This is the first 'blog' post, excerpts featured are excerpts from a book I'm working on.. :)  Each actor trainer/ director has their own set of nuances and theories that use different approaches to achieve the best possible performance of the score from an actor.

The ‘score’ being a set of inner and outer actions that are built in the rehearsal process that when followed moment by moment create the complete performance. The score is created through the process of composition; the studio time when the moment to moment pieces of the main performance are set or devised. Each actor trainer also tries to define what the highest potential for an actor can be; the actor trainers usually claim that only with their protocol can the high potential be achieved. However, in the rare cases throughout theatre history an actor goes beyond their platform of potential exceeding expectation thereby delivering a truthful performance that is supremely authentic. These actors are studied and celebrated for years to come, what is it that takes them to this historical level? Is it their truth? Truth is problematic because obviously reception of performance is entirely subjective so in the context of diagnosing ‘truth’ from an actor’s performance, truth cannot be defined, nor can authenticity (attempts at doing so in my opinion miss the point), it is not important if we can diagnose truth or authenticity and agree on a moment from an actor as being a moment of truth. How could that information help us create truth? It cannot, If we were to agree on an actor’s moment as truthful, the thing that makes that actor’s moment truthful may only activate the notion of truth in relation to that actor’s particular circumstance and therefore would not be useful for us in activating truth that is transcendent to all actor and spectator circumstances available to us within a score. When a spectator decides an acting performance is ‘truthful’ or ‘authentic’ it is because that spectator was affected by a moment or several from the actor’s score. What we need to be concentrating on isn’t the particular moment in the score that caused the ‘moment of truth’, but the process that occurred between the actor and the spectator- the delivery mechanism, or the process that carried the truth. Affect and reception.

Stanislavski and Meyerhold claim that in order for a performance to be authentic or have truth the actor’s must, “create on the stage a live life of the human spirit.”(Stanislavski in Lutterbie 2011: 30) or “communicate the ‘internal mystic vibration.” (Meyerhold in Lutterbie 2011: 38), each master has his own words for this one thing and it is usually clouded with enigma. It is impossible to deduce how a person would induce their ‘mystic vibration’ on demand from enigmatic explanation. The success of their practice through their actors is measured by Stanislavski and Meyerholds reception of the actor and the affect the actor gave. So what happens between Stanislavski and the actor, when the actor performs the score and Stanislavski watches?

In Rhonda Blair’s book ‘The Actor, Image, and Action: Acting and Cognitive Neuroscience’ Blair breaks down relevant cognitive neuroscience in relation to the actor to offer current scientific explanations for why certain processes between the actor/spectator and director/ actor might occur. In this instance in regards to affect, Blair discusses Gazzaniga, “{There are} Multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of other, but their intentions, the social meaning of their behaviour and their emotions… the neurons mirror both activities of the self and activities of the other.” (Blair 2008:13) The mirror neurons can explain how the human learns something by observation or how a baby would learn language. But for the actor/spectator relationship, I think the mirror neurons are why affect occurs.

“{The} Mirroring mechanism is also involved in our capacity to understand and experience the emotional states of others… there are in fact three mechanisms that support mirroring and simulation: motor mirroring mechanisms, general mechanisms, and simulation mechanisms… whether categorized as mirroring or simulation this process happens automatically. i.e. pre-consciously.” (Blair 2008:13)

A spectators mirror neurons, in theory, can watch the score of an actor and connect so that the actions, intentions, meanings, emotions and behaviours are understood at an unconscious level. Our imaginations then take the score which has been filtered through our mirror neurons and then, “interpreted according to the already existing schemata(for instance, how a person views the world).”(Blair 2008: 56) and eventually (I say eventually but this event happens in milliseconds) “the brain creates strings of associations arising in the body, first as emotion (physiological state of the body), which is translated into feeling, which then leads to behaviour.”(Blair 2008: 22) So, in my opinion, when trainers/directors like Stanislavki, Meyerhold, are speaking of authentic performances from actors, they are speaking of the affect the performance had on them. Finding ways to make the previous cognitive explanations occur via the presentation of a score is what acting should be about. How do actors grip a spectator enough to ignite a process internally that triggers a cognitive response?  It is impossible for the mirror neurons and the previous cognitive process not to occur. So why doesn’t it happen all the time? The mind is astute and constantly filtering unconsciously what is being received through already the already ‘existing schemata’ and,“98% of what the brain does is outside of consciousness awareness”(Blair 2008: 59).  The spectator is always coming to a performance with a mood, and a personal circumstance, a tight and complete inner narration that will effect literally how much the spectator is engaged with, cares about and how the spectator views the piece itself. The actor must be able to portray the score in a manner that demands attention and immerses the spectator to the moment on stage so that the mirror neurons lead the spectator to a feeling, (e.g. an emotional opinion.) That does not mean that the actor must literally believe what he or she is doing on stage in order to activate the spectators connection, it means that an actor must achieve a heightened presence that may infer this relationship. Truth is born from presence.

What is presence?

“All of the history of the theatre refers to actors who possess this ‘presence’. It’s a quality that makes you feel as though you’re standing right next to the actor, no matter where you’re sitting in the theatre.” (Chaikin 1991: 20) “According to current opinion in the profession, presence is the supreme attribute for an actor.” (Pavis in Goodall 2008: 17) “Actors with it… have eyes that focus both outward and inward because there is much importance to be seen in each direction… magnetism; attraction, electricity, and radiance belong to it as ways of conceptualising its dynamics.”(Roach in Goodall 2008: 18) Actor trainers try to guide their actors to this ‘magical’ presence once the beginner actor processes are learned. So how do we ignite ‘presence’? I have observed through my studio research that a director can unleash a presence from the actors through practice of the actor’s ‘performance state of mind’ (how the actor literally ‘thinks’ in the moment of a performance) as training throughout (but not limited to) the process of composition, juxtaposed with the director’s active manipulation of the actor’s way of viewing: their work, the world, their rigour, body, and fear, towards the aim of creating a sense of fulfilment and purpose in their perceptions that go to the core of the actor. Its not created from enigma, but from observation.

Before we move to the exercises used by Craft, I’d like to take a look at what ‘acting’ is and tell you how it is defined for our purposes..