What comes first? Emphasis or Intuition ?

Sarah O'Toole, darragh O'Brien, Mary Monaghan

Sarah O’Toole, Darragh O’Brien, Mary Monaghan

“Even if a concept is necessary in speech, it is a tragically pathetic portion of the whole that speech can offer.” Peter Brook : Evoking Shakespeare [a short but wonderful book.] 

Despite the fact that Chekhov addresses all the hidden stuff that Brook might be alluding too here, nonetheless I took two groups working on Shakespeare back to very basic work this week. Technical , intellectual work. Sense, finding the words that carry the meaning and underlining them, making sure you have enough breath to follow your intention, and radiate the sensations and feelings they evoke. We did this work in tandem with the Chekhov work, but I felt it essential to spend some time intellectually exploring sense with pens and text.

When I trained I hardly ever underlined anything. It was not laziness, I almost could not bear to do it, as if underlining would somehow destroy my acting, that it would fix me in some trap that would restrict the way I played the character forever. I understood that acting was something personal and invisible. Of course I still believe this. I still believe, as Chekhov stated, that Actors Are Magicians. I still find the idea that working from logical sense as if it was the way to unlock the mysteries of art or the universe a deeply reductive path, as if logic could ever be a legitimate tool of exploration for an evocation of huge lives of complex characters and deep story. I now understand that it is important to explore intellectual meaning and emphasis without necessarily sticking to it, because the very act of doing it reminds you that on some level it is still very important.

As I write this I am reminded of the way I was taught ‘actioning’ , a gruelling and to my mind pointless process, where every single line is analysed for an action. It is mind and spirit numbing. A young director friend worked with me like this and we had to part company. For me this process totally denies spontaneity, response, the energy of other performers, and the audience. It is acting as cold science, and denies creativity. Like eating dry muesli .

Back to emphasis. I think it was Gielgud who talked about the need to emphasis the correct word so that the audience, whilst not understanding the whole meaning of a sentence or phrase , was able to follow. It is amazing how often even the most experienced actors emphasise inappropriate words, and how even the sense is lost.

I find when we work with Psychological Gesture that sometimes the power of the sensations and feelings a gesture provokes can overpower the sense of the text. We might think this doesn’t matter because what the gesture evokes in us is so unbelievably authentic that we are happy with it. The issue with poetic dialogue and especially Shakespeare is that the sensations and feelings are embedded in the language, so the rhythm of the gesture and the images need to somehow mesh. I am not trying to make a rule here, rather just express a line of enquiry.

I suppose the question we have to ask as teachers, directors and performers is what comes first here? Is it the intellectual logic , place to breathe , etc or is it the intuition and the emotional response to the work that we find through our Chekhov exploration? I believe that it is much better to use the Chekhov route first, better to explore the invisible than the logical as the base. The emphasis and place to breathe can come later and can change, provided the actor has had some training.



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