An Actor in Training – Endings and Beginnings – Part II

By Harri Pitches

This is the second of two posts that return to the serialised account of a First Year BA Acting student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS).  It is a first-hand account of the experience of a student emerging into the industry from three years of sustained actor training.

After RCS

We graduated as the BA Acting Class of 2019 on the 4th of July, alongside alumnus and Honorary Doctor, Richard Madden. Rubbing shoulders with one of the high-flyers from our course on the day that we were finally unshackled and let loose upon the world to seek our fortunes was a most strange feeling. There we were, standing proud, smiling and chatting to someone who represented the peak we could aspire to, just as we were now embarking on the odyssey ourselves. Drama school prepares you for untold challenges as an actor, but there is no etude or vocal warm-up that can get you ready for the daunting mystery of life after the cosy bubble of higher education. I spent my graduation day utterly elated in celebration of everything I and my classmates had achieved, but I was not without fear and anxiety for the future – while it was a wonderful, freeing feeling to escape the shallows of RCS, the ocean beyond seemed unfathomable. It was only when feeling this uncertainty that I was able to reflect on how I felt in the weeks before I started at the RCS – I left my high school with the same sense of foreboding for the much larger pool of fish I was about to enter. However, three (all-too-short) years later, I am a much more natural and confident performer, very much at home at RCS, and eager to learn more. It stands to reason then, that the new proving ground of working life will soon feel just as much like home as my alma mater. Now, as the weeks after graduation become months, I am slowly but surely finding my feet as a jobbing actor.

While I was in two minds about leaving drama school and entering the world beyond, I was blessed to have very little time to think about it, as I was immediately thrust into rehearsals for a children’s theatre production at the Shakespeare Rose Theatre in York. I completely appreciated my luck in securing acting work straight away after leaving RCS, and energetically and enthusiastically buried myself in my first proper job. I was the new kid on the block for the first time in three years, and I definitely felt that I had something to prove. My need to validate and cement myself as a professional in my first job was a very useful impulse – I conducted myself with utmost care, I was punctual, I was off-book within the first week, and I was  endlessly eager to demonstrate that my training had made me an efficient and indispensable utensil. I was the pen through which the director shaped the story, and it made my rehearsals deep, cerebral, and hard work. Although I have no doubt that I came off as a little green, and can probably afford to be less of a ‘Yes-Man’ in my next jobs, I think that the feeling of having something to prove brought enhanced attention to detail, sharpened performative senses, and a tighter control over my abilities. These are all qualities I would be loath to lose in any future acting employment, no matter how long I’ve been working or how comfortable I feel.

With the job itself came new challenges that were alien to me upon leaving drama school, revolving around the need to audition for Autumn and Christmas work while in the middle of performances for my current job. This was something I had never even had to think about during my time at RCS. For instance, in my third year, which was essentially theatre in rep, I would finish one performance and glide seamlessly into rehearsals for the next, having auditioned for parts in these plays many months prior. Not so in the real world. At its most hectic, we opened the play in York, I awoke at four o’clock the next morning to get to Norwich by eleven for a recall for a Christmas job, and then hopped back to York the same day ready to rouse myself at five o’clock the next morning to start the get-in for my current job. Needless to say, I was burned-out before I had even really begun. Although I was a waking ghost, appearing zombified and monosyllabic to my family in the mornings, I could only be grateful that I was busy enough to be so tired. This was all part of a learning curve that I was lucky enough to be following, as I began to navigate the new relationship between actor and agent. Indeed, in these first few months that I have been signed, I have sought to strengthen this relationship by taking a firm hold of each and every opportunity that has come my way. I think this is borne from a similar urge as my need to cement myself as a professional in the eyes of my director. It is a relationship that I am becoming ever more comfortable with, and I look tentatively but determinedly forward to the months to come.

