The following quotes from celebrated directors, authors and theatre academics indicate how each one of them, despite having differing styles and methods, share one common denominator in their research: the desire that the actor express him/herself, not in a contrived or artificial manner but as "an athlete of the heart", as Artaud described.
Stanislavsky was the first to pave the way for such a concept, however conflicting opinions, originating from both within and without this school of thought, have been associated with this movement, in America and throughout the world.
The Duse has always integrated techniques from diverse sources, in its courses, believing that within and beyond these differences a nourished a revitalized theatre can be found.
I am deeply grateful for Lee Strasberg's work, above all to his last period of research which is yet unpublished in books or papers. During those years he was criticized for withdrawing from the theatre, but it was then that he dedicated himself to the enhancement of his work and method, finding an even more specific and accurate approach toward the refinement of his technique, terminology and philosophy.
By then it was clear that his method embodied not just a naturalistic style, but in fact, first of all was a mean to undo expressive obstacles quicker and more effectively, using a very articulate set of exercises that expand imaginative-sensorial-emotional-phisical behaviour with the intent of facilitating the making of choices and of actions that motivate characters and themes.
The Method: Traps and Misunderstandings
The relaxation and sense memory method, developed by Strasberg can be used in two ways:
Literally, at random, causing actors to emote in a general and sentimental manner, towards a naturalism which I call "pseudo-method culture".
Or specifically as Strasberg did, as an "un-blocking and tuning" tool which doesn't emphasise emotional memory as is often believed, but instead, the discipline of relaxation, sense memory stimulation and its daily repetition practice; all of which strengthens concentration, intensifies the imaginative process, "un-censors" impulses, clarifies the mind, accelerates one's rhythm and pace. These specific sensorial exercises allow greater vocal and physical expression, which, while being released and relaxed, will consequently teach actors to channel and guide their own performance using a more liberated behaviour and voice. This makes room for more specific nuances of emotions, rational choices, and subtext, that in the end should communicate the author's or the director's concept.
Today more actors feel satisfied to behave in a simple way. But the naturalistic actor is not necessarily someone who is capable of depicting reality.
In a contemporary second-rate terminology, the actor's instrument is still more or less caged in a conditioned and repressed casual behavioral pattern, often sentimental or self involved.
The depiction and expression of reality is more complex than the state of naturalness. It requires a curiosity that goes beyond the study of oneself or a character, beyond the obvious study of environment, education, social status. To understand fully an author's intention and style, requires study of other cultures, rituals, religions, and politics. It might be obvious to some, but my experience has been that too many actors believe that in extending themselves to other forms of expression they will lose their personality or ethics.
In reality, the fullest and most talented interpretations, whatever form used by the performers: be it mime, dance, song, commedia dell'arte, expressionism, grotesque, bio-mechanical, symbolic, fantastic realism, satire, comedy, tragedy, or kitchen-drama...always retained a personal touch, which the "method" seems not only preserve, but encourages to discover. I personally believe the time has come for differing techniques to stop waring against each other, each proclaiming itself beyond the "Stanislavsky - Strasberg" technique. I like to believe that in the uniting the "method" to other techniques we may obtain that all styles contain a further touch of personality and life.
Thoughts of masters of the theatre who were inspired by Stanislavsky, and thoughts of other authors who, even not knowing of him, seem to have passionately seeked "life in art".
"Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus; but use all gently: for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness...be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor: suit your action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure..."
" Is it not monstrous, that this player here, but in a fiction, in a dream of passion, could force his soul so to his own conceit, that, from her working, all his visage wann'd; tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect, a broken voice, and his whole function suiting with forms and conceit?... For Hecuba! What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?"
"...The only way would be if the play could portray itself. Not with actors but with the characters themselves that would miraculously assume form and voice.
Only then could the play be strictly defined as theatre.
But is such a phenomenon possible?
...The theatre, you see ladies and gentlemen, is a huge machinery with a mouth wide open, hungry for life.
...Do you think that there could be life where nothing moves?
... Every sculptor (I don’t know, but I suppose) after having created a statue, if he really feels he has given it eternal life, should wish that it, like all living creatures, should come alive acting, moving, speaking. It would then, cease to be a statue and become a living person...
...For this machine that theatre is, like for other machines, enormously and admirably cultivated and developed, it is deplorable that this backward imagination of... "...poets..." is not able to find adequate and sufficient nutriment. I don’t mean to imply that theater is simply spectacle. It is art, yes, but also life. Creation, yes, but not "everlasting" instead in the "moment". A miracle of life: a form that moves and lives. And this miracle, gentlemen, can only happen, in a "single moment", right before your eyes, life, a scene is created, and within this, another, and yet another, and still another..."
"Tonight We Improvise"
"...and rigorously, without concessions to "old school" theatre, to the old tricks, but also without sectarian divisions which annul all vitality. Beyond those precursors, the old theatre will be revived, as will be, the theatre to come... To feel, live and truly think must be the aim of a true actor. For some time now, the Russians have utilized a certain improvisational method that pushes the actor to work with his deep inner emotional reactions, to improvise and exteriorize his real and intimate sensitivity through words, actions or imaginary reactions... The study of inflections, ah, this is the greatest difficulty in one's personality. These improvisational exercises reveal and refine one's real personality. The inflection is found from within, driven out by fervent emotional impulses, and not attained by imitation... Intellectual awareness is not enough. We have been aware intellectuals for thousands of years. We must be physically aware as well..."
