Some statements about the training of the actor 

in Greece or elsewhere

By Ioannis Iandreadis, Stage Director and Director of Panteion University Drama Center of Athens.

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Whoever is able to walk is able to dance. Whoever is able to speak is able to sing. Whoever is able to relate a story (and/or have a dialogue) is able to play theatre.(the fact that handicapped people play theatre as well, occasionally even very good theatre, is not a denial of what has just been said. Those actors have heroically invented equivalents to walking and singing.)

Yet all those who walk, talk, relate stories are not compulsorily dancers, singers or actors. Amongst other things there are two factors that are obstacles for them: The first one being a sort of dependence towards models, the way “a star”( who is a total stranger to them) plays and so on. They are dependent because of psychological reasons as well as intimate and cultural ones. Because of such influences, the actor to be or the trainee has a certain idea of what “beauty” should be, of what it is to be “natural”. Instead of relying on himself, he gives his confidence to beliefs that trap him or castrate him. The second factor is narcissism. A well-controlled narcissism at its right position is (Freud called narcissism « the guardian of life ») the guardian of the actor’s performance. Without it he would be unable to find the courage to exhibit oneself on stage in front of the audience, to open oneself to the members of the audience, to take the risk to be criticized by them or by those who say they are specialists, by the media…On the other hand, uncontrolled narcissism, which is a very common theatrical illness, leads to a way of acting incapable of taking the other actors into account, nor the audience, the space, the text, the rhythm of the performance and the time. It is not only a theatrical illness, but it wreaks havoc on the small and big European stages. Finding a natural of his own and the right limit to his narcissism should be the most important part of the actor’s training.

Hence, here are the first few necessary steps to become an actor and here are the reasons why most of us are actors only occasionally and/or by chance. (Some of them can be very good actors once they are no longer on stage. We think Shakespeare said that those who are good on stage can’t be good actors and don’t want to be elsewhere.) Some, on the other hand, become actors on a more stable, controlled and repetitive way. Those are the ones that can be righty named dancers, singers and actors, the later using dancing, singing and words jointly to practice the art of acting.

Now I am going to try to mention shortly some few other factors linked to the actor training. Amongst other things, three points: to remember, to observe, to find equivalents to imitate what the texts (written or oral) propose by using one’s memory, one’s observations and one’s inventions and imagination.

Let me explain myself concerning those three points :

1.    Storytelling: The narrator is a potential actor. In ancient Greece drama probably emerged from epic poems that hold in their heart entire parts: Achille, Agamemnon, Hector, Ulysses, Penelope, Circe, Nausicaa. Likewise, in a non-artistic narration in the daily life, my uncle, my grand-mother, the baker or the policeman at the corner are ready to show up and become parts (or characters). Personally with my actors, I insist for them to realize the fact that in their own storytelling they unconsciously move from the presentation of facts to the mimesis of the people they are referring to. It goes without saying that by mimesis we mean what keeps oscillating between imitation and creation.

2.    Remembrance : When you tell a story you remember. From that point of view narration and remembrance -anamnésis- are twin sisters. We are all able to draw out of our memory a whole troop of characters, actors, a whole repertoire of voices, movements, masks. The difference between the actor and someone who is not an actor in that case consists in the fact that the actor can draw a conscious profit of all this treasury, he can capitalize his discovery ; his technical know-how consists in this will and this ability to collect, developing and refining with time. Ability to remember, to collect, to refine which explains why the good actors are able to cheat with time, remaining young from an artistic point of view.

3.    Observation. The actor’s as well as the writer’s work is based on observation. Nevertheless we have to take two factors into account :

 A) Either they are both able of a better observation because they have a better memory. With our remembrance, our feelings and our reactions are more acute and so we see things more clearly. The one who is not able to remember takes a look, as Brecht stated, but can’t see. B) Or the actor, the theatre man in general is the one who watches what other people neglect. May be it is not so accidental that Freud and Stanislavski were contemporary.  Let’s add that from that point of view the actor/observer presents resemblance with the real and good journalist and the good detective.

Any actor basing his work on the systematic observation of himself, of other people and of the world around him, on what can be called reality may be qualified a realistic actor. In that meaning any theatre is realistic. It doesn’t prevent all he theatre to be conventional too, just because it is theatre, in particular because it takes place in a limited space, during a limited period of time… That- in particular the coexistence of the realistic code and of the conventional code – can be applied to the Greek drama as well as to the Elizabethan drama and the Japanese No and all the followers of those methods. Only the form of the synthesis between those two factors varies and in fact any actor, stage director and so on… has to invent his own means and paths to synthesize them.

Since there is no net division between the realistic theatre and the conventional theatre there shouldn’t be either any division between the “body theatre” and the theatre based on the text. The body includes the breathing, what Artaud called “the breath”, a word in French which refers too to the speech and the mind. The question of the voice of the actors in the big open theatre in the ancient world offers a good example of the solidarity between the body and the speech. On one side, to be heard it is better not to shout but respect the pronunciation of the word, each consonant and each vowel, and also respect the audience by trying and launch one’s voice to the very last row. On the other side the expressive gesticulation becomes the vehicle of the voice: It gives the voice its wings and in the same time it produces aesthetical forms that are not tautological. (They don’t repeat what is said already but bring a new dimension). In his apprenticeship the actor must train to free the expressive strength of his gesticulation and then channel it according to the aim of his interpretation. In the same way the theatre text is normally a written text but it can also be an oral tradition as the commedia dell Arte case can remind us.

The question of the great texts, (those Artaud called the « masterpieces » to condemn them), the Greeks, The Elizabethans, Molière, Kalidasa, is an alarming question. The ambivalence of Artaud himself concerning them and the ambiguity stemming from his theoretical writings and from plays such as The Cenci demonstrate it. The actor confronted to one of these impressive parts, Clytemnestra, Médéa, Antigone, Hamlet, Henri II or III, Oswald, must inject in the part all his memories, observations, technic…and so on. Nevertheless he must be careful not to bring it down to his own scale. It is a young actress –not at all the intellectual type- who interpreted the part of Clytemnestra who told me once : “I feel that I must move from my being, and even if I keep all what makes my being, I must try and go towards something which is above me.” A few time later Alexis Minotis, who is THE interpret of the great classical parts, told me thoughts that were very close to that.

The few ideas that have been just exposed imply something more: On the one side we can state that the actor who is interpreting a part is in a daze. That phenomenon has some resemblance -even if it is difficult to identify them- with what the anthropologists call the trance. It enables the actor to remain lively and creative, far from the false recipes and the latest fashion “manners”.

A real training too should be to enable the actor to reach that state of daze. Yet we have to underline it, as it is the case in a successful rite, that state of daze doesn’t exclude the conscious control of one’s means, of the space and of the audience. In other word, subconscious doesn’t mean in any case irrational. But if in the traditional societies a certain amount of “controlled delirium” was the fruit of a very precise technic, the actor in our modern societies must look for his own tracks to synthesize the state of daze and the conscious control. In that sense and despite a constant rhetoric consisting in praising psychological disease in art, a good amount of balance is recommended for those who work in theatre.    







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