I feel a distinct need, especially at the end of one of life’s chapter’s, to immediately keep the story going – to find a home outside the familial house, and to venture to new places beyond the boundaries of the home county and make them my own, in whatever small ways I can. Glasgow and Scotland are without question those places for me, and even while in gainful employment, I grew restless while living at home over Summer. The decision to move back up was not a difficult one – after all, I have spent the last three years building a life for myself up here. My friends, my partner, my agent, and indeed, the ethos that being at the RCS has imbued my life with are all part of this wonderful corner of the world.

As it stands now, I am currently ‘resting’ – living the indefinable and purgatorial state between acting jobs. It is not easy. I am a creature of endless internal disquiet, and only when I am working is some of my innate turbulence quelled. At school, it was easy to fight the pangs of jealousy that crept into my consciousness, for drama school is its own little bubble, and what happens inside it is inconsequential to life on the outside. It is harder now – the playing field is levelled, and thus there is little certainty of work in any creative capacity. I have found myself working as a bartender, more because I am in desperate need of something to do that will put an end to my ceaseless refreshing of the Spotlight Castings webpage than for any financial benefit. However, luckily, the aforementioned early morning dash to Norwich reaped the reward of an exciting Christmas job for which rehearsals begin in mid-November. So in reality, I have just over a month to spend in limbo before I tread the boards once more. I would do well to remember this when I feel the green-eyed monster crawl its way to my door again. I am sure that this period of uncertainty is not the last I will ever experience. It is the first of many, many, many more, and tackling it with gusto and honesty is perhaps the key to dealing with the others that undoubtedly lie in wait. What will be, will be, and as long as I am doing everything I can to keep active, engaged, and productive, then these periods will be fewer and further between. So. Lots to think about, and lots of time to do it. My drama school journey was hard; often disappointing and frustrating, but it was also magnificent and mind-blowing. It was long and full of doubt, both in myself and in the profession I had chosen, but it also built me up and strengthened my character and confidence in ways I probably don’t even realise yet. It was desperately sad, and it was the happiest I have ever been in my life. If I have learned anything in my time there, it is that you cannot have one half of things without the other – drama school is a balance; unsteady, swinging from floundering in confusion to clarity and assuredness in a heartbeat. It is how you decide to walk this tightrope that defines who you are on the other side of the chasm. For me, I think I can be proud of the person drama school, and indeed Scotland, has moulded me into. I arrived here at once a scared little boy, and at the same time arrogant, spiteful, and honestly, not very nice. I return here – for good – warm, kind, open, and as my Dad would say, ‘with a feeling of ease’. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Harri Pitches, January 2020.

An Actor in Training – Endings and Beginnings – Part I

By Harri Pitches

This is the first of two posts that return to the serialised account of a First Year BA Acting student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS).  It is a first-hand account of the experience of a student emerging into the industy from three years of sustained actor training.

My final year of training has without question been my favourite. I had a difficult start to the year, battling very poor mental health, which led me to question my worth as an actor and my place in the cohort. Seven months later, I feel like a new man – I know exactly who I am, exactly what I can do, and, while I have not been without disillusionment in my third year, I feel like I am ready to leave The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) as a professional actor in control of their abilities practically and professionally. In this blog entry, I talk about this growth.

This year has been one full of opportunity to develop and hone my professional skills, from showcase, to meeting agents, to auditioning in the latter half of the final year. Personally, I feel that in terms of my professional conduct, I’m pretty good. I feel like I come across well in auditions and interviews; I’m always very polite and open without being disingenuous and labouring. I do feel that this want or perhaps need to be liked comes at the cost of confidence sometimes – I am not naturally a very confrontational person, and I default too often to subservience. It has often been reflected in the characters I’ve played at drama school! This will not serve me well when fighting for jobs or standing out to casting directors, or even as I develop my working relationship with my agent – I need to be more pushy and more ready to say what I want rather than to immediately compromise, or at worst, simply do what others tell me. This is an industry that will take advantage of me if I continue this sort of behaviour.

