Application of the Michael Chekhov Technique to Shakespeare's Sonnets, Soliloquies and Monologues
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Application of the Michael Chekhov Technique to Shakespeare's Sonnets, Soliloquies and Monologues

Mark Monday

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eBook - ePub

Application of the Michael Chekhov Technique to Shakespeare's Sonnets, Soliloquies and Monologues

Mark Monday

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About This Book

Application of the Michael Chekhov Technique to Shakespeare's Sonnets, Soliloquies, and Monologues illustrates how to apply the Michael Chekhov Technique, through exercises and rehearsal techniques, to a wide range of Shakespeare's works.

The book begins with a comprehensive chapter on the definitions of the various aspects of the Technique, followed by five chapters covering Shakespeare's sonnets, comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances. This volume offers a very specific path, via Michael Chekhov, on how to put theory into practice and bring one's own artistic life into the work of Shakespeare.

Offering a wide range of pieces that can be used as audition material, Application of the Michael Chekhov Technique to Shakespeare's Sonnets, Soliloquies, and Monologues is an excellent resource for acting teachers, directors, and actors specializing in the work of William Shakespeare.

The book also includes access to a video on Psychological Gesture to facilitate the application of this acting tool to Shakespeare's scenes.

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Chapter One

Tools of the Michael Chekhov Technique Used in This Book

You will find in Appendix I more terminology with expanded definitions and exercises on much of the following:

Accents (AX)

A spike in atmosphere. You’ll see I deal with AX’s for a brief while and then allow you to deal with them on your own. This will make sense as you work through the book.

Action (AC)

Action can be defined as (what I do to get what I want). Actions are discovered through the given circumstances. They are verbs such as: I smash, I embrace, I penetrate, I lift. They are what we do to reach our goals. I strongly prefer that actors begin with ‘I’ to state their AC’s. The actor is playing the character. The character is not playing the actor.
Note: You will work with industry professionals who use the word ‘tactics’ instead of Action. Simply know that what they really mean is Action as a tactic is something we plan to do. Once we put the plan into motion it becomes Action. (Drives me nuts.)

Archetype (AR)

Every character, every human being, is composed of various archetypes. I write about this extensively in my first book, Directing with the Michael Chekhov Technique. For our purposes in this volume I identify characters with archetypes in each soliloquy or monologue.
AR’s are universal truths that identify and categorize us. They guide actors in choices of AC’s and Qualities of Action. AR’s serve us in how the audience knows the characters.
A good source for archetype definitions is ‘Archetype Cards’ by Caroline Myss. The cards are available on Amazon—as is my first book.

Artistic Frame (AF)

The Artistic Frame is similar to, yet more profound, than Stanislavski’s ‘beats.’ Stanislavski describes the beat as ‘one swing of the pendulum.’ That is a lovely image. The AF has a beginning, middle, and ending. Lenard Petit says it is ‘preparation, sustaining and radiating.’ In our organization, the Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium, we have labeled the AF with Fantasize, Do, Radiate (FDR). It really is all of these things that make it profound.
When using FDR we first fantasize the AC (the Psychological Gesture, PG, see below) and the Quality of Action (also see below) preceding the physical body toward our scene partner. It is not necessarily a visual image we are fantasizing. Rather, we fantasize the feeling of our OB being fulfilled because our AC and Quality of Action are successful. We get what we want and we feel great about it—we feel glad. Chekhov teaches us to ‘see our objective fulfilled’ before we execute the Action. To fantasize first, adheres to this directive.
After fantasizing the objective fulfilled and we are full of joy (glad) we then follow the fantasy with the physical doing of the AC and Quality of Action. Afterward we sustain or radiate the feeling until we begin to sense it dissipating. Eventually we recognize a clear ending and move onto the next AF—a new beginning. It is crucial to make the ending clear so we move, and we move the audience, from frame to frame and thereby make the story of the play crystal clear.
Chekhov teaches us to say when working on form, ‘Now I begin my movement which creates a form.’ Upon completion of the form he says, ‘Now I finished it; the form is there.’ When you are rehearsing using a form, a Psychological Gesture, it’s a good practice to use these phrases.
Please note we are not playing a feeling or emotion. We are instead fantasizing an atmosphere that we have experienced hundreds of times. Those archetypal atmospheres are stored in our bodies and we can coax them forward via our imagination—our fantasy life.

[A] Atmosphere (AM)

Chekhov describes AM’s as, ‘the source of ineffable moods and waves of feeling that emanate from one’s own surroundings.’ This description is somewhat not useful to actors and directors because we must be able to articulate the AM’s of the play. Yet, to respect Chekhov’s words, we understand that AM’s live in the realm of emotion and there are times when emotions are difficult to express. Then, there is our knowledge that emotions cannot be played. Emotions must be coaxed into existence via the playing of AC’s and Qualities of Action.
So, are we on a slippery slope? Not at all. We simply must acknowledge that AM’s are written into the given circumstances of the play and then conduct our behavior within those AM’s accordingly. We behave differently in the AM of Fear than we do in the AM of Happiness.
AM’s can be anything we recognize in the realm of mood. There could be an AM of anger or of reverence, of sadness or of a circus. Think of the AM of a church that is hundreds of years old and how one’s mood might be altered upon entering. Chekhov often works with archetypes or things that are universally recognized such as Psychological Gesture and Qualities of Movement. While he doesn’t give us specific archetypes for AM we can borrow from the world of psychology the following: mad, glad, sad, bad, and fear. Psychologists tell us that these five emotions are all encompassing, and all other emotions can be categorized into one of the words in this list. I have found this useful in beginning work. We can get more specific as our work progresses—if we need to do so.
There are two kinds of AM in our Technique: Objective and Individual Feelings. The Objective AM belongs to the space in which we occupy: a cathedral, rock concert, funeral, birthday party. Individual Feelings is the mood we are in at any given time. One might be in a happy mood walking down a tree-lined street. That mood changes quickly should one witness a horrific accident. Still, one might be in a happy mood at a funeral. It all depends on the given circumstances.
Finally, Chekhov points out that two conflicting AM’s cannot exist for an indefinite period of time. Eventually, one AM will give way to another. This occurs when someone acquiesces or leaves the stage. Regardless, AM helps the actor and director create conflict—something that is imperative in our work.

Baptism (BP)

The name, or title, of an AF. When working on speeches it is useful to title each AF with a specific description. We always begin with ‘The’. The Confrontation, The Game, The Conclusion, as an example. This will be clear when we begin looking at speeches.


A series of ‘laws’ as described by Chekhov in his book, To the Actor. Some of these laws we can use in our study of sonnets, soliloquies, and monologues. (See Appendix I.)
Climaxes (CX)—While it is seemingly obvious that climaxes exist it is prudent to mention them because of the way in which Chekhov suggests we rehearse. It is not the traditional beginning to end process. He suggests we begin rehearsing with the climaxes first and although he means in the context of an entire play, I have found that rehearsing this way in speeches works equally as well. When working on the speeches you’ll need to discover the climaxes. Once you discover the main climax, rehearse it first until you feel the height of it. Then, you can return to the beginning to build your Rhythmical Wave. (See below.)
Inner/Outer Tempo—There are times when our inner tempo is quite different than our outer tempo, and it is very interesting to witness on the stage. Imagine trying desperately to hold your temper. Your inner tempo is raging while your outer tempo is fighting to slow things down. It works the other way as well. Imagine an athlete who is spending a tremendous amount of energy (outer tempo) while his or her inner tempo is calm. We tend to call this ‘being in the zone.’ The great tennis player Roger Federer is a prime example of this. He is always in control of his inner tempo.

Method of Psycho-Physical Action

  • Action—Objective—Obstacles—Quality of Action—Stakes

Action (AC)

See definition above.

Objective (OB)

The character’s immediate goal. The definition of OB is (what I want).

Obstacles (OS)

The definition of OS is (what is in the way of what I want).

Quality of Action (QA)

As I have said the AC is a verb. The QA is then an adverb. I embrace—tenderly. I penetrate—forcefully. I lift—carefully. Again, all of this depends on the given circumstances. The definition of QA is (how I do what I do to get what I want).

Stakes (ST)

Literally, what is at stake. The definition of stakes is (what I stand to lose if I don’t get what I want). It could also be stated (what I stand to gain if I get what I want). I find it depends on the given circumstances and the archetype of the character as to which definition best suits.
Polarity (PL)—As Chekhov notes, in a well-written play there is a transformation from the beginning to the ending. As in Midsummer it is a transformation from evil (anger) to good or joy (glad). This is a good ‘law of composition’ to incorporate in our work in this book for it adds great variety and creates a journey for the character. Chekhov states, ‘All the main qualities of the first section should transform themselves into their opposites in the last section.’
For our purposes we also look for Polarity in our AC’s and Qualities of Action. If ‘I smash’ as our AC is not working to accomplish our objective, we may choose to change to ‘I embrace.’ We begin to build a Rhythmical Wave in this way and take our audience on a beautiful journey.

Psychological Gesture (PG)

Our work in this book on PG will be mainly concerned with it as Action. The PG’s we will explore are: Open, Close, Push, Pull, Lift, Embrace, Throw, Tear (Rip), Wring, Penetrate, and Smash. These PG’s as Actions are archetypal—meaning they serve as physical forms that are completely recognizable. Each PG has a specific form. You can find a video of actors demonstrating the forms of the PG’s at
Note: It is a very good idea to look up the definitions for the 11 PG’s and write them down. You’ll find a description of how to rehearse the PG’s and QA’s in Chapter 2.
Like AM’s, these words are all encompassing. All Actions will fall into one of these PGs. We can therefore begin with these words in our process and get more specific, if necessary, as we move on.
The PG has two parts. In the beginning, when just working on the form of the PG, it is called an Archetypal Gesture. It becomes a PG when we add a QA. We say our work is psycho-physical. It may be helpful to think of it as physical-psycho. At first the work is physical—it is manifested as a form—an Action. When we add the QA it then transforms into the psychological.
Chekhov says that the PG can be used for other purposes. It can be used as a form for the overall character, for a scene, monologue, a line, or a single word. The PG is the one aspect of the Technique that many actors and teachers have heard of. It may also be widely misunderstood.
Rhythmical Wave (RW)—The journey created, like a roller coaster, by adhering to the other laws. The RW also includes tempo and rhythm.
End Chapter One

Chapter Two

The Sonnets

I suppose a question to be asked is, why include so...

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