By Gregory Berger-Sobeck
Freedom is the ultimate goal of technique. Many actors who come to me have no repeatable system of work. Afraid that technique will trap them, they use random instincts which produce random results. By asking, “How do I work on this? What is my system?” our work becomes consistent, and our acting is rooted in a truth that actually frees us to be spontaneous and bold even while doing multiple takes for the camera or eight shows a week.
I find all other craftsmen, whether they be dancers, musicians, or athletes, depend solely on technique and leave the results alone. They are more interested in the process rather than the final outcome; recognizing that process ensures a successful result. When they put their attention to what must be done, rather than the way they are doing it, results happen. They begin to have consistency and confidence. They become less self-aware and more willing to explore and play. They take larger risks and challenge their own personal bests. They begin to have fun. I think actors should have the same privileges.
Technique allows us to learn how to discover rather than to know; to find and see rather than to show; to be in a suspended state of imagination rather than narcissism. To stand behind what we find the story to be and from there take risks and be courageous.
All the answers one needs are in the script. The character, how to use the environment, what objective to use and how to accomplish that objective behaviorally are all embedded in the text. So, the purpose of technique is to give you a systematic method for finding these clues and igniting the language. How do I go about actualizing and making the words come alive into dynamic behavior? How do I make a choice from text and translate it through my unique imagination?
As a young actor, I did not realize that most of the time I was being “directed” or “given adjustments” by the teacher, which could make the scene work, but left me without a clue of how to repeat what I did, or how to approach my next scene. I began to have a dependence on the teachers’ opinion, rather than working by and for myself. And working for myself was what was required for an audition. I yearned to learn a way of work. Until I got to Yale, I had been told to “just be myself” when acting. This confused me. “Which self?” We are all capable of being different under different circumstances with different people. Children (the purest of actors) do not play to “be themselves”…What would be the FUN of that?
I wanted to be away from myself, in a joyful way, rather than to be trapped in myself. I wanted to pay attention with my imagination, rather than to concentrate on getting my acting choices right. I wanted to be fearless and brave and stand behind what I found the story to be from the author. When we make a stand we are given confidence, and learning how to make choices from the written text strengthens that confidence so that the performance or audition is truthful in a way that is yours, truly yours.
Honesty in acting comes from the body, not from the intellect, which is why I work very physically with my actors. The camera and the audience watch the body before they listen. Actors must learn to approach their work differently from a director or a writer or from an external image of how a scene should look. It is very tempting to see the scene in our head and then act out those images. Unfortunately, that robs the artist of all true spontaneity and encourages cliche, because most actors see very similar images in their heads. This is why casting directors see the same audition over and over again. I find a lot of actors think like directors: they make preconceived psychological decisions about the text before their bodies experience the scene. Or they think like writers, by simply acting out the dialogue. My job is to get the actor to be task oriented, and to illuminate the dialogue by concentrating on subtext and physical impulse, and to discourage them from illustrating the text. More than anything, acting is just saying lines.
When working from the subtext, it is then that the actors’ originality comes out and the acting becomes authentic, provocative and original. Actors need to bring their own originality so that they are not simply acting out the lines of a text to please an idea of what they think a casting director wants. To have actors working within a class is a necessity, not a luxury. It is a direct reflection on how strong the work process of the students becomes. That is why students get on their feet every time they come to scene class. The concentration is on strengthening the ability to access the experience of subtext so that your work becomes bold and original. There is only one you, and if you are in the habit of accessing your own expression of imagination, that is the very definition of originality.
I believe that a work is good to the degree that it expresses the artist who creates it. A performance should be the result of a deep inner belief which is so strong that you have to act to get what you want. Performance becomes a state of mind. When students see work in the class which is not concerned with the manipulation of trying to get a scene to look good, but is instead an attempt to illuminate a part of one’s soul, everyone can relate.
“Actors too many times want permission – to ask permission from the casting director is to seek denial.”
Casting directors become excited when they see an actor discovering within the audition rather than executing a preconceived cliché. We all must move from asking ourselves “How am I seen?” to “What do I see?”. We must learn to act to express ourselves to the point where we feel safe with “unsafe” feelings. When we are in the habit of taking emotional risks we allow the very work to teach us, and we gain ownership of the material. Actors too many times want permission – to ask permission from the casting director is to seek denial. The professional marketplace sometimes unintentionally robs actors of courage and confidence in the casting room. Usually their minds are filled with things they are told not to do, the “don’t” school of acting. It makes actors cautious and not in touch with the deepest level of their creativity. Fortune favors the bold!
WORK ETHIC & GOALS
I do think that the purpose of class is ultimately to get work. But we must ask ourselves what kind of experience do we want to have when working? I have had countless students who have graduated from Juilliard and Yale and have gone on to win awards in every medium, and they yet come to me feeling brittle and dry because they feel the industry requires only result-oriented work. So they re-learn and reconnect with process themselves and from being in class with other students and they re-ignite their careers. This encourages everyone, including my students who are brand new to acting and have not developed habits or preconceived notions.