My Acting Warm Up: Part 3

This is the third part in my acting warm up series. This is how I currently do things, but I know that how I warm up will evolve over time as I learn more about acting and about myself.

Just in case if you missed the first two here they are:

My Acting Warm Up: Part 1

My Acting Warm Up: Part 2

 

Essentially, acting process and voice work need to be unified; alignment needs to be linked to centre, identity, and assertion; breathing needs to become responsive to impulses, vocal onset needs to identify the actor with the character; and vocal response needs to reflect the experiences of the actor/character in the present moment”1

 

The Beginning

  • Start from the all fours position, with head in neutral.
  • Take a deep breath, feeling your diaphragm filling and stretching.
  • As you blow out you begin to bow you back.  The movement is like trying to get the top of you head to touch your tail bone.  Both are stretching to reach one another.
  • Once you have expelled all of your breath and are in the bowed back position, begin to inhale.
  • As you inhale start to arch your back. Get a very nice deep breath and feel the full curve of your spine.
  • Do this cycle a few times.

 

Adding in the vocals

  • Now we add sound to the exhale with a “vvvvvv” sound.
  • After completing this, we shift to ending the sound with a vowel sound, beginning with “vvvvvaaaaaa.”
  • Then we shift into “vvvveeee.”
  • I run through each sound three times, or a bit more if something doesn’t feel right.

 

Pairing the voice with explosive movement

  • Now we pair the voice with explosive movement. Throw your right arm out in front of you body as if you were trying to punch someone (you don’t have to make a fist) and the apex of the movement sound with “va.” Then do the the same with the left arm.
  • Next, move your right leg back with a mule kick like motion. Again at the apex of the movement make an explosive “va” sound. Remember to really connect to your diaphragm.
  • After you’ve done both legs several times, then move to using arms and legs at the same time. Punch and kick out with opposing arms and legs. Meaning if you punch out your right arm, you kick back with your left leg.  Again at the apex of the movement make an explosive “va” sound. Do this movement several times per side.
  • Now,  we will shift to throwing both arms up. Staying on all fours push your chest up and throw your hands to the sky. Making an explosive “va” sound at the apex. Do this movement several times.
  • Now, we move to the legs. Staying on all fours push your legs up so you are only on your hands momentarily. Making an explosive “va” sound at the apex. Do this movement several times.
  • Once completed, do the same movements again but with a “ve” sound.
  • This concludes waking up the voice.

 

Final Thoughts

You should never move into pain, so if you physically can’t do some of the movements, don’t worry.

I am going to go back and add some videos to these blog posts to make better sense of things, so next time I do a self tape I am going to block out time to make some movement GIFs.

 

Things Mentioned in this Blog Post

Voice into Acting

Voice into Acting: Integrating voice and the Stanislavski approach by Christina Gutekunst and John Gillett

 

 

 

 

 

My Acting Warm Up: Part 2

This is part two of my acting warm up.  During this part of my warm up I focus on my voice, and begin to work with connecting vocal sounds to body movements. Once you are done with this, you should really feel connected to your voice through your diaphragm, and you should notice your voice is lower.

Again, this may feel weird to you if you’re doing it for the first time, but like I’ve said before you’re an actor now and being weird is just part of the job.

Getting into the semi-supine position

  • First we lay down on our mat facing the ceiling and grab our knees gently pulling them towards our chest.
  • Then begin to massage and warm up your lower back by moving you legs gently around in a circle.
  • When you feel warmed up, bring your legs to the center position, then let go of them, and your legs will fall to the floor in a natural position. Ensure your legs are in line with your hips by checking the alignment by tracing with your hands from your hips to your knees. Don’t let your knees be wider than your hips.
  • Lay your arms out straight out to the sides, making a “T” shape. Your palms can be either up or down, whichever is more comfortable.
  • Let your head roll left and right.
  • Breathe deeply. Noticing the rise and fall of your diaphragm.
  • Now, we will begin to warm up the voice. Start with a private sound of, “ha ha, mmmm, ahhh.” Notice where you feel the reverberations. As you makes these personal noises your diaphragm will naturally be doing its job. Just notice it, don’t interfere with it.
  • You can move your hands down to your diaphragm and feel it rise and fall, and how it tenses when you make these sounds. (To make sure you are on your diaphragm place your hands with finger tips gently interlaced over you belly button. As you breath in you belly should go up and naturally unlace your finger tips)
  • You can play with pitch, noticing how the location the reverberations changes based on your pitch. The higher to pitch, the higher the place of reverberations, and conversely the lower the pitch the lower the reverberations occur.
  • As you warm up your voice you can begin to get louder, but do not do this too early or you may begin to strain your voice.
  • I do this part of the warm up for at least ten minutes, it may seem a bit excessive, but it is a very important part of warming up your voice.

