Phil Gyford

Writing

Monday 15 August 2005

PreviousIndexNext The Method Studio Intensive Summer School, part 2

I’m now half-way through the acting summer school (see part one), and I’m looking forward to the final week, largely because Friday went well. Had classes finished on Thursday I’m not sure I’d have been as optimistic.

Part of the reason Thursday wasn’t so good was simply because I didn’t do much. Although it’s interesting to watch people, we’re all there to perform and when my only performance was a couple of minutes acting the process of leaving home to go shopping, it was hard to get excited. This was the Basic Object Exercise — an everyday action using a number of different objects. Can you practice the action, observe yourself doing it, then perform it convincingly as if it’s spontaneous? I’m guessing it can be hard to perform a simple, common task convincingly because it rarely requires much emotion or drama. It’s all in the subtelties, and over-acting might betray you more than if you were doing something fast-moving and dramatic.

But my temporary crisis of Thursday was, I think, brought on more by the introspection this course is requiring. We’ve had to spend time thinking about who we are, what we’re doing, why we’re there, and being open about all this with the group. Like many people, it doesn’t take much for me to start agonising about what I’m doing with my life — like many friends, I’m in a semi-permanent state of mid-life crisis and have been for years. Even though we’re mostly pretty lucky with our lots.

And then there’s the need for emotion. The basis of this method stuff, so far, is that the performance comes from the inside. You don’t think about what you want to show to the audience, how you think your character should demonstrate their emotions, but instead you use your own experiences to help make your body think it’s in a particular situation, or performing a certain action, so the emotions are created authentically and they generate what the audience sees. Something along those lines, anyway. So, if you have to play a guy who’s listening to his wife telling him she’s leaving for another man, you draw on any similar experience you’ve had, maybe imagine the face of someone who’s dumped you in the place of your “wife”, to help create the required feelings of anger, pain, sorrow, etc.

It must be extraordinarily tough to have to re-live traumatic emotions on stage eight times a week, but my mini-crisis was more a fear that I won’t be able to do any of this. I’m not an emotional chap. It’s extremely rare for me to appear angry, never mind shout at anyone or get violent. Thankfully I can barely remember the last time I was in tears over some kind of loss (as opposed to being in tears over watching some dumb TV show, which is a more frequent occurrence). It’s even rare for me to appear ecstatic about anything — I’ll give a grin, but don’t hold your breath waiting for much more.

So, given all this, how can I hope to (a) recall those rare emotional moments and (b) create a performance that’s anything other than my usual repressed hint of a mildly emotional interior. It’s going to take an awful lot of work for me to, say, authentically fly off the handle at another character or break down in tears over a performed event.

While this is still a concern, Friday was enjoyable enough that I stopped worrying about it. The morning was spent performing improvisations in pairs to the rest of the group. Mine, with Richard, went OK, although the conflict between our two characters hit a brick wall, with neither side giving ground, and so we had to end things rather unsatisfactorily. A couple of the other pieces were wonderful — one a hilarious office-bound seduction and the other an aimless but captivating conversation in a restaurant between a serially-dumped woman and a male friend hoping to get off with her. Improvisations often find ways of becoming ever more dramatic and it was great to watch one that was a genuine emotional conversation, where even the moments of anger and despair were rolled gently into the overall calm discussion.

In the afternoon we did our Sense Memory Exercise — we’d each spent some time observing ourselves drinking a hot drink and had to sit in front of the group and mime the action convincingly. No, miming drinking a cup of tea doesn’t sound particularly exciting, but it is tricky. Does it look like the mug is heavy? Does it look like you can smell the drink? Do you react as if it’s hot? Does it look like you’re taking a sip of liquid? Does the mug return solidly to the imaginary table?

Friday left me enthused enough to spend some of the weekend writing up all my notes from the past six months (OK, it was only an excuse to buy new stationery). This week we’ll be doing more improvisation and working from scripts for the first time. I’ll be working on a scene from A Doll’s House with Kate, and it looks like my character, Krogstad, will, in a couple of pages, have to transform from bitter and vindictive to “I’ve never been so happy in my life before!”. Could be tricky.

Next: part three.