Friday, August 20, 2010

An Acting Lesson

A great teacher is one who realizes that he himself is also a student and whose goal is not dictate the answers, but to stimulate the students' curiosity enough so that they go out and find the answer themselves.

Herbie Hancock
(Thank you Bruce)
I think I could be a reasonably good acting teacher if I ever had the opportunity to have a class of students over a period of time. There are no easy ways to learn acting or any art. But in the world of theatre there seem to be more charlatans than in any other art form. I have seen the results upon young people of the fraudulent training many of them have had. They face years of having to undo the damage done while getting by on talent. The few times I had a young actor under my charge I felt somewhat like a surgeon, cutting away the problems caused by other so-called teachers or by assumptions made by the student himself.

On the other hand to start fresh with a young person who really wants to learn can be an exhilarating experience. I have had a few brief chances over the years to bring a youngster out of the shadows and see the true art reveal itself.

Once, years ago I had a group of young hopefuls in a room to learn what I know. It was a large, bare room with a few simple pieces of furniture: a few folding chars, a bench, a card table. One girl had a speech she had written and learned. It was a letter to her boy friend breaking off the relationship. It was a fiction, she said, because she had no boy friend at the time.

She did the speech for the class and it was nicely done. But then I started to ask her questions. I asked her to describe the room she was in, beginning with the chair she was sitting in. I pressed her for details, what color things were, how they were shaped and any other distinctive things about them. She gradually described her bedroom, or the bedroom of her imagination. She told me what the bed covers looked like, what her desk was like and the details of everything that was on it. I asked her to think about any time that she and her boy friend had spent in the bed and try to recall it. She described the door to the closet. I asked he to think about a few items in there and to describe them. She told me of the door to the bathroom. I asked for every detail in the bathroom. She said there were two windows to the outside. I asked he to describe the shades or blinds on the windows. I asked her to see out the windows and tell me what she saw. She said there was a street below, with a fence across the way. Beyond it and in the distance train tracks. She said it was raining. Finally I asked her describe the boy she was breaking up with in as much detail as she could.

I handed her a piece of blank paper to use as the letter and said she could refer to it whenever she wanted to. Then I told her to mentally go through again all the details she had given me about where she was, what she heard out the window and even to add some facts as they occurred to her and, when she felt ready, to do the speech again.

The second time through the difference was amazing, she even wept at one point. As she was finishing she carefully folded the piece of paper and put it in her pocket. There was silence in the room until one of the other students said "Wow" and the class applauded her.

She looked a little baffled at the applause. She said she forgot there were people watching her and that she didn't feel like she was acting because she really felt it. "Of course" I said.

Everything, the room, the letter, the circumstance, the other person and her experience were all from her own creative imagination. All I did was ask questions.
It was only the beginning but it was her first real lesson in the art of acting.

DB - The Vagabond
I am the minstrel knight,
with sword and harp.
with switch blade and flute.

So get out your Scrabble set if you must.
Straighten out these titles.












(dgoo clku)


Indigo said...

Loved this piece. I have to do the same thing with writing. I need to describe the details in such a way to let my character feel her surroundings and draw the reader in. It works in every day life to help notice the little things around you as well. (Hugs)Indigo

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Living the moment, whether acting or any other passion, is priceless.