However, I do feel that my having an agent gives me a great opportunity to start to change this. I have been offered a chance to act with more agency, and will lose out if I don’t start doing this. My training has well prepared me for the working world; particularly the discussions with Casting Directors like Simone Perreira Hind and Laura Donnelley that have made me far more aware of the kind of attitude I need to have in interviews and castings. I of course don’t mean that I now need to be self-absorbed and bratty, but that I need to have a better grasp of my own worth in these situations if I am to be successful. Currently, things are going well – through auditions I have had I am now fortunate to have work set up for the whole summer and will graduate and go straight into a two-month long job in York. I strongly believe that without this ‘go-getting attitude’, I would not be in this position. I am improving in this aspect of the industry, but I know there is a way to go.

The job of an actor is not an easy one, and I feel like I have never been under any illusion as to how difficult it could be. I know that I will not always have work lined up, and so have sought to make myself as castable as possible in order to stay in work for as long as I can. Throughout my training, it has been made abundantly clear to me that the 21st century performer cannot be simply one thing; one must be multi-faceted in order to stay in work. Accordingly, I have developed my skills as a musician in my free time during drama school, and can now play three instruments; ukulele, guitar, and cajon – the latter two to a high standard. Where possible, I have used my talents as a musician in my own devised work, and in productions outside of RCS that I have been in while in training. I feel confident talking about myself as an actor-musician, and believe that this is what I need to be in order to be successful.

I have also used my training to hone my skills as a writer – I wrote a play for On The Verge Festival of New Writing at the Citizens Theatre in second year, and am continuing to write and devise new projects that I am eager to produce. From discussions with graduate actors and through talking with Vanessa Coffey, Professional Practice Lecturer at the RCS, I understand what to do to get my work seen in Scotland. I believe that the RCS has fully prepared me for a portfolio career; I understand that the nature of my work may change, and I may not always be an ‘actor’ in the traditional sense. However, I find that I do not particularly want to be – I feel most at home when I am stretching multiple creative muscles, and think that the challenge of employability will be best tackled by me while I am doing this. I am already seeing the benefits of this – over summer, I am first working as a deviser for a festival, and then as an actor-musician. I am keen to keep developing my skills in these areas, and my ideal career will allow me to do this.

I do worry that I have been at a disadvantage as an English actor training in Scotland, and that this will translate to my professional career. I want to build my career in Scotland and make use of the myriad of connections that training at RCS has allowed me to make, but fear that the Scottish-centric nature of the industry will not let me do this. For example, I have a strong ability for accents and can do plenty of specific Scottish ones. At my recent audition for the Dundee Rep, I was asked to perform specific Scottish accents, but I do not feel like I have been considered for Scottish parts with the same seriousness as a native Scottish person would be. I do however realise that my casting doesn’t exactly scream ‘Scottish.’ Regardless of this, I feel like Glasgow and Scotland is the place I want to be – the theatre scene is very exciting for new and devised work and there are a myriad of roles for multi-faceted performers like myself. I think I would be foolish to have spent three years making connections with acting role-models such as Dan Cameron and Finn den Hertog and not try to build on them. Ultimately, I just want to be comfortable and creatively fulfilled, and I feel like my training has set me up properly to achieve this. I am ready to take the leap of faith… and see what happens next.

Individual Acting Coaching by Sinéad Rushe

To complement the publication of her book, Michael Chekhov’s Acting Technique: A Practitioner’s Guide (Bloomsbury, 2020), Sinéad Rushe, theatre director and Senior Lecturer in Acting and Movement at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London is now offering individual acting coaching sessions for professionals in north London.

These include:

  • Character development on a specific role
  • Script analysis
  • Acting technique
  • Unlocking obstructions
  • Dramaturgical development on devised ideas

Sessions cost £75/hour and are tailor-made. Skype sessions are also available.

To book, contact: sinead@sineadrushe.co.uk

Sinéad draws on the methodologies of Michael Chekhov, Stanislavsky and Vsevolod Meyerhold, as well as on her own experience as a director and devisor.

