What do actors really need to learn?

Convener(s): Mark Phoenix

Participants: Liam O aristoll, lisa stubbs, roger Phillips, andy Harman, rajha shakiry, nigel Richards, leo wood, shakera louise ahad, Charlie folorvois 

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Following comments from yesterday’s session, where difficulties with quality work were discussed, I latched onto one problem: the actors ego.

My premise is that drama training positively encourages this, and is a breeding ground for actors’ ego. So my issue is what should we be teaching to the next generation of actors.

Initially it was thought that what was really important cant be taught, but is learnt through experience.

We then moved on to a discussion of actors issues in dealing with the reality of the working environment, your unique selling point, dealing with unemployment, finding your niche and the need to survive. And a call to bring in/back a progression route. Fringe- weekly rep- more substantial parts.

Then the discussion moved from actors worries, as directors, writers, designers, producers got involved in the discussion.

From a writers perspective, actors need to be open and offer themselves/ideas into the rehearsal space to learn to work with and collaborate with a writer.

From director/ designer perspective, actors need to understand the other roles in theatre. Lighting, stage management costume, set…… how else can the collaboration happen? The actor needs to get used to the costume/ props.

Bad tuition

Traditionally drama schools think they have the right to tell you “you are shit” this leads to defensiveness, and self protection and then egotism.

From a training perspective, what tools does an actor use?

Observation Transformation Interpretation

So  self analysis to eliminate default behaviour, becoming a character and working with the imaginary world.

The story is  not about you! Actors play small roles, but they are equally important to the story, but if usual acting techniques are applied ie; my objectives, my journey, this becomes a distraction to the protagonists journey and objectives.  Strangely enough the lead actor/protagonist of story is the only one who cannot see the vision of the show. Eg;  The lighting design is not seen as the lights are on you all the time. So a lead will race on with their interpretation without listening to ensemble and everyone else plays catch up.

Its not about the actors comfort but the audience comfort.

Physicality- the neutral mask, a useful tool for saying what you see.

Unfortunately voice, movement and acting are taught as separate and not seen as part of the holistic whole. Our physical system is all one

Work on body response/ breath work.

Outside in or inside out?  Do we live by our will power or as a response to the world?.

Neuroscience-  imagination sets up real responses within neurons and is only stopped by inhibitors (social control). Imagining yourself doing a 100m uses more calories than imagining a jog.!!! So Imagine more= giving more. Our body gives us our emotion.

Actors says that scientist say that there are 27 senses not 5! The audience is hardwired to respond to fake/truth of physiological behaviour of human face and body language.

NO breakfasts

All the back story of what your character had for breakfast is often not relevant. Do it if you must but don’t bring it into rehearsal. Is it readable? Often not. The trap is that the actor becomes safe and comfortable and removes risk in performance.

The observer affects the experiment

Being watched changes the way that you behave, this is often the cause of much blocking within actors. Hence defensiveness, hence ego.

To the actor (notes and suggestions)

The job is to live truthfully and

Tell stories.

The things we can’t communicate are the essence of what we are trying to do. =theatre.

Unlearn bad habits

Take risk / be brave

Work as an ensemble

Consider yourself a theatre maker and not an actor

Theatre is a creative act, actors are not puppets.

Fear is natural.

Take responsibility within performance.

Keep it live and present

Does it communicate?

Resolve the gestalt.

Deal with “what is”, not the plan

Be able to translate directions (director /actor interface)

Communicate theatre language

Allow audience to be part of translation process.

Find shades of grey.

Let audience follow your choices

Lose as actor and character.

Discover size of performance/style of work

You can note someone’s behaviour, e.g.; you are angry- but you cannot know why just by looking at them.

Don’t fight truth of moment

Learn clarity of thought

Learn to be switched on; focused

Raise the stakes- make it more important

It’s not about you. Use the other actors

Have autonomy. You will meet bad directors. Don’t be bullied.

You will meet good directors, - acquiesce

Learn to problem solve. How do I do that?

Things are working if there are more questions than answers

Learn to receive

Small parts create the world

Remember it is for the audience, not you.  

Reading list:

  • Drew Leder  Absent Body
  • Antonio de Mazio  Descartes Error
  • David Mamet      True and False
  • Declan Donalan   The actor and his target.
  • Books on Jung, cognitive therapy, deception and con men.