I just finished reading Five Approaches to Acting by David Kaplan. Here’s the parts I found most interesting:
“The essence of Stanislavsky’s thinking is that behavior and emotions are functions of wanting ot do something for a purpose on the stage.” (4)
“When you don’t know what to do in performance and rehearsal – or when an unforeseen circumstance happens – you can always fall back on the spine of the character, or hope that the super-task will swoop down from your thoughts and save you from disaster.” (18)
“When you define character by obstacles, you don’t define what you need, you define what you do when you don’t get what you need.” (23)
“The key to recreating a living truth on the stage: don’t copy the form of truth; repeat the structure of relationships that go you to the truth.” (24)
“Talent is a relative term. The ability to make love to the camera, for example, was not a recognized talent until film acting called for it.” (27)
“Although the character is an illusion, the emotions of the character are not. You experience real emotions onstage when you play your actions and attempt to accomplish your tasks.” (39)
“In his novel Resurrection, Tolstoy writes:
One of the most widespread superstitions is that every man has his own special, definite qualities; that a man is kind, cruel, wise, stupid, energetic, apathetic, etc. men are not like that. We may say of a man that he is more often kind than cruel, oftener wise than stupid, oftener energetic than apathetic, or the reverse; but it would be false to say of one man that he is kind and wise, of another that he is wicked and foolish. And yet we always classify mankind in this way. And this is untrue. Men are like rivers: the water is the same in each, and alike in all; but every river is narrow here, is more rapid there, here slower, there broader, now clear, now cold, now dull, now warm. It is the same with men. Every man carries in himself the germs of every quality, and sometimes one manifests itself, sometimes another, and the man often becomes unlike himself, while still remaining the same man.” (39)
“Many people think a rehearsal process is a series of less bad performances. Their process is to criticize each rehearsal in order to eliminate more and more bad choices until, after painstaking attacks, the choices become stage-worth. A rehearsal process need not be a savage removal of bad choices, but a steady build-up of good and better choices. During productive rehearsals you plant the seeds of what works, watch what flourishes, and encourage what is successful so that it can overtake what isn’t. if you find something that succeeds, the chances are good you will abandon what doesn’t. What doe not help will often drop away naturally.” (42)
“Your earliest responses in rehearsal are like pencil sketches. The historical process of rehearsal and of art (and of life, by the way) is such that all sketches build depth to your eventual choices, even if they are replaced later by more effective ones.” (42)
[During read throughs:] “End and begin sentences with your eyes on the other person, not on the book.” (43)
“As with good lying, acting is slipping in a few untruths among many truths.” (43)
“For dealing with overly dramatic people in life: Let them have their little or gigantic fit. When they’re out of breath, you can pounce.” (45)
“It was intended by Stanislavsky that his audience have compassion for the actions of the actors. No character should be seen as a villain or a hero, but only as a human being with recognizable hopes, dreams, and ambitions with which the audience can identify.” (46)
“No art form, including acting, has any one way of working, any one true method.” (58)
“Episodic acting is where the play is best acted in segments, carefully separated from each other, without continuity.” (62)
“Brecht and Piscator said the actor should prod the audience to judge the action, not seduce them into sharing the character’s emotions. Empathy would confuse the audience about what was going on.” (76)
“Playing oppositions frees actors from thinking that inconsistent behavior is a puzzle to be solved by the revelation of consistent need. Playing oppositions makes incongruity fun, not a problem; the tension of contradiction makes such theater theatrical.” (81)
“As a society and as individuals, we all enter into contracts we don’t recognize, yet these transactions determine our lives.” (103)
“That sums up the intention of episodic acting: play so that everyone in the theater understands.” (116)
“Sarah Bernhardt’s body was unusually thin. She was teased about her thinness as a girl and ridiculed for it as a woman – until her own fame made being slim fashionable.” (122)
“Without personal content, performances are essentially inhuman, even when they are technically proficient.” (124)
“The first use of imagery in rehearsal might be crude, or halting, or just plain wrong. But images get you started; that’s their usefulness. Images give momentum to rehearsals in ways that working towards a task does not. In painting, you have to start with bright color to get bright color.” (133)
“Remember not to deal with other people in life as clichés, but do deal with the characters you are about to play in that way – at first, anyway.” (133)
“Polus brought a funeral urn that contained his own dead son’s ashes onstage with him, so that when he had to weep, he’d have something to cry about.” (146)
“The post war era remembered nostalgically for its stability was also a time of suffocating conformity.” (148)
“The intelligence of a film performance is in the hands of the editor and director.” (154)
“D.W. Griffith ordered pins stuck into babies to make them cry.” (154)
