Stanislavsky in the Kitchen #1

In my previous existence, as a teacher of Acting Techniques and Directing in a College of Further Education, before illness finally sent the Jenga tower of my identity crashing to the floor, I passed on some techniques to student actors that have proved really useful to be as a blind person living inaworld of people who rush around looking at things.

Very broadly, there are two main approaches to acting. These are at opposite ends of a spectrum of compromises and sub-groups, and most actors therefore, are somewhere in between, quite properly drawing on the traditions and strengths of both approaches.

The two approaches are sometimes described as the Inside-Out approach and the Outside-In.

The outside to in approach is typified by a style that uses the outside projections of a character . . . such as costume, properties, ways of walking and talking, and so on . . . as the way to find the psychological truth of the character, for all actors need to create an emotional and psychological truth so that the audience can believe in the truth of the mask they see.

This approach is that of the actor who applies her make-up and costume with ritual and care, or the actor who needs to find, early in the rehearsal period, what shoes they will wear on stage, or how their character would smoke a cigarette.

It is exemplified by the suggestion of Lawrence Olivier to Dustin Hoffman during the making of the film Marathon Man. Hoffman’s character needed to be tired and dishevelled for a particular scene, and so had prepared for it by going without sleep for several days. When it came to shooting the scene, Hoffman was tired and forgetful. Olivier turned to him and offered his advice: “Why don’t you try acting, dear boy?”

What Larry meant by “acting” was, of course, pretending, or working entirely from the outside . . . clothes, shoes, props, furniture . . . to the inner truth of the character, which was the only practical approach when an actor worked in repertory theatre with only a few days to rehearse, and this was Lawrence Olivier’s own background in commercial theatre. The commercial West End has no time for forgetfulness or what it sees as an actor’s self-indulgence.

The other extreme is to work from the inside out. For an actor, this means finding the emotional life of a character before bolting on to it clothes or speech. Once the inner truth has been discovered, so the theory goes, the externals will take care of themselves.

This approach was the product of the Actor’s Studio in New York and the teacher Lee Strasberg, who coined the label ‘Method Acting’.

It generally requires a long rehearsal time, is particularly useful in film work, and is much concerned with a characters Intentions or Motivation, and often involves immersive research and a willingness to use one’s own emotional memory and experience in order to deepen the connection ‘with the character.

Major examples of actors who use, or used, this technique were Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Marylyn Monroe . . . though most actors have been trained to use it when necessary or possible.

Both extremes . . . Inside Out, and Outside In . . . trace their ideas back to the Russian Director, Konstantin Stanislavsky, who formed the Moscow Art Theatre at the end of the nineteenth century, and who introduced the world to the plays of Anton Chekov.

Stanislavsky wrote several books about his acting classes, and they have become important acting manuals in the West, as each volume became available in translation.

The first books to be translated into English happened to be about working Inside-Out, and these were taken up by Lee Strasberg in America. The later volumes were about working Outside-In and about linking the two approaches, but these were not available in translation until after the Method was established in America.

To return to my opening paragraph, the ideas of Stanislavsky . . . particularly the use of beats and units . . . are the ones that I find useful in everyday life, but this post is getting too long and I will return to the subject. My head gets too tired, and I have learned to rest when my body tells me to.



About stevehobsonauthor

I am blind, and I hate it. It stinks. But life is still sweet. I have multiple sclerosis, and that stinks too, but life is still sweet. These are my musings.
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