A significant portion of actors’ training focuses on what Stanislavsky described as “the internal and external creative apparatus of experiencing and incarnation.” Attention is given to imagination, concentration, the “Magic If", emotional memory, etc.
That’s why lessons and master-classes for beginning students focus on internal states, with exercises in objectless actions, the use of animal features for character creation, improvisation, justification of physical embodiment and poses, holding silence, and more. The class instills awareness of the ever-present conflict onstage and develops the students’ creative imagination and awakens their emotional memory.
Once students are familiar with the nuts and bolts of acting, they need to learn to bring onto the stage, beyond an external image of a role, also its internal life. All this needs to be done while following the stylistic and other demands of the director.
The following are some themes of master classes with students for such practice:
- Identifying the genre; acting within the presentational style.
This class focuses on matching the internal psychological life of the character with the genre of the show, especially the exaggerated genres of slapstick comedy, tragic farce, musical, melodrama, etc. Students learn to act within a genre or theatrical style without compromising their characters’ internal psychological truths and predicaments. While utilizing appropriate stylistic mannerisms inherent to the genre of the play, they will faithfully convey the characters’ internal psychology, based on their and the director’s understanding of it, thus furthering the show’s super-objective.
The class includes work on segments from masterpieces such as Till Eulenspiegel (“Owlglass”), Molier’s Tartuffe, Commedia Dell’Arte episodes from C. Gozzi’s Princess Turandot, and Natalya’s monologue from Turgenev’s Month in the Country.
It may be possible to expand the exercise into the realm of broad comic exaggeration, breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly while staying true to the characters’ inner lives.
The class could possibly explore A Woman Is a Devil or The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Prosper Merimee.
- The sanity of insanity; acting the extreme limits of a character’s psyche.
Once students have acquired an ample acting arsenal and possess a proven proficiency in bringing multi-dimensional truths to characters’ lives on stage – in accordance with the playwright’s and director’s visions – the question arises: what might further their development in the psycho-techniques of theatre? How to equip them with tools for addressing difficult dramatic challenges charged with a degree of “insanity,” such as King Lear’s storm monologue or Mrs. Ranevsky’s sighting of her mother’s ghost in her beloved Cherry Orchard?.
Usually, when students are tasked with playing madness, their eyes start rolling or they may take on random vocal expressions, absent of psychological logic. The inexperienced actor in fact resorts to the exact opposite of the methodical technique he has learned, playing ‘crazy’ rather than bringing out the character’s truth.
Using specifically designed exercises, this class will instill understanding of extreme physiological states and the means to convey ‘illogical logic’ through dramatic actions within comprehensible circumstances. The exercises will give actors the tools to bring about surprising and resourceful choices, thereby capturing the audience, while being faithful to the ‘rational’ irrationality of the character’s psyche.
- Space as a scenic partner; exploring the genre of theatrical movement performance.
This class explores non verbal dramatic techniques, using music and space as active stage partners, helping the actors further the dramatic plot, with music transforming the physical space and dramatic situation. Gradually, actors learn to work with space as a tangible presence on the stage. Space can offer actors unique non verbal means of expression. It gives the production unexpected means of relaying events within the plot. Stage movements can communicate and increase our insight into the character’s internal and external states.
The class utilize Lev Tolstoy’s short story Kholstomer, The History of a Horse (an English translation of the stage adaptation is available).
Another way of exploring space as a scenic partner focuses on fragments of mimicry with music, written for the theatrical-movement piece Parable of Love Given, which is inspired by the poem Language Of Birds by the Uzbek poet Alisher Navoi. The poem relates a love story between a Moslem sheikh and a Roman Christian beauty. Written 500 years ago, it rings true today, being both modern and relevant. Subsequently, it would be possible to stage this theatrical-movement piece.
Other options for theatrical-movement based performances could include the anti drug rock show Sodom and Gomorrah – XXI, in which stage presence is independent from the musical aspects of the piece, serving as a principal stage partner;
or sequences from a theatrical-movement adaptation of The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Andersen.
- Being elsewhere.
Using a series of specially designed exercises, while working on scenes and monologues from Chekhov and Turgenev, this class gives actors tools to detect and convey action-based objectives of characters who are driven by a desperate need to exist in a different, more refined, and ultimately better world than the one they inhabit. Indeed, it is for this reason that Chekhov is considered the ‘father of the theatre of the absurd’.
The class may include a full or partial staging of Ivan Turgenev’s masterpiece A Month in the Country, a stage adaptation of which is available.
These exercises may also be applied to portions of Moliere’s Tartuffe, Gozzi’s Princess Turandot, or Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (act two, scene one).
- ‘Spectators’ on stage.
We will implement exercises in portraying a ‘present-day-chorus’ of bystanders who bear witness to the plot of the play while mirroring and echoing the actions and psychology of the characters. This can significantly amplify the overall artistic impact. Adding the presence of ‘spectators’ on stage who experience the play in tandem with the theatre audience creates a tantalizing kaleidoscopic effect, clarifying and highlighting the drama and complexity of the plot and of the characters’ psychology, ultimately bringing the audience to catharsis.
For this, the class will explore A Happy End, a modern play by Israeli playwright Iddo Netanyahu.
- Dramatic enunciation - stylized vocalization.
Working on the seminal poems The Eternal Dancer Sharora and Constellation of Omar Khayam by the renowned Russian poet Timur Zulfikarov, this class will explore the dramatic impact of sound, inflection and intonation. Using English spiced with Asian accentuations, as well as the original musical score, the students who are actively present on the stage will create a unique theatrical event. (An exceptional English translation of the poem is available.)
- Pursuing multiple objectives simultaneously.
The famous Moscow director Mark Zakharov says that “an actor must pursue in his acting many objectives, ideally as numerous and complex as the convolutions of his/her brain…” This class features exercises in the layering of multiple objectives, each one distinct, but not discordant, from the other. Using Molière’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself, the class could also include elements of psychodrama, with particular focus on kleptomania and other psychic disorders. The class could possibly explore scenes from Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss.
Actors, and particularly acting students, must learn to create roles from within, rooted in their own personalities and nature. However, as Stanislavsky put it, while the actor “begins with himself, he must strive to go as far as possible!”
Karl Jung noted that within the collective unconscious there exist a number of archetypes which we can all recognize. All people contain such archetypes within themselves in some form or another. For actors, these archetypes can become a fundamental resource for creating their art. Working with Sophocles’ Oedipus or possibly Prosper Merimee’s A Woman Is A Devil (archetype of Anima), and using specifically designed exercises, this class teaches actors to recognize, initiate and grasp the split second when vast emotional outpour and truth erupts from their body and soul; requiring nothing but the actors’ full attention, sincere immersion, and unmitigated acceptance of the dramatic circumstances of the play, these exercises allow acting from within … demanding nothing but the actor’s full mental capacities.