Sinéad studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and the École Normale Supérieure, Paris before training as an actor at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London. Her directing credits include Night Just Before the Forests (Macau Arts Festival, China 2019), Concert (The Pit, Barbican, London, Baryshnikov Arts Centre, New York & international tour; Gradam Comharcheoil TG4 2018 Award-Winner), Out of Time (The Pit, Barbican, Baryshnikov Arts Centre, New York & international tour; nominated for Olivier and Dance Critics’ Circle Award), Gogol’s Diary of a Madman with Living Pictures (Sherman Cymru, Cardiff, & international tour) and Something or Nothing with Guy Dartnell (The Place Theatre & tour), commissioned by Sadler’s Wells.

She has directed four shows with her own company, out of Inc: Loaded (The Old Rep, Birmingham, Jacksons Lane, London), Night-Light (Oval House, London, Bristol Old Vic & tour), Life in the Folds (BAC, London & tour), and An Evening with Sinéad Rushe (BAC, London), all supported by Arts Council England. www.sineadrushe.co.uk

Meisner Training in Performance Art

What do you think about when you are performing? 

(Why the hell am I putting myself through this, again.)

This was one of several responses I got from performance artists when asking them about the psychological side to giving performances. I specifically wanted to ask people making performance art, as opposed to actors, about this topic because visual artists do not typically train in the psychological aspects of performance. I wanted to know how they prepared themselves and what they focused upon while giving performances. I wanted to know because I am a performance artist myself and this is something we rarely talk about amongst ourselves. When this topic does come up, the most standard reply is that the body is an object and the performance is conceived of as a physical task. Psychological approaches to performance are more often seen as belonging to acting and so little space is given for discussion of performer psychology. Yet, when pressed, it emerges that performance artists do have individual strategies and predilections. These cover quite a range and some are, quite definitely, psychological in nature. 

Among the artists who replied, a key theme was the valorisation of authenticity. Neither rehearsing nor repeating performances was one common strategy and performing physically demanding actions that resulted in tiredness was another. At the same time, having witnessed a great many performances, in my role as both an artist and curator of performance, it is clear that even in the most ‘authentic’ of performers there are patterns and repetitions, familiar sorts of behavior and recurring motifs. I also see that amongst theatre actors there are techniques for bringing freshness and authenticity to a role which might be repeated night after night. When I put the two of these side by side I see both shared concerns and points of contact as well as divergent traditions and dissimilar artistic results. 

Kirby’s Acting and Not-Acting (1995) continuum is a useful model in that, while it acknowledges that there is a difference between acting and not acting – and it is with the latter that performance art typically identifies – it also pays attention to the gray areas between the two. However, by basing his sliding scale upon the performer’s activity, the frame in which this takes place as well as the spectator’s reception of it, there are too many variables at play for Kirby’s categorization to be quite as clear and linear as the model implies. It is my hunch that what actually takes place in this gray zone is a lot more messy with techniques and aesthetics swirling about and coming together in looser combinations. I would suggest that not acting, for example, can also be understood as a form of acting. To suppress the self-consciousness that often comes from being viewed by an audience and to concentrate upon completing a task naturally, is precisely the sort of challenge that acting training equips the performer for.

This short series of blog post will be dedicated then to a practical artistic experiment. I want to look at the question of performer psychology in performance art and see if there are some ways acting has something useful to contribute. It is my feeling that acting training will, at the very least, be able to offer some clues as to how to avoid bad acting, since this is one of its primary purposes. Acting is, however, not a single homogenous activity; approaches and techniques abound. Indeed I should come off the fence here and admit I am not such a stranger to it: I trained in corporeal mime and have busied myself within several experimental theatre productions in the past. As a result of this flirtation with acting, I have noticed that one approach in particular appears promising: Meisner technique. 

