Sunday, April 29, 2018

Respect for Acting


For some reason, I have been ordering used books on acting in the past month:

Oxford Illustrated History of Theatre
The Fervent Years: The Group Theatre & the '30s (by Harold Clurman)
An Actor Prepares (Stanislavski)
Respect for Acting (Uta Hagen, 1973)
The Art of Acting (Stella Adler)

So far, I've only read Hagen's "Respect for Acting" all the way through. Straight to the "re-sell on eBay" pile. After an initially brief, but interesting, comparison of the way both Duse and Bernhardt played an unnamed role, I was hoping for more of the same psychological insight. Instead, I found a series of quite dated "observations." For instance, here's an example of the latter part of an "Object Exercise" in which you've woken up with a hangover after a date "to a great new French movie" and now have a reading that you're late to, plus you're dealing with an ongoing Peeping Tom across the way:
ACTIONS: You leap out of bed and flaunt your behind in your thin nightie at the peeping Tom, before yanking the curtains together and putting on your gorgeous robe. You turn the clock to the wall so that your lateness won't rattle you. You empty your friend's ashtray in the attempt to get him off your mind. You look for an aspirin for your headache, etc., etc.
OK:
(1) Flashing your ass to a Peeping Tom might have been cute and innocent in '43 or '53, but by '73, when Adler wrote the book? Actually dangerous, psychotic, drug-addled creeps had clearly come out in full force by '73; you don't flash them. (p.s. What poor young acting kid has a "gorgeous robe"?)
(2) NEVER have I, or anyone else I've known, physically "turned the clock to the wall" when we know we're late. Ridiculous.
(3) My emptying of ashtrays has always been an attempt to merely clean up the apartment. Looking at foreign (not my) butts might bring up a brief thought of who else had been there the night before smoking, but... specifically emptying an ashtray to "get someone off your mind"?

Overall, quite boring and literal stuff like "how do you feel when you've come home tired after a hard day of auditions --- how do your tired feet feel? what do you do when you get home?" (In Hagen's world, struggling 20-year-old actors come home and prepare a soothing foot-bath and gin-and-tonic as opposed to just grabbing a beer out of the fridge and lying down on the second-hand sofa.)

On the other hand, I've just started reading Adler's book (published in 2000, though she died in 1992, so I'm not sure in what year it first came out) and while doing so, searched for a pencil to underline certain thoughts:
We imagine we can start over anytime we want. Isn't that absurd? You didn't even start fresh the day you were born. You were born into a pattern of life.
Acting is not just imitating everyday behavior. It's capturing the essence of it. It's giving the audience the idea of an action. What happens on the stage must be more precise, more intense, more interesting than everyday behavior.

If you confine yourself to the beat of your generation only, if you're bound within the limits of your street corner, alienated from every object or period that does not contain your own pulse, then you dismiss the world in general, you make everything foreign.
When you give me your rose, that is your play.
I don't like Hagen at all, but I'm annotating Adler.

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