Barton - Physical Inventory.pdf

Barton - Physical Inventory.pdf - 62 ROBERT BARTON ACTING...

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Unformatted text preview: 62 ROBERT BARTON - ACTING: ONSTAGE AND OFF - Taking Stock Actors need to take inventory, like stores do. They need to know their own merchandise. No matter how similar you may be to others in small ways, the sum total is individual. No other creature has been put to— gether just like you. So your Hamlet, your Blanche DuBois, your Tin- ker Bell won’t be quite like any other actor’s. As comforting as that is, it helps if you have some idea how yours will be different. This chapter is about checking and counting you. You won’t like all information you uncover. You may be carrying a self—image that needs to adjust. But you’ll get to know yourself better and then feel more as if you live inside your own body. If you have an inflexible vision of yourself, you’ll miss a lot. If you’ve picked some god orgoddess as the only image you can accept, you’ll be devastated. But if you want to act well, you can only kid yourself for so long any- way. There’s no point in doing inventory if you don’t want to know what’s really on the shelves. Knowing Your Instrument The actor’s instrument is only hinamff and the more interesting your instrument is, not only are you going to be renumbered, but the more use youcan be put to. —Richard Dreyfuss Your own inventory is a challenge because, unlike the merchant, you can’t stand back and look objectively at the merchandise. The concert violinist can reverentiy place his Stradivarius in the case and look at it. The master mechanic can clean up and then go back out to look over his engine. The writer can flipthrough pages and read his product and then put it down and walk away from it. You are the product. I once worked as an assistant to a brilliant. eccentric, somewhat out- of—touch professor, who worked herself into a frenzy trying to get stu— dents to experiment with new vocal and physical techniques. She’d shout during a lecture, “You each need to go out and play with your~ self!” The whole group would fall apart laughing, and she would mut— ter, confused, “I mean play with your (interminable pause here) instrument!” And the class would again collapse. This conununication breakdown was a: perfect example of the actor‘s dilemma. The very- stuff you need to work with is tied to matters private. So the most CHAPTER 3 - lNDlVlDL‘I-‘r itENTORY 63 innocent suggestion can seem suggestive. And the mos professional advice can sound personal. Your body, your voice, your mind are your materials for acting ef- fectively offstage and on. Your inventory will be helped if you allow yourself the same measured objectivity any craftsman would give to examining tools of his craft—even when yOu’re examining your own thighs. Body Awareness Public interest in the body, health, diet, and exercise is at an all-time high. This awareness is good for an actor, but he needs to move beyond body as machine to body as interpretive instrument. We’ll focus on the interpretive choices you make by just standing, sitting, walking, or ges- turing as well as on your own mannerisms. There‘s nothing. inherently wreng with a manner-ism. The acting profession is packed with successful and mannered artists. People like Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart are almost too easy to imitate their quirks were so pronounced. But you want to be aware that you have them and that sometimes they may be distracting to the observer. You don't want to lose a role (a client, a scholarship, an interview, a job, a date) because of a nervous gesture or because of the way you shift your weight. These are tiny things, but they may be getting in the way of an audience’s capacity to believe you. And they can be modified. Check your own body in three overlapping categories: habits, adap— tations, and cultural binding. Habits When you are in no particular mood, simply passing through the world, what choices are you most likely to make? No matter how these per- sonal tendencies first came about, now they are habitual, happening without thought or effort, automatically. Habits can be subdivided into Still (you caught in repose in a photograph) and Active (you caught in motion on film). Consider both the whole package and isolated body parts, any of which may acquire a life of its own. From foot tapping to knuckle cracking to teeth grinding to shoulder shrugging, an isolated movement may be a response to stress or it may just be an unconscious, acquired mete. Some heads may lean in all of a- sudden on every key word spo- ken (“chicken neck," as many actOrs call it); others tilt to one side when listening, toss hair back suddenly, nod repeatedly, or sink down so far 64 ROBERT BARTON - ACHNG: ONSTAGE AND OF ——_—___—_— in