Dropping the knees

  • Next we will release the knees. We will start by letting them fall to the left.  Do not force you knees down, just completely relax them and let them sink to the floor. At the same time let out an “ahhhhh” sound like a deep relaxing sigh when you sit down at the end of a long day. Do this several times on the left, then let them fall to the right side and complete the movement several times.
  • I always have to do this one a few times to really feel that my hips are letting go. The first few tries I always unconsciously tense my muscles and slow the descent of my legs, but once I loosen up I can really tell the difference, and there is more of a thud when my legs hit the floor.

Adding the head movement

  • After you are allow the knees to drop you immediately roll the head to the opposite side. For example if you roll your knees to the left, your head will turn to the right. While you are turning your head let out an “EEEE” sound.
  • Keep in mind that these are two separate movements, with two separate sounds attached to them. There should be no lag between either movement, but each sound should only be done while its corresponding movement is being done.
  • Do this movement several times in each direction, and then make it into a continuous movement for a few repetitions.

Adding the leg sweep

  • This is the third movement in this series, to be performed immediately after the head roll.
  • For this movement you will take the foot of the leg that has fallen on top, and while maintaining contact with the floor sweep the leg in a circular motion. You don’t want to stretch it too much, just keep the movement comfortable, and keep your foot in contact with the ground. While making this sweeping motion let out an “oowww” sound that lasts from when you begin the leg sweep until the leg comes back to its resting position.
  • Do this on both sides of your body several times.

Patting down the ribs

  • Once you feel warmed up while doing the leg sweep, we will pat down the ribs, further loosening up the diaphragm.
  • Once you have reach the apex of your leg sweeping motion, stop in that position. Bring the hand that is opposite the direction your head is pointed to your rib cage and begin to pat down your ribs while making an “ahh” sound.  Move your hand up and down your side while patting. You can play with pitch here.
  • You will do this on both sides of the body.

Waking up the voice

  • Once you have completed patting down the ribs return to the semi-supine position.
  • Using only your breath repeat the consonants – “h, k, t, p.”  We are not using what the letters are called, but the sound they make. The reason for doing this is to exercise your tongue, to make it strong to give you a fuller voice. Pay attention to what your tongue does on each letter. So it should sound like haa, kaa, taa, paa. The order in which this is done is very important, and for the life of me I could not remember how it was supposed to go, so my stupid way of remembering is you are going to do a haka for tapas.
  • After several repetitions of “h, k, t, p” we will engage our voice using “g, d, b.” While doing this play with pace and pitch. Notice where the resonance is coming from for each variation you do, notice the role your diaphragm plays in each sound.

Standing Up

  • Return to the semi-supine position.
  • For this example I will walk through getting up on your left side.
  • Bring your right arm up toward your head, keeping it in contact with the ground in a circular motion.
  • Once your arm reaches your face, turn your head to the left, and let your knees drop to the left. For this part of the exercise your right knee must be behind your left foot, so it is not the same fall that you were doing before, this is to set you up to be able to be able to move.
  • Keeping your right fingers in contact with the ground continue moving your right arm in the circular motion, once you cross your left arm begin to raise your upper body.
  • Ending in a sitting position.  During this part of the exercise begin with an “mmmmm” sound, and then as you near the end of the movement, move to ah “aaaaa” sound.
  • Now by shifting our knees and arms we will make a mirror image of this pose on the other side. Your legs should fall relatively easily into place with your left knee behind your right foot.
  • During this movement begin with an “mmmmm” sound and as your go into the final pose replace it with an “eeeee” sound.
  • From this second sitting position begin to push your body up, bring you left leg with a big sweeping motion around until your body is facing the other way from the second seated position.
  • From here you should be bent over, legs wide apart, and knees bent.
  • Now we do a spinal roll from this position until we are fully upright.
  • During this phase of movement you begin with an “mmmm” sound and as you near the final pose shift to an “ooooo” sound.
  • After doing this at least twice on each side I usually then do a few lines from a monologue of the scene which I am going to be doing shortly just to feel connected to my voice and get into the right head space.

Final Thoughts

Remember that warming up your instrument is vital to ensuring you get the most out of any acting endeavor. It not only wakes up your body and voice but will also put you into a creative state, being more open to new experiences.