“Personalization is substitution made to correspond with personal history. The question to be answered is not What is this like? but rather How is this like me? This “finding the character in yourself, rather than yourself in the character” can be developed into an art.” (157)
“An emotional narrative is a form of expression, not communication. It unblocks a feeling for the person telling the story, but it ignores the audience.” (160)
“You act AS IF you were reliving the events. You are NOT reliving them; you are remembering them… If you really were reliving uncontrollable rage, you’d forget your lines and smash the face of your partner like a doll. This is not being in the moment; this is being an amateur. The ability to control what you do is what makes you a professional.” (163)
“Care must be taken when using an image from your past not to discuss it – to keep its potency by using it only in performance. The more explicit you are in performance, the better; describing an image robs significance from the experience of acting it.” (163)
“Carry an object onto the stage with you that will be your hidden motor for your work. Keep it small; keep it hidden.” (163)
“As an actor you’re responsible for knowing your lines and not rewriting them because you can’t remember them. On the next level, you’re responsible for understanding what the words you say and listen to mean… The final responsibility, once you do understand what you are saying, is to communicate that understanding to an audience while you’re performing.” (170)
“These may or may not be the values of the audience members, or the playwright, or even of the onstage characters. They are the values of the world in which the play takes place.” (175)
“A big mistake – and a common one – is to think that every character you play is wise, beautiful, strong, and a winner.” (179)
“The environment in which the play was written is often more important for a world of the play analysis than the period in which the play is set.” (184)
“Answering these questions defines the rules of the world of the play:
In the world of this play, what is beautiful and what is ugly?
In the world of this play, what is strong and what is weak?
In the world of this play, what is wisdom and what is ignorance?
In the world of this play, what is skill and what is ineptitude?
In the world of this play, what is common and what is elite?
In the world of this play, what is good and what is evil?
In the world of this play, what is polite and what is not polite?
In the world of this play, how do people survive?
In the world of this play, how do people improve?
In the world of this play, how do people win or lose?” (195)
“The value of a world of the play analysis for the actor doesn’t lie in its ability to reproduce history or imitate reality, but in its ability to create meaning. The words and behavior seen and heard in a play by Moliere, as in any other play, are dramatically significant because they establish dramatic actions and human relationships.” (198)
“Too much concern for period detail can divert a performer’s attention form the search for the more significant pattern of the whole text.” (199)
“As an actor, it is important you break the rules without calling attention to yourself or winking at the audience that you know better. Usually, the character breaks the rules without thought to the consequences.” (210)
“A Spanish theory says the second-rate literature of a culture reveals more about that culture than the first-rate literature.” (216)
“If the script is open to only one interpretation – the playwright’s – it probably won’t surive its author’s death, if it lasts that long.” (222)
“The power to place an image in other people’s minds, and to make that image vivid enough to arouse listeners to emotions of their own, is rightly called casting a spell – spell being related to the German word spiel, for “story.”” (226)
“What the audience watches onstage is how the speaker is transformed by telling her story.” (228)
“Improvisers can change what they say to respond to the audience. Performers who honor the words of the text by speaking them as written can still alter the meaning of those words in order to respond.” (248)
“Exclusive reliance on form has its own limitations, as when an outer image tries to mask an inner hollowness.” (292)
In Long Day’s Journey into Night, Eugene O’Neil drew on his father to create a similar actor named James Tyrone. Late in the fourth act, when family secrets are spilling, the old man has this to say about himself:
… That God-damned play I bought for a song and made such a great success in – a great money success – it ruined me with its promise of an easy fortune. I didn’t want to do anything else, and by the time I woke up to the fact I’d become a slave to the damned thing.. I’d lose the great talent I once had through years of easy repetition, never learning a new part, never really working ..” (293)
“The founders and great practitioners of acting theories are more often than not synthesizers, not purists.” (296)
“Close-mindedness will prevent you from benefitting from what other people can give you, and over time, it will limit your expertise and freeze a supple response even in your chosen approach. Choosing more than one method is not a sign of weakness; it can be a sign of strength.” (297)
“Not every actor will be good at the same thing. It is self-sabotage to compare yourself with other actors’ skills.” (299)
“Seomtimes the speed and pressure of fast work bring out a bond-rattling intuitive response; sometimes a long time is just enough time to kill of good instincts and dull the spontaneity of execution.” (302)