Friday, November 26, 2010

Acting Theory - Preparing a Character

After reading Ed Hooks Acting for Animators recently I have decided to go back and read some of his influences and the context from which he is teaching. But also to see if I can gain more of an understanding by reading the source material.

A note on my notes:
The approach I took while reading An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavsky was of that of an animator and not of an actor. As the book is written as a work of fiction in the style of a novel about a group of acting students being taught by a director who represents Stanislavsky. I found the way in which the book has been written to be interesting but far too esoteric to be immediately useful. Having to decipher the metaphors of the students progression through the classes was counter productive to my needs which were to understand the underlying ideas of Stanislavsky’s method.

'However it requires extremely attentive reading of An Actor Prepares to pick up on all the nuances of the exercises and to assess how they fit into the development of Stanislavsky’s systems' (Merlin, 2003)

With this in mind, and for clarification I also refer to Bella Merlin's book Konstantin Stanislavsky which offers an overview and assessment of Stanislavsky’s work and the book An Actor Prepares.

One of the most important things I have taken from studying Stanislavsky's techniques is the importance of understanding the character and its role in the context of the story. You do this by asking of the character six questions. Who am I? Where am I? When am I? Why am I here? For what reason am I here? and How should I go about it?

Doing this you are becoming familiar with the character, building up their history and backstory, and most importantly identifying the characters main objectives. By identifying a characters main objectives by asking 'What do they want?' and then asking active questions like 'What must they do to achieve that?' you start to understand the main motivation of the character and in turn the emotional drive of the story.

Once the characters objectives have been established you can begin to breakdown their role within the script into specific Physical Actions. Stanislavsky’s Method of Physical Actions is a system used to achieve objectives through small actions but with emotion as the result of those actions.

'Physical actions were small achievable tasks that were directed straight towards the other actors on stage; the motions behind those actions were both practical and psychological.'
'The main purpose of the Method of Physical Actions was for actors to find the precise and logical sequence of actions that would enable their characters to achieve their task.' (Merlin, 2003)

Finding the logical sequence of actions within a scene is what Stanislavsky called The Line of Physical Action and it is this line that becomes the structure with which to build the characters performance around.

Merlin, B. (2003) Konstantin Stanislavsky. Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge
Stanislavsky, C. (1937) An Actor Prepares. London, Geoffrey Bles

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