Sunday, July 7, 2019


In the early days actors were about big gestures, grand theatrics and the use of pantomime. Greek persona masks along with booming voices and chorus were employed as many times they were speaking to groups numbering in the thousands. It's from these persona masks that we get the word person.

Exercise - read a sentence and take a half step away from partner until whole monologue is finished. Project with shouting.

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s no one anywhere that seems to know what to do with us. Now into it. We know the air is unfit to breathe, our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in a house as slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster, and TV, and my steel belted radials and I won’t say anything.” Well I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad. I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crying in the streets. All I know is first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m a human being. God Dammit, my life has value.” So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” I want you to get up right now. Get up. Go to your windows, open your windows, and stick your head out, and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Things have got to change my friends. You’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
These early actors didn't necessarily feel the emotions, they just had to display their easily identifiable characteristics. As Frace puts it:
“The loud voices and exaggerated gestures of melodrama are there in order to reach the people sitting in the poorest seats in the highest balconies — the working people of Paris who have rubbed together their last pennies to come see their favorite actors on stage. The actors are reciprocating their love affair with the people by playing way up and out to them. Everything that we see as artificial now — the turns out, the big gestures, the loud speaking, the stomping across the stage — are all to make sure that the people way up there, who are a little tired after their day’s work, and maybe a little drunk too, are really following the story.”
Essentially, Frace says, melodrama is about acting full out, with no holding back, no worrying about whether you’re being hammy or looking foolish.
The 4 main Stock Characters of Melodrama (The Hero, The Villian, The Damsel, The Side-Kick) relate to the Jungian Archetypes (four main ones are: the Self, the Shadow, the Animus and Anima, and the Persona. The twelve are SageInnocent,ExplorerRulerCreatorCaregiverMagicianHeroOutlaw, Lover, Jester, and Regular Person.) and are firmly rooted in our collective unconscious.
Exercise - Are there universal gestures? Everyone selects a slip of paper with a message on it, student to act out message using body. Class is to guess. Examples here. Also tone affects what is said. Trying saying the following words with an ulterior motive:
'Boring' (annoyed/matter of fact) 'Painful' (outraged/exaggerating) 'awkward' (embarrassed/singing) 'hilarious' (amused/not amused) 'awesome' (impressed/cordial) 'ridiculous' (offended/amused)...
Compare the voice to a musical instrument. 

Now with drums...

Things volume, speed, variation in pitch, pauses, rhythm, character, and tone can change the interpretation of what we are saying. Take this clip where Kramer has a line in a Woody Allen movie, “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” Jerry, Elaine and George explore different ways for him to say the line. Here is the clip:
Exercise - practice this scene from the TV show Seinfeld and notice how emphasis and intonation changes the meaning of what is said.
Here Jerry is dating a girl whom he finds went out with Newman. Of course, this ends the relationship. Here is the link:


[Newman enters]

Jerry: Hello Newman.

Margaret: Hello Jerry, I was wondering if you knew where Kramer was.

Jerry: No, no I don't. Why?

Margaret: You know, Genderson. This is something big.

Jerry: I suppose.

Margaret: What did Kramer say?

Jerry: I don't know. Nothing.?

Margaret: Come on Jerry. You know something TELL ME! TELL ME!, Oh, chocolates . . . Margaret?

Margaret: Hello.

Jerry: You two know each other?

Newman: You might say that.

Margaret: We used to go out.

Newman: Well, tootle loo. And nice seeing you again Margaret, goodbye Jerry. Have fun. Hehe

Jerry: . . . YOU went out with . . . Newman?

Margaret: Just a few times.

Jerry: Why?

Margaret: I liked him.

Jerry: You liked, Newman?

Margaret: Look I'm a little uncomfortable talking about this okay?

Jerry: No, I'm sorry. I'm just a little curious. I mean why did you stop seeing him.

Margaret: He ended it.

Jerry: . . . HE ended it?

Margaret: YES!! Yes! It was a couple of years ago. Why does it matter?

Jerry: No, no of course not.


Jerry: Newman! She went out with Newman!

Elaine: It must be a mistake.

Jerry: No. It isn't and the most distressing part of it is, not that she went out with him but that HE stopped seeing her. Do you understand? He, Newman; Newman stopped seeing her. Newman never stopped seeing anybody. Newman will see whoever is willing to see him. Not so much why she did see him as disturbing as that is. But why, did HE, Newman, stop seeing her?

Elaine: Perhaps there's more to him than meets the eye.

Jerry: No, there's less.

Elaine: It's possible.

Jerry: No it isn't. I've looked into his eyes. He's pure evil.

Elaine: He's an enigma, a mystery wrapped in a riddle.

Jerry: Yeah, he's a mystery wrapped in a Twinkie.


[Newman's apartment]
[knock knock]

Newman: Who is it?

Jerry: It's Jerry.

Newman: You've come at a bad time now. Could you come back later?

Jerry: Come on Newman. OPEN THE DOOR!

Newman: Hellooo Jerry. What a rare treat. What brings you down to the east wing?

Jerry: Okay, pudgy, lets stop playing games. What happened with margaret?

Newman: There's no need to get excited. Can't we discuss this like gentlemen?

Jerry: No, we can't. My skin is crawling just being inside your little rat's nest. Now, what happened?

Newman: Do you really want to know what happened? I'll tell you what Happened. She wasn't my type.

Jerry: Not your type?

Newman: Not really.

Jerry: Well, how come?

Newman: Ah, she just didn't do it for me.

