My drama students are typically method actors. There is some resistance to improv when you are so used to breaking down a script and building a character from deep emotion. To us, sticking with the first spontaneous creative choice that comes to mind, and allowing ourselves to simply play and see where it takes us, is more freedom than we can handle.
That is exactly why I encourage them to jump! “Get out of your comfort zone.” How do you think Stanislavsky even created his method? With a lot of brainstorming and improvisation. There is no better way to learn how to access your emotions than to play with the unexpected.
“I am not funny.”
A common misconception is that you have to be a comedian to be good at improv. To me, the greatest improvisers stick with their choices made at the beginning of their exercise, and take it seriously. It gets funny on its own. They are not worried about that. They just keep it going.
So much in acting is about thinking quickly on your feet. So much is about keeping an energy flow with your scene partners. You can certainly develop those skills with improv. So, try it!
I have prepared several 90-minute workshops that will be taking place once a month through 2020. I hope to see you there!
Reserve your spot early and mark it on your calendar!
5 ways you can use the Stanislavsky method in auditions
When Stanislavsky developed his method, his primary goal was to give actors tools they could use to deliver the most realistic performance possible. Breaking with the standing rule of body work and voice projection as the most important work and actor could do, he wanted to instill emotion in the audience through naturalism and empathy.
In other words, actors were trained to memorize their lines, speak them loudly and clearly and move on the stage precisely. Stanislavsky observed that some actors delivered a great performance, making the audience enjoy the story whereas others seemed to act robotically and were not as entertaining to watch.
He started his experimental lab with improvisation and trial-and-error exercises. His goal was to create every scene with meaning: a person does not just leave their house through the front door; the scene starts a moment before that, when they mentally set their goal to “go out” and proceed to get ready, grab their keys, make sure they locked everything, etc.
With this new approach to acting, where an actor fills the shows of a character with their personal senses and emotions, performances reached a new level of excellence. Until this day, actors all over the world aim for that naturalism when performing. That creates more compelling stories to watch.
With that in mind, I compiled 5 quick and easy ways you can use the Stanislavsky method techniques when you are at your audition.
When you are given your script, look first at what is in the heading of a scene and in parenthesis. Writers often place little hidden gems there that may go unnoticed when the actor is only worried about their lines. The intention a character has is not always verbalized. That means, we don’t always say what we are feeling or thinking and neither does our character. That is why stage directions are important. They may give you a good clue of the character’s intentions and demeanor. Demeanor is an important part of someone’s personality and not always associated with what they say. Stanislavsky taught us that we need to be aware of what our character wants at all times. Stage directions can give us clues we may not have without reading the entire play. For example: In “Doubt: A Parable,” Sister Aloysius says, “Sit down.” In parentheses, though, you see that Father Flynn takes her chair at her desk. Also in parenthesis, the playwright wrote: “She reacts but says nothing.” What a clue! So, first and foremost, find and follow your stage directions.
2. Word stress
Once you know your character’s intention and establish their demeanor, explore the actual words they say. Every character has a personality and a demeanor, as we just talked about. Now take it to the next level: find out what are the most important words said in every line. Highlight that word or those words and give them special color and musicality. Make sure your audience does not only hear those words but fully embody their meaning in the context. Some words need stress. Other words are there to support that. Remember: Words are important. Stress them accordingly.
Now, just the opposite: when not to speak. There are moments of silence in almost every dialogue and even in monologues. A silence means, nothing else is being said. If you can place a period at the end of a sentence using only your demeanor, that is a powerful performance. Discover moments when your character is silent and make them come alive with a subtle but powerful presence in that moment. That can be challenging but it is worth it. Silence is gold!
Well, we already talked about silence. So, why are we talking about pauses now? Are they the same thing? They are not. A pause gives continuity to a thought, keeping it on track or even steering it in a different direction. Sometimes a playwright will write your pauses for you in parentheses but sometimes they won’t. In that case, discover where to place them. Pauses can be used in combination with word stress or between sentences and they do not need to be very long to be powerful.
And finally, our 5th tip…
Demeanor goes hand in hand with subtext. For the most part, people do not constantly say what they are thinking. Subtext is what your character is actually thinking or feeling when they say what they say. It is your job to express that to the audience. Very likely, you will have to do it in a subtle and natural manner to avoid over-acting. Still, be aware of your subtext at all times. That will make you move in the scene in a more realistic way. It will also make your journey in the story rich. So, when you have that audition script, establish what your character wants, think, feels, when they say what they say. It will even help you memorize those lines, I promise.
I hope you enjoyed these tips and write them down to remember them when you are preparing to get in character, especially in auditions.
June 3rd, we had our first Stanislavsky class as an online group. First we talked about the method. Then, we jumped right into a reading. The play we read from was John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt: A Parable.”
The impromptu performances at our virtual table read were a gift to me, the coach. And the gift to us from the playwright were the hidden gems in the play, mostly in parenthesis as stage directions.
As playwright Laura Gunderson advises, “do not ignore stage directions!” That is absolutely right. Stage directions are there for a reason. They save both the director and the actors a great deal of time. They are a map of the mine!
In “Doubt,” our students were surprised to realize they had not noticed Father Flynn sitting on Sister Aloysius’s chair and the extra tension created from that.
Stanislavsky would probably love a scene where so much is said with a simple physical action: sitting at a desk.