While I very rarely try to portray a character other than myself in my performances, I have found that as a performer, I have some range and can be selective about what I show of myself and how I frame this display. In this way it is likely that the audience goes away with a different impression of who I am from one performance to the next. From my initial reading of Meisner’s On Acting (1987) and Moseley’s (2012) guide to the technique in practice, I get the impression that a lot of the training exercises aim to get a truthful performance from the actor by making them more emotionally open and responsive in the moment. What’s more, Meisner takes as the starting point and basis of the actor’s work “the reality of doing.” Kirby defines the verb to act as, “to feign, to simulate, to represent, to impersonate.” (1995: 40) In terms of the performer’s process, however, it can be productive to think of the broader meaning of the verb to act as also encompassing to take action, to do something. When an actor’s work is broken down into performing actions rather than displaying emotions, which this wider definition allows us to do, we arrive at a space where the work of the performance artist and that of the actor are not necessarily at odds with one another. They both have their basis in the reality of doing.

The two areas of Meisner technique that I want to focus upon are the various repetition exercises that he describes and emotional preparation. The repetition exercises appear to encourage a living connection between actors by training spontaneity, truth and sensitivity. These are qualities I value too but my performances are often solos so I do not have a partner to bounce off. What I do have, however, is an audience, a performance environment and objects that I sometimes use.  I want to see if it is possible to substitute some of these for a co-performer and focus upon this interaction. Working off the energy and responses of members of the audience should be somewhat straightforward but whether I can build a living rapport with an inanimate object is another question altogether. Working with an object it may well be a case of treating it as if it were a co-performer that is able to influence me. 

The second area of emotional preparation is one that is liable to raise some heckles from performance art purists. When interviewing artists for this research project there was a general consensus that emotions were a consequence of the performance and not something that should be deliberately manipulated immediately before or during the course of the show. This is a legitimate concern and it reflects one way to ensure an honesty to the performance. On the other hand, there are performance artists who do direct their emotions such as Marina Abramovic who uses meditation techniques both before and during performances. 

I myself have experimented with a number of ways to prepare for performances and while it is tempting to separate these out into physical and psychological preparations, in practice they all combine something of both. Stretching and breathing deeply has an effect on the mind as does quickly trying to complete two or three actions at the same time. I have also tried going to a quiet place before starting a show and dedicating the performance to a specific person. I focus on the person and on the qualities of theirs that connect to the performance I am about to do. I never use the same person twice so this does not produce an identical effect but it does focus me and it does bring memories and emotions to the fore, memories that may play a role in the performance. It seems a small step to go from here into Meisner style emotional preparation in which an imaginary but plausible situation is used to summon up an emotional state.

I want to share this process, hence this blog, and I want to use more than just words alone as images and video can capture some aspects of the work better. Photography and video are of course art forms in their own right and representing the research with them is by no means an automatic process. What’s more, because I am both performer and researcher, video plays a dual role of not only representing the work on the blog but also giving me a chance to study the performances and experiments from an external point of view. 

Even though I consider myself an engaged viewer, I find much performance documentation well-nigh unwatchable. This is because the language of video is different to that of the stage and a lot of documentation, because it wants to remain truthful to the original event, is caught in an unhappy marriage of mediums. On the other hand, I have attended live performances which, in attempting to rectify this problem, documented the work to death. I ended up feeling I was at a film shoot in which I was playing the role of an extra who fills the background. A balance needs to be struck and the way I intend to do this is to produce different sorts of videos. I will make one performance directly for the camera; Meisner technique is, after all, particularly popular with screen actors. I will also make another performance with a live audience in which the interaction between us is visible. I will here take advantage of the fact that my audience already has cameras on their phones and can take video. From their video footage which they will themselves film freely, I will piece together the performance and edit it in two ways. It will first be turned into short clips that focus upon the points I concentrate upon in my text. It will also be available as a more complete performance document which, while being another unwatchable video, will allow the viewer to get a broader view of the context.

There is an extra dimension to this enquiry that will probably have some bearing on the shape it takes. I am based in Nanjing, China. The performances will inevitably be shaped by this and audience reactions, or lack of them, will likewise be particular. I won’t second guess what this will be, it is enough for now to expect some influence. While it is true that wherever one works context matters, it might matter more here because what I am doing is in no way typical in China. I, in no way, want to imply that the UK represents the norm, deviance from which needs accounting for. Working in a country with a population over twenty times that of the UK and being based in a city a similar size to London, it is easy to view China as the norm. When it comes to performance art and Meisner technique, however, they are far less familiar here and simply being a British artist lends anything I do an exotic connotation for many Chinese spectators. 

