Phil Gyford

Writing

Friday 19 August 2005

PreviousIndexNext The Method Studio Intensive Summer School, part 3

(See parts one and two.) I’m not sure where the second week of the course went, but it’s over, and the carpet burns from the first over-enthusiastic days have almost healed. It’s been a good but tiring week — half the time spent on improvisation and half on the scenes we’d been assigned.

Overall, too many of the improvisation sessions seemed like party games, or the kinds of getting-to-know-each-other games that would be sneered at by people on company team-building away-days. Thankfully these were gradually replaced by slightly more interesting tasks, working in groups, during this week, but it’s a shame we didn’t get on to these sooner.

That was all a lot of fun, and no doubt builds essential skills, but most of the emotional and intellectual effort this week was going into the work on our scenes. I think we were all a bit frustrated by wanting to spend more time on these and, when we weren’t rehearsing them with Georgina or Giles, everyone dispersed to go over and over their pieces in pairs. We were lucky with the weather, and standing on a baking rooftop in central London, script-in-hand, practicing our fragment of A Doll’s House did feel wonderfully Kids from Fame (not that I recall any Ibsen-based plotlines).

Tuesday was my low point this week. The more we worked our scene, the more I was aware how much there was to think about, and the whole idea of acting seemed increasingly futile. Never mind learning the lines (which I surprised myself by managing). We had to think about what the character wants from each part of the scene (that clichéd “but what’s my motivation?” question) and what they have to lose. For each line we needed to know how it should affect the other person and how we want to deliver it.

On top of that we had to think ourselves into how the character feels. For example, my character, Krogstad, was meeting a woman who, years earlier broke his heart by dumping him cruelly. The idea is that I need to feel how he feels by using my own experience. Not only am I hampered by the lack of emotion I mentioned last time, but I also appear to be lacking traumatic life experiences to draw on directly. So while it might seem fortunate that I’ve never been in Krogstad’s situation, it left me scrabbling around when it came to feeling how he’d feel.

Which is a problem. This week I was surprised to hear people being told to “stop acting!” When preparing a scene you could decide how your character will appear — manner of speaking, way of walking, facial tics, etc. — but that doesn’t mean the audience will buy it. It’ll look like a person pretending to be someone else, and that’s not what an audience wants — they don’t want pretence, they want the real thing. So much of this week has been about us feeling our way into the character and simply saying the lines. In theory, if we’re there, in the moment, feeling as the character feels, the words will come out authentically and the audience will believe it. (OK, I’m simplifying, but this is more than enough for me to cope with at the moment.)

Watching all the scenes this morning it was great to see how much everyone had progressed in a few days, and there were many moments that were wonderful, where everything came together and just worked. I think Kate and I cracked it on our very final attempt, although it was a shame we never had time to run through the entire scene. I’ve no idea how one can tell if a performance works for the audience, but I certainly felt well on the way there, especially compared to earlier in the week. I was angry, bitter, upset, my stomach was tense, and my fingernails were involuntarily digging into my palms. The feelings were unexpectedly fierce and stayed with me when our turn was over and we returned to our seats. For no apparent reason, a few minutes later, still feeling tense, I even began crying a little. Now, if only I could get that to happen at the right moment…

And so that’s it. Another class over just as everyone’s become comfortable and started working well with each other. But an undoubtedly valuable experience and I’ve moved on a lot. Hopefully I’ll bump into people again in future classes, and although it’s back to real life and work next week, I’m looking forward to next term more than ever.