And this is part of an exchange that Leslie and I had that I thought all might benefit from. (I did add a few things when I decided to send it out to all of you, just for clarification purposes.)
I went into detail about some ideas in terms of working with actors in development of character, relationship & physicality. Also Leslie shared some of what happened in her rehearsal and I thought it was great and asked her permission to share it with you all.
I hope you find it helpful.
> Greetings Steph,
> I have an update and just a couple of questions for you.
> I met with my actors (Dedalus and Fanshen) on Friday at 4PM in room #113. It
> went really well. They have a very good chemistry. The most effective thing
> that happened was after a few reads and modified tweaks, I asked them to do
> the whole thing "mad" (because they were playing it too mad at the end). My
> thought was by the end they would be too exhausted to be that mad and just a
> have a very real moment. The real moment happened and they both felt it and
> responded. That was very cool for me to see. Instead of addressing them by
> their character names I called them by their real names so they could analyze
> what their characters did as themselves, which gave them an opportunity to
> really understand what happened. Fanshen said she really needed to explore all
> of the emotions Becca was feeling and rehearsing that way once allowed her to
> do that. I also noticed the physical relationship was completely different
> because my direction was for Howie to try and touch Becca (in the mad read -I
> could really gage Becca's emotions based on how she reached each time he tried
> to touch her). It was awesome!!!!
> Prior to this I spoke to them as Howie and Becca (kind of like I was their
> therapist) asking about their life, how they met etc. The only reason I am
> telling you this is that this whole process came very naturally to me and
> produced an amazing result, that frankly I was not expecting.
> The main thing I want to explore on Thursday with my actors is the physical
> relationship. So any advice prior to my time would be hugely helpful!!
> Thank you for the opportunity to work with these actors.
> All the best,
> Leslie Lucey
Great report and good questions.
Some of what you brought up and/or stumbled upon & created are techniques that I happen to use.
It’s impressive that you came upon it by following your instincts (but then that’s probably how all techniques & strategies are created.)
One, that I got from Wynn Handman (American Place Theatre, NYC he takes credit for discovering many great actors including Sam Shepard, etc.), is something called "Character Interviews". Where I have the actor enter the room as the character, sit down and I thank them for coming and ask them questions about their lives. They have to respond in character and it forces them to keep a continuous character perspective as well as explore answers to questions they hadn't considered. This is a very powerful exercise and great for character development (a short-cut to the whole ‘character bio’ thing), and yes, it’s very much like playing a therapist. (if you remember my neutral tone in the ‘demo’ auditions, it’s part that/part therapist/part interviewer.)
This exercise is also great for getting them to commit to the physicality of the actor and in relationship to different issues you’ll notice (as they will, too) that they will inhabit the physicality including defense mechanisms, etc. - as the topic shifts into deeper or various issues. I always begin & end the interview by greeting them and then thanking them for talking to me. It gives a kind of closure to this ‘ceremony.’
A more ‘advanced’ version would be to have two characters that are in-relationship to each other, be interviewed together which is what you did. (The end credits of “When Harry Met Sally” originally as screened at SAG were these kinds of interviews with many different couples. I think that later got cut.) It’s great because then they get to experience/explore their relationship as a couple with other people. How couples act in the privacy of their home is different than with their friends or in an interview situation. It’s very revealing and always creates some deep insights & commitment in a short time. Again, I’m impressed that you came up with it on your own.
Another exercise, which you also explored/discovered, is one that I call 'Colors.' I actually have a specific acting exercise called "Colors" (which I developed when teaching out of my art studio) which helps the individual actor expand their range, ability to go in & out of emotions without holding/tightening, and comic timing, among other things, (and it’s a bit of a very fun schizophrenic workout) - but when applied to a scene, it harkens (for me) back to my first workshop with Rosemary Harris (a great British actress) who would talk about (how she, as an actress liked) trying the entire scene 'yellow' and then 'blue' and then 'red' (which would drive her fellow actors mad since they wanted to know how she was ultimately going to do it.) But after 3-6 different run-throughs (and colors), she'd then see where blue had been helpful and where she wanted to put the yellow, etc. ending up with a rainbow richly textured performance.
I like to avoid using 'emotional flavors' for the colors since it can lead to a surface swipe at them, and I go for the given circumstances that create them, but even if you describe emotional flavors in this case, it's clear that it's an exercise just exploring that 'color' and not a direction of how the whole scene should be played - and it always leads to insights for the actors as well as helps 'stretch' that aspect of their experience with this character.
