Thoughts on theatre and acting for film and theatre

Eight years of fringe theatre, ten full length productions and four years of Grotowski workshops resulting in five of these productions has given me a little more insight into the art of acting, not just for theatre but for film as well. To me, apart from theatre’s seemingly more urgent need for the  actor  to speak clearly and resonately on stage (this actually applies to cinema/television too) there is little difference between the two. What is called ‘great theatrical acting’ by some people is no more than vocal tricks and a stylised ‘indicating to the audience’ a number of recognisable cliches. Rarely is that sort of acting moving or really memorable even if it is called ‘great’. Does Judy Davis do it, does  Ewen McGregor? In this sort of acting there is almost never the unexpected moment, almost never a resonance with one’s own secret life, almost never a deeply felt personal response

Growtowski talks about playing the ‘score’ of the play in ‘the presence of the audience’  and not attempting to either ‘impress’ or ‘show’ the audience what you mean but to trust the audience to understand the play. He talks about making a gift of oneself to the audience without waiting for applause. He sees the theatre as an unseen communication between an actor and an audience, a secret relationship that has no need for applause.

My own feeling about immediate applause is that is is almost always false, the real applause for the actor comes much later when the actors meets people who have seen the play or hears comments inadvertently over the following months. Hayes Gordon, the founder of the Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli, Sydney, would never let his actors return to the stage for a stage bow. He thought it ruined the emotional integrity of the play.

I find it very difficult to work with actors who cannot play actions (or who don’t know what simple actions are) in the sense that Constantin Stanislavsky first  described. For forty years I have tried to find a better way for actors to begin  to work on a play or film and I have come up with nothing, not the Meisner technique, nor the Practical Aesthetic approach nor the Laban flow action. These techniques  all help and can be used with great effect but, for me, they  don’t have the emotional simplicity of  the Stanislavski approach. To me, they are there to back up this approach though I know that many directors swear by them.

In our workshops we  strive to find a better way for actors to break down a play and understand what is required but at the moment the general method employed by  Stanislavski and refined by Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio and later by Hayes Gordon at the Ensemble (for those in Australia) with the Stella Adler refinements (ignoring emotion memory and with the physicalisation of actions) will have to do. The actor preparation by Growtowski workshop I find particularly freeing for actors and for the directors too but I realise that is very hard for most actors, almost impossible for established actors.