Meisner, S. (1987). On Acting. New York: Vintage Books.

Moseley, N. (2012) Meisner in Practice: A guide for actors, directors and teachers. London: Nick Hern Books. 

Kirby M. (2002). ‘On Acting and Not-Acting’, in Zarilli P. B.  Acting Reconsidered. London: Routledge, p. 40-52

Reflections of a First Year Acting Student – Part II:

 

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – BA Acting

 By Harri Pitches

This is the second installment in a serialized account of a First Year BA Acting student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS).  It is a first-hand account of the experience of embarking on the rigorous and holistic training offered at that institution and intends to provoke responses from students who undergo such training, or those who teach them.

The End of the First Term

As I come to the end of my first major ‘chunk’ of time at the RCS, ready to throw myself into the challenges and renewed excitement that 2017 at the conservatoire will doubtless bring, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned, and how I’ve found the whole drama school experience so far. The question everyone has asked me since I’ve been back in my Yorkshire hometown for the Christmas holidays has been ‘Is it what you thought it would be?’ The answer to this is not as simple as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Continue reading

Reflections of a First Year Acting Student – Part I:

 

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – BA Acting

 By Harri Pitches

This is the first installment in a serialized account of a First Year BA Acting student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  It is a first-hand account of the experience of embarking on the rigorous and holistic training offered at that institution and intends to provoke responses from students who undergo such training, or those who teach them.

The First Lesson – 26/09/2016

My introduction to the RCS in the first ‘official’ week of my training has given me a fantastic idea of the kind of actors this institution hopes we will grow to be.  I have already had the pleasure of the revered ‘freshers-week’ meeting and greeting the wonderful people with who I will share the next three years of my life. Continue reading

Variations on a theme: Active Analysis at the “S-Word” symposium

The following post was written by David Jackson but due to IT issues was posted by the current Comeback curator Bryan Brown.

I intended to blog about The S-Word: Stanislavski and the future of Acting symposium soon after the event was held at Rose Bruford College on 18-20 March. I’m shocked to see we are already well into May and I’m only just sitting down to do it. I blame a blizzard of assessments, timetabling problems, teaching commitments and research events at the beginning of the summer term. Clearly, it couldn’t possibly have been my fault. So before memory fades any further, I put fingers to keyboard. At a symposium where three sessions run simultaneously (two panels and one work demonstration) delegates construct their own programme by picking from the menu of papers and workshops. Naturally, we follow a thread according to our own obsessions. So one of the key themes of ‘my’ S-Word was Active Analysis. I was originally taught Active Analysis by the late Albert Filozov, the celebrated Theatre and Film actor who trained under Michael Kedrov at the Moscow Art Theatre School. Filozov led the ‘Russian School of Acting’ summer schools that took place in Birmingham in the mid-90s. If it resonates with you, there is something about Active Analysis that fills practitioners with a missionary zeal, and I certainly went on to make full use of it as a professional actor and subsequently as a teacher in the conservatoire. My first article for Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, published in 2:2 (2011), documents my experiments with the technique in training and rehearsal at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. I frequently use it in my current job as an acting tutor at the Birmingham School of Acting (BSA). The symposium was a rare opportunity to gain an insight into how other scholars and practitioners use Active Analysis.

The S-Word attracted an extremely high calibre of scholars in the field. Arguably all the leading Stanislavski experts in the English-speaking world were present, including Sharon Marie Carnicke (University of Southern California), Rose Whyman (University of Birmingham), Jonathan Pitches (Leeds University), Bella Merlin (University of California, Riverside), Maria Shevtsova (Goldsmith’s University) and Sergei Tcherkassky (St. Petersburg Theatre Arts Academy). Delegates came from all over the world, including Australia, India, Brazil, Mexico, China, Canada and the US, in addition to several European countries.

