Acting Technique Remembering to Forget

Fine acting is a joy to watck When I see such talent on stage or in a film, I find that 1 feel safe enough to lose myself in that character. 1 know that nothing will suddenly jar or leave me unconvinced. This feeling of safety to lose oneself is a kind preparedness to be vulnerable, and this means that we placing our trust in that actor. To have him suddenly do his job badly and lose us half way through the story would be a terrible betrayal on his part.

I enjoy the company of actor friends. Whereas drama-students are invariably repellent. I find that mature and committed actors generally offer the most rewarding and insightful company I could ever hope for One of those marvellous people is Peter Clifford, a very fine established actor and one of the best magical performers I know.

I talk with Peter a lot about acting. During a recent conversation, that rolled on late into the night over bad whisky (his, not mine) and tea, I was intrigued to hear my friend say that when he walks out on stage, he does not know what any of his lines are. After so rigorously committing them to memory before and during the rehearsal process, he must then allow himself to forget them. Forget, that is, at a conscious level. He never misses a line. But when he walks out on stage, he does not know what he's going to say until the words caine out of his mouth. Everything is being said for the first time. Returning to our earlier theme of recreation and repetition, Peter's performances are being recreated each time he begins, and never repeated.

Peter walks out there and is the part. Only on bad nights does he have to start ~acting.' If the audience is unresponsive and the mood bad, he may start to feel insecure and try and give more to his performance, which involves suddenly conscious acting. At that moment, the performance becomes a veneer, and it is at those times that the script suddenly pops back into his mind's eye. An awareness of his lines constitutes an inelegant and detrimental scenario for the actor.

I have no doubt that some actors of similarly high calibre may not find sympathy with this experience. But I listened to Peter's description of the process, and thought of the relationship that a magician — that peculiar type of actor - has to his script. The experience flashed through my mind of a performance I had seen in the close-up section of a local convention, and one that is typical of many. This was the young and technically gifted bright star of the area's club, performing card tricks perfectly well but killing them dead by reciting a stream of patter lines at us. There was no spontaneity, rio charm, no likeability and no connection made with anybody. He had not yet found his character, and was merely aping the generic model of the magician, which is so seductive to the enthusiast. I very much look forward to him developing the self- awareness necessary to find his performance character from within himself arid not those around him.

He had a script in niirtd, whether or not it had ever been written down, and was reciting it at us. We sat there and heard lines. When a performer does that, the words seem to emanate from the mouth only. When, by comparison, we watch a talented actor, the words resonate from a deeper place. There is an inseparable sense in which this is literally true, for few magicians take the trouble to learn about voice production. When we talk about someone talking 'from the heart,' we are describing words that emanate from the depths of someone, and which convince us of their sincerity. The actor and the equipped performer of any kind, producing a freer and more resonant voice from deeper within himself, will more readily communicate that sense of sincerity than the tinny, forced voice of the magician straining to be heard over noise. But even without investigating voice and speech techniques, the lines spoken as lines that come from the performer's conscious memory through the mask and out of the mouth bypass any point of resonance and do not connect with us at this basic level. By contrast, the performer who has allowed himself to forget about technique and patter (having first absorbed these things through years of developing them) arid simply and honestly is for the duration of the act the character that he portrays, will resonate conviction quite naturally.

It surprises me that a magician who is still performing at the level of saying words at his audience does not simply hear that it's going wrong. When technically fuimy lines do not reliably get a big laugh, then I would imagine a clear signal has been sounded that something is not working. The inexperienced performer probably blames the line, if he indeed notices that stony silence at all. He misses, sadly, the fact that if he had the audience firmly engaged in his personality, they would probably find any funny lines quite hysterical. This bizarre blindness and deafness to feedback is remarkably common amongst performers — but I suppose that when all else fails, a straightforward refusal to face reality can be an immense comfort. In Nevil Maskelyne's words,

"the possession of an intellect so obtuse, and a hide so pachydermatous, must confer upon the possessor a degree of self-satisfaction unknown to men of real ability."

I can only imagine that the performer in question is still working from the standpoint of 'doing tricks at people' and is thus locked in his own world of technique during performance. If you are enjoying or thinking about the secret methods as you perform, or if it is the delight of those factors that attract you to art effect, then realise that you are on your own when you do them. The whole point of a secret method is that no one else gets to appreciate it. Wave goodbye to everyone at the dock and start doing your trick to yourself as you sail out of earshot into the vast blue.

As actors playing the part of magicians, we may have to communicate a number of emotions, depending upon our character and his relationship to the material. Some of the following emotional slates and objects ol make-believe are usually part of our repertoire:

• Awe and wonder at the magical climax.

• Surprise at the orchestrated unexpected happening.

• Power, perhaps with a sinister edge.

• Confusion or loss of control, when something has appeared to go disastrously wrong.

• Concentration and mental effort.

• The abifity to see deeply into the psyche of the spectator.

In the nineteenth century, the young Stanislavski wrote that he was impressed with the natural and easy performances of foreign artists visiting the contemporary Moscow theatre. He compared these with the exaggerated, declamatory technique of the Russian tradition of which he was still a part. In his My LVe In Art (a great title that I will steal one day for my own autobiography), he says that these new, western actors created, whereas he was only able to imitate what others had done before. This man, who was to become the dominant influence on actor training today and the creator of the 'System' of modern, realist acting (which in turn inspired the Method approach with which we are familiar), was laced with the sharply contrasted difference between acting that flowed easily from the heart and the forced presentation of a cliché, which was the standard fare.