Jerry: What, what is wrong with her?

Newman: Well, h ha ha- if you're happy with her, that's all that matters.

Jerry: You don't think she's attractive?

Newman: No. I need a really pretty face. But, Hey, that's me.

Jerry: Okay, Newman, thanks a lot.

Newman: Care for some lemonade?

Jerry: No, thank you.

Newman: Drop bye anytime, jerry. Hah, ha ha


[In Margaret's car]

Margaret: I mean they found a tee and he played golf that day. Nobody walks into a dry cleaner's with a tee. The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.

Jerry: You had how many dates with him? Three?

Margaret: Around three. I don't know.

Jerry: And . ..

Margaret: I told you. He stopped calling me. I moved on. I'm not hung up on him. What are you looking at?

Jerry: What? I'm not looking. Nothing.

Margaret: Why are you looking at my face?

Jerry: Where am I going to look?

Margaret: Kiss me.

Jerry: . . . I can't.

[Throws Jerry out onto sidewalk and drives off]

Jerry: Newman!


Classic examples of melodrama and its stock characters have been seen in kid's cartoons like Dudley Do Right.

Exercise - Make your own short melodrama
Possible music selection:
Varied Instrumental Music (suggested): • “Morning Mood” or Peter Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46. • “Pretty Peppy” by Ludovic Bource • “Requiem K. 626” or Lacrimosa Dies Illa • “Silent Rumble” by Ludovic Bource • “Mysterioso” by Nicolodeon Theatre Music • Music for Silent Movie (suggested): • “Pineapple Rag” by Hollywood Studios Music Inc • “The Entertainer” by Hollywood Studios Music Inc • “Mysterioso” by Nicolodeon Theatre Music • “Life of the Party” by Jack Shaindlin

NEXT STEP: Find a Scene to practice using these techniques

1. The Stanislavski System

With the advent of the camera audiences came to prefer subtle gestures and realism. Enter Konstantin Stanislavski, a Russian actor, producer and director born in 1863, is the “father” of modern acting. He concluded that acting could be more effective as a result of internal motivations, instead of outside actions (often seen in Shakespeare acting). Stanislavski is responsible for guiding psychology and the inner emotional life onto the stage, frequently through his work with Russian playwright Anton Chekov.
Stanislavski’s ideas have evolved into various branches over the years. Although different at the core, all can agree that acting is, to a certain degree, induced by the internal.

2. Method Acting

The personalisation of a character’s experience is at the heart of the Method, according to Lee Strasberg. To establish this relationship, an actor substitutes people, places and events with things from his or her life, producing an organic connection to the character and story. There are two essential exercises in method acting: “relaxation” and “sense memory.” “Relaxation” is an exercise intended to free the body of tensions and provide a clean emotional palette. “Sense memory” is a set of exercises intended to provoke memories “saved” in the five senses. For instance, the smell of a perfume may be a reminder of someone you love or despise.
Famous alumni: Marilyn Monroe, Uma Thurman, James Dean, Angelina Jolie, Sally Field, etc.

3. The Meisner Technique

After time spent with the Group Theatre, Sanford Meisner developed the Meisner techniquederiving ideas from the teachings of Stanislavski. Although often mistaken for the Method, Meisner is radically different. The work between scene partners is key, and so at the heart of Meisner acting is the “Repetition” exercise, which taps into the emotional impulses and instincts of an actor, establishing a “bond” between scene partners. Nevertheless, it’s the comprehensive and systematic character work that makes Meisner a worthwhile technique to explore.
Famous alumni: Steve McQueen, Gregory Peck, Joanne Woodward, Robert Duvall, etc.

4. Stella Adler

Stella Adler, also inspired by Stanislavski, took part in the Group Theatre—but eventually left the group because she opposed Lee Strasberg and his Method. Adler met Stanislavski in person at a point in which he had abandoned the idea of “emotional memory,” so from her meetings with him, she inferred that acting is 50% internal and 50% external. To understand the character, the actor studies the circumstances of the text. An actor can encounter a character with foreign qualities which he or she must seek to understand and master.
There is an internal imaginary component to Adler’s technique, similar to the Method, but she stresses the importance of voice, walking, activity, and so on, in addition. She took Marlon Brando under her wings when he became a student at the New School in New York. “She taught me to be real,” he wrote, “and not try to act out an emotion I didn’t personally experience during a performance.”
Famous alumni: Marlon Brando, Salma Hayek, Christoph Waltz, Martin Sheen, etc.

5. Practical Aesthetics
This technique is focused in two parts: Act Before You Think and Think Before You Act. Script Analysis and Performance Technique classes focus on analyzing a script by understanding the story and given circumstances, and then going through the process of choosing an action and making specific choices that will create a character.
Actors are taught to focus on what is literally happening in the scene and focus on the pursuit of an action. Developed by David Mamet and William H. Macy, script analysis explores what the character is “literally doing,” what the character “wants,” distills this down to a playable “action,” and finally personalizes the choices through what is called an “as if.” The second part of the technique is called Moment. Through a course called Moment Lab, students work on a variety of exercises, including Repetition, designed to overcome self-consciousness and teach the student to fully put their attention on the other person and act spontaneously and truthfully based on what they see.

FINAL Exercise - think of a character from a movie you can relate to then find the script online - demonstrate what you have learned from one of these acting techniques in performing a short part of it.

Other Exercises from Viola Spolin:





Creating Environment, Character, & Action  


               BODY INVOLVEMENT

                      STORY TELLING


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