Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Creating Authentic Behavior

Artistic Director Beth Harper discusses her approach to teaching Acting One in the first year of the conservatory's two-year professional training program.

How does one go about creating authentic behavior? Stanislavski believed that truth in acting is not the same as simply recreating everyday life. Truthful acting on stage must be compelling to an audience and, as such, is rarely the mundane behavior common in everyday life. The power, the urgency and the heightened "stakes" of a fictional character's circumstances must be realized, leading the actor to a compelling characterization. 
Beth Harper and Grace Mikolavich

Stanislavski was clear to point out that an actor's job is not to believe that he is, in fact, actually Hamlet. The actor, rather, must immerse himself in the imaginary circumstances he has created through his research, work on objectives, and employment of emotional and sense memory to create the "truth" of Hamlet for himself in the performance.

I believe that an actor must know him or herself. The truth is, an actor will never ever become another person. That is an impossibility. Often I hear actors say that they got lost in their character. What does that mean? For if you are lost...where are you? If I am acting with you, I need you in the room with me, I need you to need me. It is my hope that we get found in our characters and have the presence of mind to stay open to all the possibilities that are right in front of us. It will ultimately be the living, breathing actor taking on and making her own the behavior of another person. Where does one begin? I think we start with what we know best...ourselves.

Through the exploration of the NEED scene (a moment of high stakes in the own artist's life) actors soon discover that they organically experience the concepts of need, obstacle and tactic, and can more readily be available to apply it to “character.” However, character is just an idea unless you can apply it to moment-to-moment life. What does the character do or how do they behave in an imaginary set of circumstances?

By engaging their impulses, intelligence and imagination, the actor explores the specific physical and emotional life of a character. The artist must master the ability to be present in the moment and play their active actions to, for and with their fellow player, while simultaneously respecting the given circumstances of the world that they are playing in.

Thus, the basic building blocks of the acting process are:

Beth Harper directs Holy Ghosts at PAC, 2012
  • the vocabulary and execution of objective, obstacle and tactic;
  • flexibility, imagination and sensory awareness;
  • being present in their own skin;
  • surrendering to a set of imaginary circumstances;
  • the ability to receive and adjust to another person's behavior;
  • and the skill set to execute a comprehensive beat analysis and most importantly be able to to translate their beat work into active and honest action and moment to moment life.
These are the skills an actor needs to create authentic behavior.