Included in this would be physical choices like your ‘his trying to touch her’, etc. In other words, it’s about picking an aspect of their (the character’s) experience and exploring it fully on it’s own before/as integrating it into the ‘chord’ of their experience. I will be talking about this often during this term. (I actually call it ‘stacking’ - i.e. building layers into a performance by exploring each layer individually. But I have lots of terms I’ve made up, that it’s not necessary you know or remember, just the ideas behind them that are helpful to you.))
I’m also interested in your choice of the word ‘mad’ - which, of course, evokes anger and madness/insanity. :)
All that being said, I thought that your idea to ‘exhaust’ the actors was fabulous. Some great natural instincts here.
In terms of exploring their physical relationship further (although at this point, I think I might do best to simply encourage you to explore & create your own methods) - I’d probably first mention games & exercises although these tend to apply when you’ve got much more rehearsal time:
You could, for example, have them re-create/improv their first meeting, or an early date. You could have them dance together each bringing in their favorite music first dance apart, then doing a dance that involved touching or moving together maybe having one show their favorite dance steps to the other. Sometimes you could decide what ‘their song’ was and have them improving some scene and it comes on. How do they respond? How do they respond early in the relationship? Later? Now? (For example, maybe early on, they dropped everything and slow danced together in the living room, then later they looked warmly at each other and smiled, and maybe now they feel sad & look away, or cry or anything whatever comes to them, but whatever happens in the improv will go into the actors body has having been lived and then it gets used powerfully as history for the character.)
For physical intimacy (to create the thing that is now missing between them in the scene), there are many many ways to do this and all depend on the chemistry & trust with the actors and with the director. One of the safest & easiest is to have them sit on a couch and pretend to watch a movie together, snuggling as they do. They can then begin to develop the ‘familiar’ physical intimacy & touches that only can come about after having logged in hours touching someone else’s body. I’ve even had actors ‘sleep’ together i.e. curl up & close their eyes, & snuggle, move around maybe even one snores, or one is more needing to touch during sleep than another there are endless possibilities.
Then you could explore the first time one reaches for the other in an intimate moment fully expecting the other to respond and gets rebuffed. That’s very powerful and goes directly into the body experience bypassing the brain altogether.
And then being able to ‘come out’ of the character and talk about it, is I think a very important part of the digestive process which also creates a ‘safe’ place from which to understand the experience especially as you have no idea what personal (often subconscious) buttons may get pressed with this kind of work.
*I will make an important note here, that this kind of intimate physical exploration is always better done with you there guiding the process. I do not recommend having the actors go off on their own because then they don’t feel as free, believe it or not, to respond and behave as the characters in an improv situation. Having a ‘monitor’ or director there actually frees the actor up i.e. they know they’re safe and don’t have to worry about the other actor ‘getting the wrong idea’, etc., and I’ve been known to push actors further physically than they’d probably think to go, but again, this aspect of physicality with actors is a bit of a specialty of mine and I’ve been doing it for 20 years and I do not expect you nor do I recommend that you - push the actors to places that threaten them until you’ve had many years of experience doing this. For now, just playing with it all ‘as an exercise’ or ‘game’ within the rehearsal process is what I’d recommend and as far as you feel comfortable exploring.
There are many many many other possibilities, I’m just saying what comes to my mind at the speed I’m now typing.
And I see here, it’s quite a bit.
I hope this is helpful to others, and I thank Leslie for giving me permission to write what her rehearsal experience is. I also want to say that I take a bit of a risk by sharing this, as it may encourage everyone to compare their experience to this with all sorts of judgments. We’re early enough in the process that it’s about gathering information & ideas, so it’s going to be hard to do anything ‘wrong’ (a word I don’t really believe in, as I said in class the other day I think there’s ‘right’ or what works, and then there’s ‘working on it.’ Even ‘sin’ is actually an ancient archery term meaning ‘off-target’. We’re all just working on it, as far as I’m concerned.)
So I’m not telling anyone to do it this way, just to give you ideas of things you can/might do. If you just sit around and discuss the characters for a first rehearsal, that’s good, too.
Ok. This was a long one. But some good stuff here that we may or may not get to in the next two weeks.
See you Thursday.