As a Theatre Directing student I spend a lot of time with actors. Witnessing actors attempting to master their craft and improve upon their acting is a regular occurrence for me. But what if the desire to “act” actually clouds the actor’s judgement? What if the best thing an actor could do was to forget about “acting” all together?

On Sunday 30th November I had the pleasure of shadowing theatre and film director Angus Wilkinson on the second day of his weekend long workshop “Acting techniques for Film.”

Angus started the session with the “letter” exercise, were each actor had to repeat a sequence of eight movements (look up, walk to letter, pick up letter, sit down, read letter, stand up, put letter down, walk away) whilst avoiding any sort of “acting”.

I was intrigued and nervous.

With Angus’ encouragement I participated with the rest of the group and quickly realised how difficult it was not to layer any “acting” on top of the task.

I found myself asking – Who is the letter from? How should I react to the news I receive? Maybe it should be from the hospital - that would make for a dramatic scene….

That was not what Angus was looking for.

We repeated the task and Angus added more complex layers to it; making us shift in tempo and asking us to lead from different centres - action (arms, legs, pelvis), thought (head) or emotional (chest and abdomen.) But still, he stressed, “avoid acting”.

I found this exercise tricky. As a director, it is second nature for me to try and figure out what is at the heart of a scene (that’s kind of our job). When approaching the letter task as an actor I had to try and leave the baggage of “what should the scene be?” at the door. Angus said,

“Forget how you think the scene should go. Use those words, every line, to achieve your objectives. “

The moment of epiphany struck as the actors advanced to presenting short dialogues in front of the camera. It was then that I really started to key into what Angus truly meant when he said, “not acting” and “whole heartedly pursuing objectives.”

Lots of actors tend to heavily focus on their character’s emotional state – my character is feeling pissed off, passionate, trapped by the memory of her father….etc. However this can often lead to performances of characters that are solely concentrated on themselves rather than making a connection with another person. In real life we talk to someone because we want to affect them or get them to do something. To achieve realistic performances, actors should strive to affect another human being rather than affecting themselves. They can do this by actively pursuing their objectives.

“What do I psychologically want?

How will I physically get it?

How will it take me to my objective?”

Angus explained that his work with actors for theatre and film is an extension of Stanislavski’s theory of Active Analysis which in principle states that - “acting is bad, pursuing your objectives is good.” And by the end of the session he had proved his point.

The real “sparkle in the eye” or “hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck” moments happened when the actors were solely committed to pursuing their objectives.

By the end of the workshop I was feeling inspired, informed and ready to add three new items to my Christmas list – The Complete Stanislavsky Toolkit by Bella Merlin, Stanislavsky in Focus 2nd edition by Sharon Carnicke and Beyond Stanislavsky by Bella Merlin.

If anyone was ever in any doubt, Stan is definitely the Man.

Gemma is a theatre director whose passion is new writing. Her life goals are to direct at the Royal Court and see The Mono Box achieve world domination. Writers who inspire Gemma are Philip Ridley, Anna Jordan, Sarah Kane, Penelope Skinner, Sarah Daniels and Alice Birch. Gemma joined The Mono Box in 2013 and is proud to be our first ever volunteer.

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