If you like this blog please share it, if you don’t like it let me know why, and finally if you want me to cover any subjects in a future blog post let me know!

Never have a plan b.

Kyle

My Acting Warm Up: Part 1

In the next three posts I’m going to go over my basic warm up, including waking up the body with a modified roll down, voice warm up, then a voice and movement connection exercise.

The first part of my warm up is a modified roll down you’ll find very commonly in Pilates. This is a very good exercise for lengthening your spine and giving your central nervous system room to move, and a bit of a wake up call. This also is a process to see where your body is at physically in terms of tension, or anything else that may be interfering with your instrument.

“The best part of this exercise is really discovering your own body. You can really feel which areas of your spine are tight and need work… You can sense how you distribute your weight on your feet. Maybe you favour one foot over the other, or have your weight in your heels.”1

The Exercise

  • Stand with your feet slightly closer than shoulder width apart.
  • Next, we’re just going to loosen up the head, shoulders, and feet.
    • Turn head to the right then to the left, do this twice.
    • Next move your shoulders up and down, roll them backward and toward. Pick them up and drop them to release tension. do this twice.
    • Next, move down to the feet, shake them out one at a time.
    • Rock back and forth on the balls of your feet, finding your balance.
  • We will always work this way head to toe.
  • Next, imagine a string being pulled from the top of your head, and it runs through each vertebrae, but ensure you don’t lift your chin. This will help you stand up straight and align everything correctly. I still even grab the invisible string with my hand above my head and pull it tight. But if you just remember to do it, that’s enough.
  • Make sure you do not lock out your knees, we want to keep them loose, and keep your stomach loose.
  • Keep breathing throughout focusing on your diaphragm.
  • Now we start the spinal roll. first drop you chin to your chest, keep your jaw relaxed, and your arms and shoulders lose.
  • Now starting from the base of the spine where your head meets your neck, slowly start to roll down, vertebrae by vertebra. Trying to notice each vertebrae as you roll down. There are 33 bones in your spine, try to feel each one. Keep your knees soft, but not bent.
    • I have not yet been able to feel every bone, but I’m trying to listen to my body and really focus on it, and even if you never feel each vertebrae, if you’re doing that, its perfect.
  • We are going to roll until we feel our coccyx stretch. Then we’re going to just stay in this hanging position and take a few deep breaths. Feel your diaphragm expand and how it attaches to the base of your spine. Feel it stretch. Usually during this I’ll hear some cracks and pops from my lower back, as long as it doesn’t hurt, nothing to worry about. But please do remember, never move into pain.
  • Now, while still bent over, move your weight to your toes and let your back hang loosely.
  • Rock back to having the weight on the balls of your feet. Now give your arms a gentle swing and let them come to rest on their own.
  • From here start to slowly roll back up. Feeling from your coccyx each vertebrae as you roll up. Bringing your head of last.
  • Now let out a private “ha” sound. Don’t make it too loud, we’re just warming up the body, to me it sounds like a loud sigh.
  • Now, we’ll do this sequence a few times before we move on.
  • Once we’ve completed this a few times we’ll add the second part.
  • When you are at the bottom of the roll down, slowly walk your hands forward until you are in a downward dog position.  From here we do a calf stretch. I personally go right side, count to two thousand, switch to left side to two thousand and then repeat this stretch one more time.
  • After stretching the calves we move down on to all fours, making sure that our hands are under our shoulders and our knees are under our hips.
  • From here we breathe in as we bow our back. With this position you should attempt to touch your coccyx to the back of your head this will give you the correct shape (Only super humans can actually touch their coccyx to the back of their head, this is just to get you into the correct position). Then as we breathe out we shift to angry cat (arching your back). In this position try to bring your coccyx forward to your nose. Then we breathe in as we shift into the bowed back, then breathe out as go into angry cat, breath in to shift to bowed back, and finally breathe out into our last angry cat.
  • From this position we bring our feet back so that our toes are on the mat, and then we shift up into downward dog.
  • Slowly we walk our hands back until we come to the end of the roll down position where we start to slowly roll back up. Feeling from your coccyx each vertebrae as you roll up. Bringing your head of last.
  • Now let out a private “ha” sound.
  • Do this whole sequence a few times.

Final Thoughts

I hope these blogs are proving useful to people. Please let me know if they are or are not, so I can better tailor the content of the blog to meet people’s needs.

