Thursday, May 30, 2013

Actor's Toolbox Revisited

I often talk to my friends about the idea of an actor’s toolbox. The concept is easy – just as a plumber or a carpenter, the actor will arm himself with the tools he needs to tackle the jobs before him. And different tools are appropriate for different jobs: Meisner for 20th Century American Realism, clown for Commedia dell’Arte and Shakespeare’s fools, and slap stick for early Vaudeville-esque musicals. The tools you are comfortable are on your top shelf. The ones that are more cumbersome or are more specialized are kept in the drawers below and are taken out only when necessary.

But I am discovering that the practice of acting, and art in general, is more fluid than my initial analysis. The more tools you can arm yourself with and meld together, the better. Sure there are still those crazy shows that demand specialized Noh training, but those are few and far between. Even then, the clown shows or commedia shows still require you to have a solid foundation as an actor before you can apply the specialized training. The more techniques you can understand and use in dialogue with each other, the better.

And never let the technique be the end all and be all. It is too easy to get caught up in playing the technique rather than the reality of the scene. This makes for lazy acting and bad productions. Be wary of any director who is staging a play in any one particular style. If the impetus for a production of Hamlet is Viewpoints, rather than what actually happens to Hamlet, go running and screaming for the hills.

For when it comes down to it, acting styles are really just different names and ways of getting to the essence of creating character on stage. Call it Stanislavski, Viewpoints, or Method, their ultimate goal is good acting and in the end, the audience will not care which one was used – just that their experience in the theater was fulfilling.

So have your actor’s toolbox. And employ the tools that best suit you. But be flexible to adjustments and grey area. Be ready to look at a scene or a character from different techniques. Serve the journey of the story, the arc of the scene, and the motivations and desires of the character. For just as characters will not ascribe to any one style, neither do the human beings they are trying to imitate.

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