Wednesday, June 04, 2014

AK -- Bleiler's "Notes from the Blue Book" 1962

C49-1   NOTES FROM THE BLUE BOOKS      October 2, 1962

Suppose you are attending a piano concert -- by Rubenstein, for instance.  He enters with his usual brisk attitude, proceeds with preparatory flourishes, then strikes the first note.  You feel vaguely “let down.”  It does not “lift” you as it has before.  The movement continues, but you remain passive.  “He is not in good form tonight,” you think.  Your mind wanders; or you listen passively.  He does not command your attention.  Later you learn that, by some accident, the piano had not been tuned to true concert pitch for that evening.  The master had played as usual with all his musicianship, but the instrument had not communicated his interpretation.

The actor’s body is his instrument.  It must be one that he can rely upon, one that he can be as objectively proud of as a violinist is proud of his Stradivarius.  Every time the actors comes on stage, his instrument must be tuned to “concert pitch.”  Even though he might be playing the role of a dying man, the audience must feel that the role is in the hands of a vital, competent player.  A violinist can draw the softest, most tender notes from his instrument.  Yet, those soft notes fill the auditorium with quiet, with silence, for they are being played by a master hand in full control of his instrument.

An audience must sense, unconsciously, through their muscles (empathic response) that the actor on stage is totally alive.  In attaining this vitality, do not, however, fall into false energizing habits: do not jump up and down, swinging your arms about and shouting, “I’m alive, I’m alive!”  The resultatnt effect will be the acquisition of a pseudo energy.  Empathic response by the audience will reject it for its falsity.

The source of vital power is the area of the solar plexis, the center of the body, the area of the vital organs.  We have been working (1) on rib support, not only for good vocal production, but for total well-being.  Acquire the habit of never going on stage for a performance, rehearsal, or class without taking a deep, deep breath that fills your whole torso, and then holding that breath as long as you comfortably can.  This is a simple and effective means of keying up the circulation in every fibre of your being.  We have been working on (2) strengthening the abdominal muscles: the strong pelvic girdle, and the pull upward toward the ceiling (the extension from navel to sternum).  Good posture, once achieved, projects confidence to an audience, at the same time filling you the actor with confidence.

We are total mechanisms, mind and body;  the one affects the other.  The Greek philosophy of a healthy mind in a healthy body should also be the actor’s philosophy.  If your muscles are completely in tune, you may be exhausted to the point of dropping; but you will radiate vitality, and you will feel alive.  We also have emphasized (3) walking with strong thighs and long free steps with a complete follow through.  First, the heel touches the ground, the weight then being transferred to the ball of the foot, and the toes pushing off the next step.  The movement is a flowing one.

Feel the top of your head touching the sky always.  Even when playing a death scene, feel that pull up which provides resistance to the downward pull.  Resist the pull of gravity; resist the forces pushing you down.  This is the core of dramatic action: resistance to forces.  Oppositions counter the backward pull with a strong forward pull -- head high, thighs strong.  Work in group of two as follows:  #1 should hold the shoulders of #2 to keep the latter from forward movement.  At the same time #2 opposes with an upward pull.  Carry all of this not only into your Greek drama, but into the acting of ALL drama.  Creon pushes Antigone down (actually do it); he pulls her back; she resists with all that is in her:  two opposing forces have met.  In your rehearsals, work first on this physical level; the mental and emotional levels will follow naturally of their own accord.

--Alvina E. Krause (wb)

(WB means that Weldon edited and -- my guess -- rephrased.  He was proud of his piano playing.  Once at a variety performance, he came out to the grand piano to play, tried to bring along the microphone for his Victor Borge type intro, discovered the cord on the mike wasn’t long enough, and asked the stage crew to give him more cord.  They didn’t seem to be there.  So he went around to the other side of the piano and pushed it over to the mike -- proceeded from there.  I think this is rather similar.  He’s pushing AK to where he wants her.  Luckily, a lot of valuable material is preserved.)


Levels of Concentration

Your minds have been occupied only with what your tongues have been saying.  Note this: only the dull-witted respond on a single level.  When a fool sees food, he says, thinks, and responds solely to “food,” until the next positive stimulus penetrates his consciousness.  Minds of people endowed with full capacities race ahead of words; thoughts other than those expressed vocally flow around and past words, reject or accept images which may or may not express themselves in words.  In brief: such minds operate on many levels.  There is the response to the immediate stimulus -- words heard which must be answered, a look in eyes (anger, love, hate, questions) which demands a reply; or a movement of the body -- overt or covert (threat, affection, approval, disapproval, rejection) which is a stimulus to a response, vocal or physical.  Such may be the upper level of response.

However, behind and along with that level is a level still existent from a response to the stimulus just past.  (While I write this in response to your need, part of my mind still is occupied with the thought that as I answered the telephone a few moments ago, someone at the other end of the line hung up.  That thought is flowing along with this thought which I am writing: a second, or middle level of consciousness.  A present moment always comes out of a past one, and moves into a future one, carrying with it a medley of levels.

Besides the two I have mentioned, there is always on the periphery, at least of attention, a multitude of sensory responses to the physical world which cannot be shut out except by sleep, drugs, or death.  As I write now, a sparrow is chirping . . .  I caught sign of an unopened New Yorker . . .  I heard a car pass by, yet I did not stop writing for an instant.  All such levels must be present in ALL acting, the nature depending upon the framework of the drama itself.

You will note that levels are the result of response to stimuli.  You have been having difficulty recently because you have not created stimuli; nor have you heard, seen, or perceived those created by your companion(s) in the scene.  In Greek drama there is a total lack of personal properties.  All the more important then is the vaster world of tragedy.  The sky, the horizon, are ever present in the consciousness of these people.  This unspoken level is imperative in the acting of Greek drama.  From the very beginning, Antigone is moving toward the grave alone.  In all the world -- far as the horizon, high as the sky -- there is no one to share her tragedy.  The final realization is a tremendous one, which is made inevitable because it is an adding-up, a summary of all the smaller realizations of this moment-by-moment drama.  

Create this physical world so vividly that you will respond to it as unconsciously as I now hear a plane far overhead, or sense the picture of King Lear over my fireplace.  As for the other levels, you must learn to hear not cues, but spoken words that strike as blows.  We are organic wholes -- the mind and body are one: first, the senses perceive the stimulus; second, the body reacts (runs, strikes, contracts, etc.); and third, the brain interprets the stimulus.  Change the order of these responses, and the result will be unreal, a faked response.  Never respond to words unless they have had an impact that demands a response.

To help you, use the physical aid of ball-throwing.  All drama is conflict; and all physical games are conflict.  Play ball as champions do; take aim carefully, deliver the ball exactly (on the final word), and follow through, being ready at the same time to receive the ball from anywhere and return it quickly and accurately to score.  Note the impact of a swiftly pitched ball as you catch it; note the second of arrest and the recovery before you can return it.  This is the kind of impact that lines must have.  To understand more fully the levels operating behind words, try the experiment Carlos used -- speaking in a foreign language.  It forced him to find the words necessary for communication.

--Alvina E. Krause (wb)

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