Its been a whirlwind few weeks for me, but opportunities are like buses, wait forever for one, and then BAM! My cup runneth over!

Never stop pushing. Never stop dreaming. Go get it.

Kyle

Notes

Relaxation for Actors: What is it and Why is it Important

Author’s Note

This blog has been a bit delayed, but I know that it is worth it. Relaxation is a major part of being an actor, and I got caught up in the research of actor relaxation. Please enjoy this one!

“When there is tension, one cannot think or feel.” – Lee Strasberg1

A Bit of History and Why Its Important

“Among the nervous people of our generation this muscular tensity is inescapable. To destroy it completely is impossible, but we must struggle with it incessantly. Our method consists of developing a sort of control; an observer, as it were. This observer must, under all circumstances, see that at no point shall there be an extra amount of contraction. This process of self-observation and removal of unnecessary tenseness should be developed to the point where it becomes a subconscious, mechanical habit. Nor is that sufficient. It must be a normal habit and a natural necessity, not only during the quieter parts of your role, but especially at times of the greatest nervous and physical lift.”2

Relaxation is the foundation on which almost all actor’s work is based.3 Relaxation is needed in short, to help identify where there is tension in the instrument and helps to get rid of it. An instrument with tension is not as open to creativity and expression, or as Stanislavski put it,  ‘Muscular tautness interferes with inner emotional experience. As long as you have physical tenseness you cannot even think about delicate shadings of feeling or the spiritual life of your past. Consequently, before you attempt to create anything it is necessary for you to get your muscles in proper condition, so that they do not impede your action.’4

You can use relaxation exercises to enter what Stanislavski called the “creative mood.”5

Stanislavski was the first to try to define those moments when the actors act well, to establish a technique to stimulate a creative mood, to relax and concentrate.6 Strasberg studied at the American Laboratory Theatre with Stella Adler and Harold Clurman, where they were all taught by Richard Boleslawski (Who studied directly under Stanislavsky at the Moscow Arts Theatre). These three actors were the founding members of the Group Theatre, which was the first American acting ensemble to utilize Stanislavski’s techniques.

It is very important to know that this exercise is not designed to produce an emotional response, though that may happen as physical tension can have emotional roots.  “The muscles around the mouth, jaw, and the tongue are the most conditioned through the habits of speech and expression. The muscles and nerves contained in the back hold traumatic experiences from childhood and can be very tense and are more difficult to make contact with.”7 By systematic and deliberate exploration of these muscles, the actor will identify the tension in each of them, and release that tension through an act of will.8 Don’t go searching for anything other than tension in your instrument.

If the goal is relaxation why can I not do yoga or meditation

This seems to be a very common question, so I’ll throw my two cents in here. These can and do produce relaxation, but not in an actor sense. They do not show you where there is tension in your instrument. This is a very crucial part of the process. As my acting teacher says, imagine if you take your car to the mechanic because it is not running properly and without even seeing the car the mechanic just says “I’m just going to fix the the windscreen wipers.” You would probably go somewhere else. You want the mechanic to examine your car to find out what’s not working right so he can fix and fine tune your car. This is what this relaxation exercise is about, it is about identifying and releasing both mental and physical tension inside of your instrument. Also, if the actor did learn to identify this kind of tension, the actor obviously cannot stop in the middle of a scene to meditate, or start doing yoga. Strasberg’s relaxation exercise, when mastered, helps the actor identify the tension as it becomes apparent, then release the tension in a manner invisible to the audience.9

With yoga, along with the issue mentioned above, also focuses on form. Every move has a form, a way it is supposed to look like, a hand not pointed the right way, a leg not bent the correct amount, and the exercise will suffer for it. Strasberg’s relaxation does not focus on form, in fact it makes the actor do large movements that are very much outside of what people do day to day. This is important because if the actor is focused on how something should look rather than how something feels there is a issue. When we focus on form we are wholly thinking about how we think things should be, if you act like that you are merely imitating, pretending, and audiences can see that! The goal of Strasberg’s exercise is freedom, physically and mentally.

The Chair

I found this video by The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute while researching the topic of relaxation and I just loved it.

This may sound trivial, but you need the right kind of chair to do this.  I have tried this exercise in a lot of different chairs. If the chair is not fit for purpose, the exercise does not have the same impact.  Here are some key things I look for.

  • It cannot have arm rests, they will interfere with the movement.
  • It must be sturdy, to be it has to be made out of metal. I’m a big guy so plastic backed ones seem to be, wooden ones from Ikea don’t hold together well at the joints for the writhing of the hips.
  • It cannot be awful to sit in. If you cannot sit in it for 45 minutes to an hour, it’s not going to work. I prefer a bit of padding.
  • It can’t slide on the floor very easily, so I do like my chair to have rubber feet. If you’re going to do this on carpet this is less of an issue, but I tend to do this on wooden floors so it’s necessary to me.
  • The height of the back of the chair cannot be too high or this will interfere with movement.

Here is a photo of the type of chair I prefer.

The Exercise Itself

“The Actor’s body can be of optimum value to him only when motivated by an unceasing flow of artistic impulses,; only then can it be more refined, flexible, expressive and, most vital of all, sensitive and responsive to the subtleties which constitute the creative artist’s inner life.” – Michael Chekhov10

A few quick notes:

  • Almost every time I do this exercise, my eyes begin to water, not full on cry, but there is definitely something being released.  You may or may not have any kind of reaction to this exercise, that’s ok, just don’t go chasing an emotional response.
  • You also may feel hot or cold without any explanation during this exercise. Its ok.
  • Yes, this is strange, and people will think you’re weird. Its ok, you’re an actor, get used to it.
  • If there is pain or you have a condition that prevents you from doing any of the movements, skip that portion. Never work into pain.
  • The exercise will always move from head to toe.
  • This exercise is done without music.
  • I was taught this by Brian Timoney, who describes this method of relaxation with a bit more finesse in his book The Ultimate Guide to Method Acting. So if you want to know more about this, check out his book and website at: https://www.briantimoneyacting.co.uk/
  • You can also see how Lola Choen describes this exercise in her book The Method Acting Exercises Handbook.

First, sit in the chair, with your arms hanging loosely by your sides, you head hanging loose, and your legs in front of you, but not parallel to the floor. The chair should be taking all of your weight.

  • Next, we are going to turn to our breathing, taking nice deep breaths.
  • Next, ask yourself, “Where am I right now?” No, not where you are physically in a room, where are physically in terms of your instrument. Does anything feel off, do you feel any tension right off the bat, any pain? And also ask yourself, “Where am I now mentally?” Is there something that is pressing that you cannot stop thinking about? Are you stressed over an event, a conversation, a to-do list? Acknowledge all of these things, don’t try to block them out, let them flow as they want, the goal is not to contain them or push them off to the side, let them live. If you start to have an emotional response, that’s fine, if you don’t that’s also fine.
  • Now you begin to let out a private “Ahh” sound. Just like when you open your mouth for the dentist, and just keep it going. This sound starts off “private” meaning low in volume and intensity because this is a warm up and your vocal chords need to warm up as well. As you progress through the exercise you can increase the volume as you feel comfortable, just don’t strain. You will keep this sound going through the entire exercise.
  • You break up this “ahh” sound with short, explosive “ha” sounds whenever you have the urge to. When you do these sounds, you should really feel it in you diaphragm, not your throat. By tensing your diaphragm and quickly expunging the air you are releasing tension. It may sound strange, but I usually do feel a lot of tension leave when I start doing this.  This explosive “ha” sound should only be done once you feel you have warmed up your vocal chords, and if you feel any strain in your throat, you should just continue with the “ahh” sound. Usually I wait until I have completed the first round of basic relaxation head to toe before I interject these, but again this is totally up to you.
  • While still making the “ahh” sound begin to roll your head, clockwise. Taking note of any resistance or tension. After several times clockwise, stop and go counter clockwise also noticing any resistance or tension.
  • After stopping with the head roll, take your hands and with your pointer and index finger gently rub the temples of your head.
  • Next, using your pointed finger on one hand, gently rub the area just above the bridge of your nose, right between your eyebrows. (This helps a lot when working with really bright lights, your eyes will tense up while squinting, this will help ease that)
  • Now release your arms so they sit loosely at your side. Remembering to take nice deep breaths and still making the “ahh” sound.
  • Moving to the arms and shoulders. You’re going to be rolling your shoulders and your arms, while your arms are outstretched. Begin to roll them backwards in a very large exaggerated circle. With this movement, I have found that I get the most out of it when I try to make my shoulder blades touch when my arms and shoulders are moving backward, and then trying to reach my hands out as far as possible when moving forward. I really feel in my upper back.  This is a very unnatural movement, and that’s the point.
  • Now drop your arms to your sides. You can test to see where there is tension by lifting up one arm at a time and letting it drop. There should not be any resistance as it falls. I always keep my wrist limp when doing this in order to remove any unwanted tension. This particular point I got from An Actor Prepares, “He insisted that when we use an “isolated” group of muscles, be they shoulder, arm, leg, back muscles, all other parts of the body must remain free and without any tension. For example: in raising one’s arm by the aid of the shoulder muscles and contracting such as are necessary to the movement, one must let the rest of the arm, the elbow, the wrist, the fingers, all these joints, hang completely limp.”11
  • Now with your arms by your side we will now shift our attention to your hips.  (Now this is by far the strangest feeling and oddest position of this whole process to me. So if it feels weird, you’re in good company.)  Let your legs slide forward until your butt slides to the edge of the chair. Your head should be roughly looking toward the ceiling and your arms should be hanging loosely at your sides . Now using your heels as your pivot points move your hips clockwise for a few rotations, then stop and go counterclockwise. During this part I always find making the “ahh” noise the most difficult, I assume because I am engaging my core muscles while rotating my hips.
  • Now sit back into your chair in your original position.
  • Next part of the body we will work on is the legs. Keeping your knee bent (keeping your calf and foot loose) pick up your right leg and make very large exaggerated circles both clockwise and counterclockwise. Once you have done both directions, straighten your leg and do circles in both directions with your feet.  After you have done both directions, let you foot drop to the ground, don’t gently put it down, just relax your leg and let it fall.
  • Now do the same procedure with your left leg.
  • You have no completed one round of the relaxation exercise.  Try to do this for 30 minute before you begin your exercises to get you into the creative state. You will notice a difference, I promise.

