in his reproduction of them they are still exterior.  Actors must be good mimics, but acting is not a representation of exterior qualities.  It always has to illuminate the why of behavior.  You can ask a person, “Why do you do that?” and they will say, “Oh, do I?” . . .  Drama lies in seeing a stimulated by something. . .

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