The programme for the first evening consisted of two keynote speeches, the first by Stefan Aquilina and Jonathan Pitches. Their topic was the transmission of Stanislavskian practice, not just to the obvious destinations of Russia itself, the US and Europe, but to additional territories in Australasia, Asia and Africa. They argued that practice is necessarily inflected by the individuals who engage with it and that this process is entirely consistent with the spirit of the Stanislavski ‘system’, since it is not and never was fixed or unitary. They concluded that it is a living thing that will continue to spread and develop in response to local conditions. The second address was delivered by Sharon Marie Carnicke, one of the most influential Stanislavski scholars in the world, a Russian speaker and expert in Active Analysis. She spoke eloquently of the importance of separating the principles of the system from the historical contingencies of the time. In her own practice, she has applied Active Analysis to situations undreamt of in Stanislavski’s era, including a motion-capture experiment designed to generate a digitised method of reading emotional expression and a performance of a post-dramatic text written by contemporary Russian playwright, Ivan Vyrypaev. 

The whole of Saturday and Sunday morning were devoted to a series of papers and practical demonstrations, with two panels and one demonstration running concurrently. The presentations I saw nearly always illuminated some area of the field in a stimulating and useful way. Stephane Poliakov’s paper was devoted to Stanislavski’s rich use of painting and drawing to generate the ‘obrazi’ or images that informed his set designs and ‘inner images’ of characterizations. Maria Kapsali and Sreenath Nair debated the strong influence of yoga on the development of the system. Two of the less obvious perspectives on Stanislavski dealt with the application of acting techniques in the classroom. Tamara Guenoun’s paper dealt with the use of drama therapy with troubled teenagers. Petronilla Whitfiled introduced new strategies for teaching verse-speaking to dyslexic students. My own paper proposed a novel way of understanding acted emotion, by linking the Stanislavski-Vakhtangov concept of ‘affective emotion’ with Antonio Damasio’s hypothesis of the ‘as-if’ body loop.

Active Analysis was addressed in both formal presentations and workshops. Jay Skelton’s work demonstration explored the integration of Active Analysis with Viewpoints. Knowing little or nothing about Viewpoints, I was curious to see how it might merge with a method that is one of my areas of expertise. Skelton’s session bore little resemblance to anything I would recognise as Active Analysis – which I hasten to add is simply an indication of how the same or similar practice can develop in completely different directions. John Gillett’s popular workshop posed the question, is Active Analysis relevant to Shakespeare? Although I couldn’t attend Gillett’s session, I was intrigued by his research question, as I regularly use Active Analysis in the rehearsal of classical text. The final plenary session was introduced by a documentary made at the University of California, Riverside, about Bella Merlin’s use of Active Analysis. After the screening, an informal conversation with Sharon Marie Carnicke made it clear that her use of Active Analysis was different from all of these models. So my closing reflections were dominated by the thought that an apparently simple technique in the hands of a relatively small cross-section of practitioners can generate very diverse practices and performance outcomes. This observation corresponded with some of the themes that emerged during the weekend. Throughout the symposium, three ‘witnesses’ were stationed in each of the three conference spaces and reported back to delegates at the plenary event. The principal issues they identified were:

  • The transmission of practice and its assimilation into a wide range of cultures
  • Separating the durable principles of acting from ephemeral theatre fashion
  • An appreciation of flexibility and diversity rather than a dogmatic view of the Stanislavskian tradition
  • Cognitive perspectives are often interesting, but how will they affect practice?

The system is now well over one hundred years old. If Stanislavskian practice is to continue to survive and develop into the 21st century, it is essential that it is subjected to a continual process of review and renewal, at conferences, in the studio and through the literature. As I post, two new S-Word events have just been announced: “Translating the Art/The Art of Translation” will be held in June in London and a Spring 2017 Conference will be held at DAMU Theatre Academy in Prague. It’s too soon to tell but as the “S Word: Merging Methodologies” Conference grew out of the conversations had at this future of acting symposium, it may just be the future event needed to specifically address variations on the theme of Active Analysis – there’s plenty more debate to be had on that topic.

David Jackson, 26.05.15