Final Notes

This blog does take up more time than I had anticipated, but it is a lot of fun and really interesting to me. So this will continue, but the schedule may fluctuate.

Links to Topics Discussed in this Blog

Notes

Etudes: Acting Basics

What is an etude?

  • a short musical composition, typically for one instrument, designed as an exercise to improve the technique or demonstrate the skill of the player.

So how does this translate into acting? An etude is a small piece of work that over many repetitions teaches you the basic building blocks on which all of your future work will be built on. Demidov etudes – specially-designed exercises that establish an actor in the process of subconscious living onstage. The Demidov etudes foster creative spontaneity and emotional responsivity, and develop actors’ readiness to surrender to the given circumstances. In addition, Demidov etudes cultivate the habit of independent creativity.1


In a Demidov étude, a simple text is given to the actors, and nothing more. This text is designed in such a way that it is open to interpretation. It provides some of the given circumstances, but does not firmly dictate characters, relationships, place or time. The text is never discussed, but simply repeated several times by the actors. The instructor then asks partners to forget the text, to “toss it out of their heads,” and to remain empty for two to three seconds. The first impulse following the period of emptiness (be it thought, movement, sensation or mood) is obeyed by the actors – they passively surrender to it and continue to do so for the duration of the étude. What follows is a spontaneous improvisation of the circumstances (relationships, time, space, facts etc.) embodied by the actors in the course of the étude. The actors’ ability to imaginatively perceive the circumstances, the partner and the environment is cultivated in the Demidov études.2

Since the actual surroundings and the partner become the chief source for the actor’s imagination, the Demidov études – like no other exercises – open up the actors’ perceptive channels and develop their reflex of creative perception. Active behavior and emotional life occur in Demidov’s études just as they do in life – as reactions to the perceived circumstances. In addition to Demidov’s discoveries on the primacy of perception over action, his études also feature the signature “cultures” of the Demidov School, which include “emptiness” and “passivity.”3

On Creative Transformations in an Etude:4

  • Redirection into my own self
    • The actor is still himself. There has been no requirement to be any particular “character.”
  • A shift toward transformation.
    • The class environment, the teacher, the classmates, and the partner – all of this makes the actor prepare for the fact that he is entering a creative path. All of this has already “shifted” him off the fact that he is merely his own, personal self. He is already an actor.
    • Repeating the text and listening to the partner’s text “shifts” him even further.
    • And now, the text, the partner, his own state, and all the rest, evoke in the actor some first hints of new imaginary circumstances. Then the circumstances of his new life, created in his imagination solidify.
    • Alongside the circumstances and immediately following them an actor receives a new sense of self: he feels himself being somebody else – the circumstances, and new imaginary life have remade hi,.
  • Unity of the actor’s personal “self” and the emerging “character”
    • While experiencing himself as somebody else, he never loses his person “I.”
    • This total unity of the actor’s persona and of the character is a prerequisite to creative life on stage.