Clearly as magicians we are not faced with the same strenuous demands on our acting abilities as the actor who prepares for The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vrinya or Ca!s. Yet it is clear that most magic is presented unconvincingly, and does not emanate from anywhere deeper than the fingers, so it is worth the effort of developing an awareness of these issues, and learning to develop the best habits. So much of this book is based upon the conviction that when the magic begins inside us as performers, and resonates through our personalities as well as our effects, we will communicate far more, and more magically than the performer who is no more than the sum of his tricks. Gogol, Stanislavski's ally, writes that the actor

"ought to consider the purpose of his role, the major and predominant concern of fhiq character, what it is that consumes his life and constitutes the perpetual object of his thoughts, his ideefixe. Having grasped this major concern, the actor must assimilate it so thoroughly that the thoughts and yearnings of his character seent to be his own and remain constantly in his mind over the course of the performance... So, one should first grasp the soul of a part not its dress."

Nikolay Cogol, pp. 169-70

How many magicians grasp the soul of their performance character before paying attention to their costume and props? Writing to Schepkin in 1846, Cogol said:

"Root out caricature entirely and lead them to understand that an actor must not present bin transmit."

Presenting magic rather than transmitting it recalls our unhappy idea of doing tricks at people. The vast majority of magicians are happy merely to present magic. Most of those will only transinil to their variably detached audiences that they have a hobby, and their magic will be looked on as, at best, clever.

rerhaps the most strikingly appropriate part of Stanislavski's System as regards our art is the 'magic If.' Imagine for a moment how you might convey any of the emotional states listed earlier. 1-low might you 'act' confused, surprised, or brimming with wonder? Certain facial expressions arid voice patterns may come to mind. Now imagine if an actor, who in the middle of an entirely convincing play or film needed to convey fear, just 'acted' scared in the most mundane sense of the word. He trembled his lips, cowered and bit at his nails. We would recognise the communication as one of fear, but we would not for a moment believe it. There is the cliched. image of fear, abstracted from the situation at hand, and there is the fear felt by that character, who sees the implications of his situation.

I was struck with the impact that this difference makes a few weeks ago. Bristol, where I make my home, is near to the beautiful Georgian city of Bath, whose stonework and delightful streetage rival only the Tudor charm of Stratford or Swindon. Any visitor to Bath is recommended to take in the 'Bizarre Bath' walk, a superior blend of magic, comedy and misleading local history performed by JJ and Noel Britten, two very established British performers. I shall attempt to make my point here without giving away one of the surprise highlights of the walk. Noel was leading the walk on the night I attended, and it happens during the course of the evening's entertainment that an item, borrowed from the audience, is 'accidentally' lost. Not vanished, but terribly and irrevocably lost.

To convincingly communicate the flurry of panicky emotions which such a disaster would provoke is a task that many magicians attempt and fail to achieve. This is because they by, if anything, to

'act' panic and present a cliché, detached form the event like our bad actor suddenly cowering in fear like a cartoon character. Noel employed Stanislavski's magic If This means that rather than act the emotion, the skilled actor behaves as if the situation were true - asking what would happen 4' the situation had occurred to his character. This tricks the imagination into ta.king the route of convincing realism. Consider the different ways that you respond to these questions:

• What would I do if I had really lost this valuable item? What would that mean?

As it was, Noel stared and stared at his 'n;j~thke' as we all took in the implications of the accident. He, too, was dealing with the implications through tmconscious use of this procedure. For a while, he looked.., then he tried to revert to character and make a few gags, which got uneasy laughs... he tried to appear comfortable and regain professional composure but was unable to look away from whit he had done. He even laughed.

Now, you may protest that spectators never believe that the borrowed item has really been lost. Invariably when something genuinely terrible happens, such as a borrowed ring missing its target and rolling beautifully across the crowded dance-floor, the performer is never believed when he tries to explain that something really has gone wrong. But there are different levels of belief, and these things rely on the signals given by the performer. When Noel's catastrophe happens, we are also thrown for a moment, and look to him for the tiny cues and clues that will guide us to belief or disbelief. Like the behaviour needed to convince the audience that the moment of magic is beautiful or unnerving rather than just confusion, the performer who must convey genuine panic is there guiding a moment of bewilderment and insecurity felt by the group into the dramatically rewarding area of conviction that a mishap has happened. Getting this right seduces the audience into a closer emotional relationship with the performer. Tamariz has also spoken much about convincingly conveying moments of apparent mishap.

Yet it is necessary to forget these things. The place for conscious consideration of these issues is for our rehearsal space. In performance, we must have these psychological abilities so firmly in place that they become second nature. In that way, the new becomes organically our own, and we are unaware of technique. These things must become natural and familiar responses. If this seems difficult and unfamiliar territory, create in your mind a scenario or memory that makes you feel the desired emotion — amplify it and represent it in a bright, vivid way to yourself— and notice how the feeling creeps up on you, how it moves through you, what it feels like in you. Let yourseff remember the feeling dearly and practise bringing it back. Know how you feel, and then allow that to be triggered by the requisite moment in your performance, These sorts of exercises will allow you to see that you can bring into play any emotion of which you have some experience, whenever you want, simply by calling that state to mind through a vivid recollection of the circumstances that triggered it. Then you can forget about acting a cliché, present something that resonates honesty, and think and feel along the lines of 'what would I do if this were really happening...?'

The result of this approach will be magic that is $1 by you, and therefore powerfully transmitted and recreated, not coldly presented and repeated. The only reason to do this, other than to make it more rewarding for you, is to make your magic far, far stronger.

Understanding Mind Control

Understanding Mind Control

This book is not about some crazed conspiracy thinkers manifesto. Its real information for real people who care about the sanctity of their own thoughts--the foundation of individual freedom.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment