To the Actor
eBook - ePub

To the Actor

On the Technique of Acting

Michael Chekhov, Mala Powers, Mala Powers

  1. 288 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (adapté aux mobiles)
  4. Disponible sur iOS et Android
eBook - ePub

To the Actor

On the Technique of Acting

Michael Chekhov, Mala Powers, Mala Powers

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À propos de ce livre

Michael Chekhov's classic work To the Actor has been revised and expanded by Mala Powers to explain, clearly and concisely, the essential techniques for every actor from developing a character to strengthen awareness.

Chekhov's simple and practical method – successfully used by professional actors all over the world – trains the actor's imagination and body to fulfill its potential.

To the Actor includes a previously unpublished chapter on 'Psychological Gesture', translated into English by the celebrated director Andrei Malaev - Babel; a new biographical overview by Mala Powers; and a foreword by Simon Callow.

This book is a vital text for actors and directors including acting and theatre history students.

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The Actor's Body and Psychology

Our bodies can be either our best friends or worst enemies.
It is a known fact that the human body and psychology influence each other and are in constant interplay. Either an undeveloped or muscularly overdeveloped body may easily dim the activity of the mind, dull the feelings or weaken the will. Because each field and profession is prey to characteristic occupational habits, diseases and hazards which inevitably affect its workers and practitioners, it is seldom that we find a complete balance or harmony between the body and psychology.
But the actor, who must consider his body as an instrument for expressing creative ideas on the stage, must strive for the attainment of complete harmony between the two, body and psychology.
There are certain actors who can feel their roles deeply, can comprehend them pellucidly, but who can neither express nor convey to an audience these riches within themselves. Those wonderful thoughts and emotions are somehow chained inside their undeveloped bodies. The process of rehearsing and acting is for them a painful struggle against their own “too too solid flesh,” as Hamlet said. But no need to be dismayed. Every actor, to a greater or lesser degree, suffers from some of his body’s resistance.
Physical exercises are needed to overcome this, but they must be built on principles different from those used in most dramatic schools. Gymnastics, fencing, dancing, acrobatics, calisthenics and wrestling are undoubtedly good and useful for what they are, but the body of an actor must undergo a special kind of development in accordance with the particular requirements of his profession.
What are these requirements?
First and foremost is extreme sensitivity of body to the psychological creative impulses. This cannot be achieved by strictly physical exercises. The psychology itself must take part in such a development. The body of an actor must absorb psychological qualities, must be filled and permeated with them so that they will convert it gradually into a sensitive membrane, a kind of receiver and conveyor of the subtlest images, feelings, emotions and will impulses.
Since the last third of the nineteenth century a materialistic world outlook has been reigning, with ever-increasing power, in the sphere of art as well as in science and everyday life. Consequently, only those things which are tangible, only that which is palpable and only that which has the outer appearance of life phenomena seem valid enough to attract the artist’s attention.
Under the influence of materialistic concepts, the contemporary actor is constantly and out of sheer necessity suborned into the dangerous practice of eliminating the psychological elements from his art and overestimating the significance of the physical. Thus, as he sinks deeper and deeper into this inartistic milieu, his body becomes less and less animated, more and more shallow, dense, puppet-like, and in extreme cases even resembles some kind of automaton of his mechanistic age. Venality becomes a convenient substitute for originality. The actor begins to resort to all sorts of theatrical tricks and clichés and soon accumulates a number of peculiar acting habits and bodily mannerisms; but no matter how good or bad they are or seem to be, they are only a replacement for his real artistic feelings and emotions, for real creative excitement on the stage.
Moreover, under the hypnotic power of modern materialism, actors are even inclined to neglect the boundary which must separate everyday life from that of the stage. They strive instead to bring life-as-it-is onto the stage, and by doing so become ordinary photographers rather than artists. They are perilously prone to forget that the real task of the creative artist is not merely to copy the outer appearance of life but to interpret life in all its facets and profoundness, to show what is behind the phenomena of life, to let the spectator look beyond life’s surfaces and meanings.
For is not the artist, the actor in the truest sense, a being who is endowed with the ability to see and experience things which are obscure to the average person? And is not his real mission, his joyous instinct, to convey to the spectator, as a kind of revelation, his very own impressions of things as he sees and feels them? Yet how can he do that if his body is chained and limited in its expressiveness by the force of unartistic, uncreative influences? Since his body and voice are the only physical instruments upon which he can play, should he not protect them against constraints that are hostile and deleterious to his craft?
Cold, analytical, materialistic thinking tends to throttle the urge to imagination. To counteract this deadly intrusion, the actor must systematically undertake the task of feeding his body with other impulses than those which impel him to a merely materialistic way of living and thinking. 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. For the actor’s body must be molded and re-created from inside.
As soon as you start practicing you will be astonished to see how much and how avidly the human body, especially an actor’s body, can consume – and respond to – all kinds of purely psychological values. Therefore, for an actor’s development, special psychophysical exercises must be found and applied. The first nine exercises are designed to fill this requirement.
This brings us to the delineation of the second requirement, which is the richness of the psychology itself. A sensitive body and a rich, colorful psychology are mutually complementary to each other and create that harmony so necessary to the attainment of the actor’s professional aim.
You will achieve it by constantly enlarging the circle of your interests. Try to experience or assume the psychology of persons of other eras by reading period plays, historical novels or even history itself. While doing so, try to penetrate their thinking without imposing upon them your modern points of view, moral concepts, social principles or anything else that is of a personal nature or opinion. Try to understand them through their way of living and the circumstance of their lives. Reject the dogmatic and misleading notion that the human personality never changes but remains the same at all times and in all ages. (I once heard a prominent actor say, “Hamlet was just a guy like myself ”! In an instant he had betrayed that inner laziness which failed to enter more thoroughly into Hamlet’s personality, and his lack of interest in anything beyond the limits of his own psychology.)
Similarly, try to penetrate the psychology of different nations; try to define their specific characteristics, their psychological features, interests, their arts. Make clear the main differences that distinguish these nations from one another.
Further, endeavor to penetrate the psychology of persons around you toward whom you feel unsympathetic. Try to find in them some good, positive qualities which you perhaps failed to notice before. Make an attempt to experience what they experience; ask yourself why they feel or act the way they do.
Remain objective and you will enlarge your own psychology immensely. All such vicarious experiences will, by their own weight, sink gradually into your body and make it more sensitive, noble and flexible And your ability to penetrate the inner life of the characters you are studying professionally will become sharper. You will first begin to discover that inexhaustible fund of originality, inventiveness and ingenuity you are capable of displaying as an actor. You will be able to detect in your characters those fine but fugitive features which nobody but you, the actor, can see and, as a consequence, reveal to your audiences.
And if, in addition to the foregoing suggestions, you acquire the habit of suppressing all unnecessary criticism, whether in life or in your professional work, you will hasten your development considerably.
The third requirement is complete obedience of both body and psychology to the actor. The actor who would become master of himself and his craft will banish the element of “accident” from his profession and create a firm ground for his talent. Only an indisputable command of his body and psychology will give him the necessary self-confidence, freedom and harmony for his creative activity. For in modern everyday life we do not make sufficient or proper use of our bodies, and as a result the majority of our muscles become weak, inflexible and insensitive. They must be reactivated and made resilient. The entire method suggested in this book leads us to the accomplishment of this third requirement.
Now let us get down to practical work and start doing our exercises. Avoid doing them mechanically, and always try to keep in mind the final aim of each.

Exercise 1

Do a series of wide, broad but simple movements using a maximum of space around you. Involve and utilize your whole body. Make the movements with sufficient strength, but without straining your muscles unnecessarily. Movements can be made that will “enact” the following:
Open yourself completely, spreading wide your arms and hands, your legs far apart. Remain in this expanded position for a few seconds. Imagine that you are becoming larger and larger. Come back to the original position. Repeat the same movement several times. Keep in mind the aim of the exercise, saying to yourself, “I am going to awaken the sleeping muscles of my body; I am going to revivify and use them.”
Now close yourself by crossing your arms upon your chest, putting your hands on your shoulders. Kneel on one or both knees, bending your head low. Imagine that you are becoming smaller and smaller, curling up, contracting as though you wanted to disappear bodily within yourself, and that the space around you is shrinking. Another set of your muscles will be awakened by this contracting movement.
Resume a standing position, then thrust your body forward on one leg, stretching out one or both arms. Do the same stretching movement sideways to the right, to the left, using as much space around you as you can.
Do a movement that resembles a blacksmith beating his hammer upon the anvil.
Do different, wide, well-shaped, full movements – as though you were in turn throwing something in different directions, lifting some object from the ground, holding it high above your head, or dragging, pushing and tossing it. Make your movements complete, with sufficient strength and in moderate tempo. Avoid dancing movements. Do not hold your breath while moving. Do not hurry. Pause after each movement.
This exercise will gradually give you a glimmer of the sensations of freedom and increased life. Let these sensations sink into your body as the first psychological qualities to be absorbed.

Exercise 2

After you have taught yourself by means of this preparatory exercise to produce these simple, wide and free movements, continue doing them another way. Imagine that within your chest there is a center from which flows the actual impulses for all your movements. Think of this imaginary center as a source of inner activity and power within your body. Send this power into your head, arms, hands, torso, legs and feet. Let the sensation of strength, harmony and well-being penetrate the whole body. See to it that neither your shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips nor knees stanch the flow of this energy from the imaginary center, but let it course freely. Realize that the joints are not given you to make your body stiff but, on the contrary, to enable you to use your limbs with utmost freedom and flexibility.
Imagining that your arms and legs originate from this center within your chest (not from the shoulders and hips), try a series of natural movements: lift your arms and lower them, stretch them in different directions, walk, sit down, get up, lie down; move different objects; put on your overcoat, gloves, hat; take them off, and so on. See that all the movements you make are actually instigated by that power which flows from the imaginary center within your chest.
While doing this exercise keep in mind another important principle: let the power which flows from the imaginary center within your chest and leads you through space precede the movement itself; that is, first send out the impulse for the movement, and then, an instant later, do the movement itself. While walking forward, sideways or backward, let even the center itself go out, as it were, from your chest, a few inches ahead of you in the direction of your movement. Let your body follow the center. It will make your walk as well as every movement smooth, graceful and artistic, as pleasant to fulfill as to look at.
After the movement is accomplished, do not cut short the stream of power generated from the center, but let it flow and radiate for a while beyond the boundaries of your body and into the space around you. This power must not only precede each of your movements but also follow it, so that the sensation of freedom will be bolstered by that of power, thus placing another psychophysical achievement at your command. Gradually, you will experience more and more of that strong feeling which may be called an actor’s presence on the stage. While facing the audience you will never be self-conscious, never suffer from any kind of fear or lack of confidence in yourself as an artist.
The imaginary center in your chest will also give you the sensation that your whole body is approaching, as it were, an “ideal” type of human body. Like a musician who can play only on a well-tuned instrument, so you will have the feeling that your “ideal” body enables you to make the greatest possible use of it, to give it all kinds of characteristic features demanded by the part you are working upon. So continue these exercises until you feel that the powerful center within your chest is a natural part of you and no longer requires any special attention or concentration.
The imaginary center also serves other purposes, which will be discussed later on.

Exercise 3

As before, make strong and broad movements with your whole body. But now say to yourself: “Like a sculptor, I mold the space surrounding me. In the air around me I leave forms which appear to be chiseled by the movements of my body.”
Create strong and definite forms. To be able to do this, think of the beginning and the end of each movement you make. Again say to yourself: “Now I begin my movement which creates a form,” and, after completing it: “Now I finished it; the form is there.” Along with this, think and feel your body itself as a movable form. Repeat each movement several times until it becomes free and most enjoyable to fulfill. Your efforts will resemble the work of a designer who, again and again, draws the same line, striving for a better, clearer and more expressive form. But in order not to lose the molding quality of your movement imagine the air around you as a medium which resi...

Table des matiĂšres

  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Dedication
  5. Contents
  12. 1 The Actor's Body and Psychology
  13. 2 Imagination and Incorporation of Images
  14. 3 Improvisation and Ensemble
  15. 4 The Atmosphere and Individual Feelings
  16. 5 The Psychological Gesture
  17. 6 Character and Characterization
  18. 7 Creative Individuality
  19. 8 Composition of the Performance
  20. 9 Different Types of Performances
  21. 10 How to Approach the Part
  22. 11 Concluding Notes
  23. 12 Examples for Improvisation
  25. Index