Etudes and the Actor’s Creative Process5

These etudes are the most accessible and direct way to explore an actor’s creative process.

A Mere observation of their flow enables us to establish:

  1. Conditions for the creative process.
  2. Conditions for its sound flow.
  3. Its errors.
  4. The scheme of the creative process: assignment – free reaction – perception – another involuntary reaction…
  5. These etudes alone made it clear that the creative process must not be compiled like a mosaic, by laying its fragments (the “elements”) together. Rather, one should not interfere with the creative process that already exists. The fact is, as soon as an actor steps out to do an etude, and the assignment has been given – creativity has already begun.
  6. When observing etudes, we notice that every attempt to break down the creative process into its constituent parts (as we used to do) leads to its destruction. Therefore, it is not just undesirable to do so, but it is impermissible.
  7. We used to make additions to what we saw in an actor. We added what we deemed missing: attention, a circle, an object, a task and so on and so forth. Our practice has taught us that, instead of adding what is not there, we must remove what interferes: excessive effort, haste, the “braking system” – “It’s correct…correct!”, “Give it a green light,” “Take your time,” etc. In short, we must proceed from the sound impulses that exists in a student; we must affirm them, rather than demand the non-existent, and thus extinguish the student’s creativity.

Key points for understanding etudes:

  • Etudes are organic character building. It’s about doing the work together
  • Don’t come into a scene and change yourself, know and understand how you are and take that to the scene.
  • No one can ever predict the directions of the etude. It will go the way it goes…
  • Tell me what happened/talk me through this one
    • Remember you are the only one that knows what is going on inside your head, so it is not what you are thinking about that is the chief concern, it is that you are thinking.  And by thinking the audience will see your process, and you won’t be focused on an end result.
  • Take your time, don’t rush.
    • These exercise are designed to help all actors, but they really help beginning actors learn what a real impulse is versus what a fake impulse is. This is a key building block for
    • When you’re living you are not expecting a scene to occur.
    • Understand why you’re saying the lines. The scene gets done itself – it will happen as a result of what happened.
    • Get your intellect out of the way → it will change everything
    • Be available to respond
  • You need to have depth to your explanations
    • If you can’t answer what do you think about that person, then you’re not doing the work.
      • Who is this person
      • What do they mean to me
      • What do they make me feel
    • All the answers are in you scene partner, actively seek what is going on with the other person. The answers are in front of you, that person is here to help you solve the problem.
      • Don’t play an idea, you’ll go blind to the other person
      • When you do a back story  it becomes harder to stay real/in the moment.
    • Perceive the person, not a character.
    • When looking to find out what’s going on
      • What is going on, and how can I take it further
      • What’s at stake
      • The relationship between the characters
      • Flights of fancy – this is where you create the imaginary circumstances in which you find yourself during the etude. It doesn’t matter if your partner has imagined different circumstances.  An individual artist is unique, has a unique perspective. What is important is that you take what your partner is giving you and then use that as you continue. The moment is a fluid process, not just at the beginning, keep constantly adapting.
      • Why is how we get deeper, we get better answers, and complexity. Keeping asking “why.”
      • What is taking my attention, why, then go further
  • You are the character:
    • All of the teacher’s questions suggest that my “I” – the seeing, feeling, thinking “I” of the actor – is always present and always participates in the creative process. Moreover, it is the main participant in the process.
  • Wipe the slate clean
    • When you wipe the slate clean, there can be similarities, but you are just playing what is in front of you.
    • There is no scenario, no given circumstances.
    • Accept reality first, accepting your actual reality will help you relax.
    • First accept reality before you can go into a fantasy world or you’ll reject the imaginary world.
    • Let go of preconceived notions, create.
  • Don’t judge your impulses, just feel them and execute them.Don’t judge the impulse – we need to take it so that it lives. If you judge an impulse you will not take it immediately, and then think about it if you should do it or not. If you start to think like this you’ll never actually do anything.
  • Follow through with the impulse, don’t judge it and stop halfway through.
  • Commit to it, don’t be wishy washy.
  • Things of high standard take time.