"The Theatre and its Double"
"I think, naturalism reproduces exactly what the naturalist artist observes in reality. Naturalism is like a photograph. The artist that is a realist instead takes from reality all that is more important and noteworthy to him. He does away with the details, but while he creates, even though he always makes use of the same material found in reality...he takes life's truths and chooses to express only an essence of that reality...
Meyerhold never thought in terms of today but in terms of tomorrow, Stanislavsky never thought in terms of tomorrow but in terms of today. Instead one must think of today in tomorrow and tomorrow in today."
"The system and the exception"
"Konstantin Serghievic and I look for the same things in art. Only he goes about it from the inside out and I from the outside in."
"A Revolution in Theatre"
"...It is superfluous to state that "estrangement" is not based at all on artificial acting: nothing is more antithetical to it, than empty stylization. On the contrary, the initial effect of estrangement really depends on the fluidity and naturalness of the staged dynamics... I have to note that many of my writings on my concept of theatre have caused misunderstandings. I realise it, mainly when I receive letters or read essays of agreement. At those times, I feel like a mathematician might feel, reading: "I agree completely, two and two is five." Perhaps some of my thesis have been wrongly interpreted because I have given for granted some important premises, instead of articulating them thoroughly. For example, the actor must know how to speak clearly. This is not a simple matter of consonants or vowels, but above all, a matter of giving speech, meaning. If the actor does not learn to emphasize the meaning of his lines, he will limit himself to a mechanical articulation of sounds, and with his imposed "correct speech", he will destroy any meaning... We would therefore obtain a pompous, empty and mechanical acting method if in the artist's training we fail to remember that the responsibility of actors is to represent living human beings..."
"In our theatre, to train an actor does not mean merely teach him something. We attempt to eliminate his body's resistance to his emotional impulses and intuitions. The result is the eradication of the interval of time between internal impulses and exterior reaction in such a way that the impulse instantly becomes an external reaction. Impulse and action are simultaneous...not a summation of technical skills, but the removal of psychological inhibitions... Only a few acting methods exist in practice. The most complete is the Stanislavsky method that has encountered some fundamental problems...over the course of many years researching and refining his method, he himself progressed while his followers remained static. For, over the years of his development, Stanislavsky had many disciples, and each disciple became trapped in one style of the period : thus creating disquisitions, "theological" factions. Stanislavsky subjected himself to continuous trial and error and did not offer "formulas" but instruments through which the actor could learn about himself, and in any real situation could answer the question: "How can one accomplish this?" We are not looking for formulas and stereotypes. We are not looking for an answer to questions such as: "How does one go about showing contempt? How does one walk? How should one recite Shakespeare?" These are the questions that are normally asked. One must instead ask the actor: "What are the obstacles that stop you in completing an action that must consume all of your psychophysical resources, from the more instinctive to the more rational?" We must discover what it is that hinders his breathing, his movement and – most relevant – his human contact. What resistances lie within? How can they be eliminated?... Meyerhold based his work-discipline, on the exterior, Stanlislavsky based his work on the spontaneity of daily life. These are, in fact, the two complementary aspects of the creative process."
"Towards a Poor Theatre"
"Theater is not only its plays. It is not only an artistic form but a form of being and reacting. It is tradition and the invention of tradition.
The concept of "tradition" is ambiguous; apparently referring to the past. But in reality, it is a tool for retrospection. It is made of the people and the history we look back upon; in whom we identify, we distance ourselves from, accepting and transforming our inheritance.
Jacque Copeau said that there are two ways to refer to tradition: one is to look at the results, the other is to be inspired by the process that he defined "tradition de la naissance"...
For him it was not interesting to reconstruct the great works of the past, but to relate to the need that created them, to rediscover the driving force behind writers and actors that knew how to alter conditions going against the flow of the times. For example, the "Tradition de la naissance" does not consist of conserving the original values of Molière's work, but in continuing the work of that rebel, who knew how to hide his wounds and the need to wound, under the subtle guise of irony.
To me it is synonymous with " The tradition of revolt". The question that guides my work is not "how does one train an actor?"
But: how does one pass on a legacy?"
"Theater: Solitude, Craft, Revolt"
"...Theatre is always both a search for meaning and a search of a way to make those meanings comprehensible to others. This is the mystery... A recognition of the mystery is very important. When one loses the sense of awe, life loses its meaning, it is not by chance, that theatre, at its origin, was called a "Mystery". Even so, the art of theatre can not remain mysterious. If the hand that brandishes the hammer is not precise in it's movement, it will hit the thumb and not the nail. The ancient role of theatre must always be respected, but not with that form of reverence that puts us to sleep. There is always a ladder to climb, to pass from one level of quality to the next. But what is this ladder? His steps are his details, the smallest details, one moment to the next. The details are the art that lead to the heart of the mystery."
"The Open Door"
"The actor is both the artist and the instrument- in other words, the violinist and the violin. One can imagine what would happen if the violin or piano started to talk back to the performer, complaining that it did not like to be struck in a particular way, that it did not respond to certain notes, that it was embarrassed to be touched sensually by a performer. This interaction between the artist and his instrument is precisely what transpires when the actor performs. His body, his mind, his thoughts, his sensations. The Method, therefore, is the procedure by which the actor can open control of his instrument, that is, the procedure by which the actor can use his affective memory to create a reality on stage."
"A dream of passion"