Welcome back to the John O’Hare Studios blog.
During Hamlet’s well known conversation with the actors, he directs them not to go beyond the simple truth of nature.
“…with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is from the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” – Act 3, Sc2 of ‘Hamlet’
The important thing to remember here is that you “the actor” are the mirror of nature!
Your job is to reflect the image of your character’s humanity to an audience, either onstage or film. The reflected images an audience sees are the expressions of your inner self, your soul and your inner feelings. Meaning and truth for an audience are your characters’ moment-to-moment reactions to specific circumstances on film or stage. The audience sees your outward behaviours as reflected by your response to the characters inner life.
So how does the actor become as “’twere the mirror of nature?”
There are many ways to skin a cat and as many methods as there are actors. I will share with you many of the ideas that work for me, and the hundreds of professional actors and students I’ve worked with.
Lets begin with the personalisation of a role, often cited as the foundational approach for the actor to achieve symbiosis with her character. In Stanislavsky’s words, “living the part.”
The technique is to look honestly and deeply into the pool of your own soul to see what’s there.
Ask yourself a series of questions, starting with: “Who am I and what do I bring to the character?”
And this is where the journey into the soul of a character begins.
I’m sure the Ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thyself” comes to mind, but as anyone who’s done actor training knows, it’s a helluva lot easier said than done. Personally, I prefer Benjamin Franklin’s take: “There are three Things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.”
For Stanislavsky, this meant that the actor had to look for “truth” in real human behaviour or in the logic of human psychology. For others, such as Michael Chekhov and Stella Adler, the secret lay somewhere outside the theatre and life, somewhere deep in the actor’s imagination.
For me, both approaches have proven to be useful in developing a character and creating a role.
Let’s begin with one of Stanislavsky’s approaches, as taught by his protege Richard Boleslavsky. Richard Boleslavsky was the first to teach the techniques of Stanislavsky to American actors in a formal way. An extremely useful technique taught by him is Spiritual or Affective Memory. Affective memory was first brought to light by the French psychologist Ribot.
“Affective Memory” is the ability of the human organism to retain imperceptibly for herself different psychological impressions, shocks, and emotion, and to live them over again in the case of an identical repetition of outer physical occurrences. – Richard Boleslavsky
For instance, while returning home with a bunch of freshly gathered roses, a girl finds out about the tragic death of her beloved fiancé. The very moment she heard the news she inhaled the aroma of these flowers. Many years have passed. She was married and has lived in perfect happiness, but each time she smelled the scent of roses she would become nervously emotional just as she was at the time of the tragedy, without even being conscious of the fact. More than that, unconscious tears were coming to her eyes at the mere sight of roses. Later on this became so much of a habit that it remained with her until the end of her days.
In my next blog, I will teach you how to use Affective Memory in preparing a role.
Thanks again for stopping by and remember to “hang on tightly, let go lightly.”