"We don't use blocking." That used to be our catch-phrase. You can't imagine how many people have been up in arms over that concept with us over the last three years. There's always someone there to suggest that it's possible to craft moments, block things out to a 'T', AND live through a play as though it's the first time. And while I suppose there is some truth to that in that we could easily represent life on the stage and pretend it's the first time, why wouldn't we just live each moment for the first time?
"How do we do that?" You ask. And it's an important question. Many theaters just say they live it for the first time and still use blocking. Some don't block and just encourage actors to find the story each and every night - and I suppose that if they were especially well trained, then that might work...but most aren't. What we do is to answer a question, based in what I consider to be Lee Strasberg's greatest insight into the theatre:
What would I be doing if the scene weren't taking place?
When asked, most people seem to want to tell us what they'd like to be doing. "Oh, I'd be at a bar with some friends." From my understanding, Strasberg would commonly respond to this kind of remark by saying, "Great. You go to a bar with some friends, and I'll get an actor who will actually do what he'd be doing here if the scene weren't taking place." And that's the rub:
What would I be doing IN THIS ROOM if the lines of this scene weren't taking place?
And then we actually DO those things throughout our scenework. That's our blocking. That's our physical reality. By answering this question, The Seeing Place is able to live through something onstage that is unique to each night, rather than setting the actions and their timing in advance. Another way to think of it is this: If your scene partner had to run off to the bathroom and left you onstage by yourself, what might your character be doing here in your imagined reality?
To illustrate: Let's take the first scene of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for example. What would Brick be doing if the scene weren't taking place? Some things might be...
- Cooling off from the hot day - might include fanning, ice from the drink, etc.
- Drying off from the shower he takes before the play starts and any sweat that accumulates.
- Keeping his sprained ankle elevated.
- Drinking with the energy to fade out or "get that click" and maintain it, rather than to get drunk.
- Getting dressed in silk pajamas...or getting ready for Big Daddy's Birthday Party - even though the lines might suggest otherwise.
Do what you would be doing if the scene weren't taking place, and don't stop doing it unless something happens to interfere. But if there is an interference, stop and take the time to actually deal with it. But as soon as you are able, go back to doing what you'd be doing if the scene weren't taking place - even if it doesn't make sense.
That's a very complicated statement - though we've found it to be relatively simple in execution. Simple does not mean easy. It requires a change of viewpoint from what we normally find in the theater. Many actors in our mainstream theater seem to rely on the guidance of directors to be told what to do and where to go. Even in TSP rehearsals, there is an occasional outburst of, "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it!" But we don't let our group go through the motions onstage. I'm not suggesting that there are not actors out there that are organic and alive in their work. But we are a full company of actors that set out to remain creative in performance. We have to keep our thinking caps on. For us, it's not simply a matter of saying lines well or expressing whatever emotional reality is going on. We're aiming to live fully into an imaginative situation onstage. The tasks we do keep us concentrated and engaged. We can't fake them. That gives us grounding, whether or not we're having a good night at the theater.
The primary thing that The Seeing Place aims to create in our work is the simple reality. If someone is drinking tea, we want them to actually make it and actually drink it. If you need to sweep a stage, go ahead and actually sweep it. That's the easiest part of acting. As Lee Strasberg had posted over his door at The Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, "It's not about emotion." That's not to suggest that the emotional reality isn't important. But at Strasberg's insistence, we can't go for emotions:
"The emotions take care of themselves."
Of course, there will be exceptions and times when the play calls for something slightly different - as was the case in our production of THREE SISTERS, which had some "stand-in" props that were not 100% realistic. But even then, we were still doing what we'd be doing if the scenes weren't taking place - within the confines of that reality.
Lee Strasberg's insight into this element of human behavior, which The Seeing Place uses in our work, is based in an observation that Strasberg made about people, which is that in life, we don't stop doing what we're doing to have conversations.
David Gideon, my teacher, has given the following example (I'm paraphrasing): If we're driving to Boston, we don't stop the car to have an argument. We may begin an argument and respond so intensely that we feel out of control and NEED to stop the car to deal with the situation, but as soon as we've got it back under control and can continue driving, we do.
And that's how The Seeing Place goes about doing something unique to each night. Sometimes, the emotional reality interrupts in one place or another, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes, we're doing one activity in a certain place in a scene, sometimes another. It's completely based on how things play out that night. But it's all connected to the logic of the scene, the play, the character, and our own observations about people and our world.
I've even used this approach in plays that were stringently blocked by a director. In reality, the director doesn't want to have to block actors that stringently much of the time. If the actor comes in with a logical life to carry out onstage, most directors are more than willing to work within it.
All in all, I find it to be much more fun. After all, it is a play. :O)
What are your thoughts on all of this?
Other posts in this series: Part One: Speaking Out