So here is this method, in general terms, speaking primitively:
6

  1. FIRST stage: calm repetition of the text (without “acting,” just to remember).
  2. SECOND stage: “putting the text out of your head” – so as to forget everything, as far as possible, for one-two-three seconds, to silence your imagination, to become “empty,” to turn into a virginally white sheet of paper on which nothing is written.
  3. THIRD stage: I quit interfering with myself- I no longer arrange for any “emptiness.” In this instance, my life begins or, rather, returns to me. When I interfered with myself, it was as if it were not there: I did not see or hear; there were no thoughts – it was a second of “confusion.” And now everything goes back to normal: thoughts come; I start to see objects; things I perceive evoke certain attitudes (as the aforementioned sunlight spot on the wall, and now this young actress). I begin to hear the noise of the street, the music next-door, the movement of the neighboring actor’s chair. I feel the cold or the heat; I experience my posture being comfortable or uncomfortable. None of it should be fought. There should be no interference: thoughts flow, feelings change from one to another – this is what life happens to be at the moment. Nothing more and nothing less. To this, and this alone, I must surrender. “Let all of this live on its own.” I have nothing to do with it. And here it comes.
  4. THE FOURTH stage: Apparently, the words of the etude you just repeated are not lost – they were just waiting for their time, and are starting to break out. Their first appearance is vague and indistinct; they don’t sit on the tip of your tongue; they do not even occupy your thoughts. Yet for some reason, your imagination arranges out of your surroundings – people and objects – a very particular set of circumstances. These circumstances will, in a minute or earlier, make all these words quite handy.  In short, the repeated text organizes the entire etude on its own, bypassing any conscious, rational fabrication. Apparently the text has not been forgotten, and it is doing its job. And here it comes.
  5. FIFTH stage: one must have the courage to give into all of this. To give in entirely, without looking back.

Perception Occurs Involuntarily, by Itself7

  • At times, an actor gets so carried away in the course of an etude, he misses the partner’s lines and responds to them at random. I would use this pretext and ask:
    • What did she really tell you when she said these words?
    • I don’t know, really…I missed it – he would frankly admit (Or else, he would say something incorrect – after all, he did not really hear her.)
    • No need to be embarrassed. Did you really make a mistake? You were busy with something else. You could not hear her.
  • If you forced yourself to listen, you would do something you did not want to do. This truly would have been a mistake. In life, when we are passionate about something, do we not often miss what we are told; do someone else’s words not fall on our deaf ears? This is a normal way of life.
  • Sometimes it is regrettable that he missed something significant coming from his partner, and this shortchanged the etude a bit. Nevertheless, it is best to make this temporary sacrifice – so far as the student is learning to live freely and naturally on stage. [A careful attitude toward the partner’s lines is developed later, by adding and clarifying the circumstances (as indicated in Part Four of this book). Author’s Note]
  • Even when we watch something keenly, it happens on its own, without any effort on our side. It happens when we find something particularly interesting.
  • Our senses are in perfect order: as long as there is something to see, hear, smell or touch – we certainly would see, hear, and so on. That is: perception would take care of itself. Life begins with that.
  • Therefore, the only thing we ever need to worry about, when in our normal state, is not interfering with perception.

Etudes with Stage Direction 8

When, prior to an etude, you repeat the lines, you must also say your stage directions: I leave, I sit down, I take a book, and so on. Otherwise, the words will get spoken on their own, yet the actor won’t feel like leaving or doing something else specified in the etude.

I would ask students: why didn’t you leave, or why didn’t you do this or that? The answer is the same: “I didn’t feel like it.” And they are right. They were correct to completely “green light” their desires and urges. There was no error there. There error was elsewhere – in the assigning. As it always turns out, assignments are to blame – students forget to say “I leave,” or “I do” this or that

An actor who clearly tells himself a stage direction – for example “I go to the window” – that actor will not notice how he finds himself by the window. Some force will inevitably lead him there.

There is nothing miraculous or supernatural here. This phenomenon is rather commonplace. Going to bed in the evening, fearing to oversleep, we say to ourselves: “Tomorrow I need to wake up at seven o’clock.” In the morning we wake up from some jerk or from some thought. We look at the clock… and the arrow points to seven.

The same thing happens with the assignment we practice in theatre, in our classes.

Examples:

A: Have you been to the Tate Gallery?
B: No, I have not. I am going tomorrow.
A: What time tomorrow?
B: At noon, Why do you ask?
A: Nothing, I just asked.9

A: Is it eight yet?
B: I think it’s after eight.
A: I have to go.
B: Will you be back soon?
A: Don’t wait for me. I won’t be back until after one.
B: Another meeting?
A: Another meeting…10

A: Are you mad at me?
B: I am.
A: Why?
B: You know perfectly well why.
A: This is exhausting.11

A: We need to have a serious talk.
B: I was expecting this for a while.
A: How could you be?
B: I just was.12

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