the torso that the neck almost disappears. And this is just the start of a head list. I In the following lists, when a question makes no sense or you draw a blank, get up and move around. Take a look in a full-length mirror. Skip over questions that are 'still puzzling, but jot down responses when you think you know how you fit into the category. Study your- self. Ask pimple who've been around you for a while- Start noticing. It’s time to do some research, and what could be a more interesting research topic than you? You don‘t even have to go to the library. You are the library. Start watching other people in repose and in ac- tion to see ways in which others use their bodies like or unlike you. Expect to be overwhelmed by more questions than you can answer and more categories than you can immediately comprehend, but also expect everything to get easier and clearer the more accustomed you get to studying you. Answer as many of the following questions as possible about you still and you active. Still Standing 1. Where is your weight placed in your typical silhouette? Which part of your body really carries the load? 2. Where are you centered? Does energy or drive radiate from one spot? 3. How close to symmetrical are you? Do you lean or cross yourself or favor one side? 4. What is your posture like? Do you slouch? Does it vary? 5. Does any part of your body seem to dominate or draw focus? Sitting 1. How collapsed or erect are you when sitting? How much do you sink or release into the chair or floor? 2. Do you lean? In what direction? 3. Is your body crossed in one or more places? How tightly? Do you appear to be covering yourself anywhere? Are you sitting on any part of yourself, your own leg, a hand? 4. How much space are you taking? Do you thrust out or exhibit any part of yourself? How open and expansive is the spread of your arms and legs? 5. What curves are present? In the spine? The appendages? The tilt of the head? In more than one direction? CHAPTER 3 - INDIVIDUAL INVENTORY 65 Figure 3.] Habits (Sitting) Expression 1. What is the typical look you tend to have on your face? What are the three runners-up? What range of facial change do you habit- ually go. through? 2. Is your eye contact with others usually direct or not? How in— tense? How long before looking away? Do you squint, narrow your eyes, droop your lids, or open your eyes wider? 3. Any changes in other parts of the face? Do your eyebrows move? Do you wiggle your nose? Purse your lips? Suck in your checks? 4. Do expressions generally linger or disappear abruptly? How are they timed? Does your smile come suddenly or slowly expand? 5. Are you easy to read or are you somewhat “poker faced?” Are your expressions pronounced or subtle and muted? How lively and open is your face? Active Tempo/Rhythm 1. Are your movements fast, slow, medium? What is your basic rate? 66 ROBERT BARTON . ACTING: ONSTAGE AND OFF 2. How constant is your tempo? Are you fairly predictable or do you change radically? 3. Do you land with full weight or glide, making only minimal contact with the ground? Are your steps heavy or light? 4. Do you punctuate or stress each move with any part of the body as you walk? Could someone tap your movement patterns like playing a drum? 5. What is the relationship between your speed and your rhythms? To what extent do they affect each other? Are you fast and er— ratic? Slow and steady? What combination? Motion 1. When walking, sitting, or leaning, where do you make contact with the surface below? Is the contact flat and solid or gradual and curved? 2. Do you prepare to move (shifting weight, adjusting clothing, swaying slightly) or do you just take off? When you stop, is there a recovery period of similar adjustments? Do you settle (even squirm) into stillness or just land and stop? 3. What kind of support do you give yourself? Do you reach out with your hands to furniture before you sit, lean on walls or cor- ners as you round them, grab railings on stairways? 4. Is your pattern of movement fluid and effortless or jerky and labored? How obvious is the changing of gears as you accelerate or change direction? 5. Are the moves straight and assertive? Do you face your target directly and shoot for it or approach it indirectly? Do you ease into furniture sideways, sidle up to people, curve across a room, insinuate yourself into a space? Gestures 1. Are your arm and hand movements expansive and wide? Or do you work tight to the torso and economically? 2. How frequently do you gesture? Can you sit on your hands without going crazy with the need to use them? Or are your ges- tures occasional and selective? 3. Do you have predictable and repetitive moves? Are they shared by many, or are they unique to you? Do you have props you al— ways seem to be playing with? 4. Do you literally demonstrate your feelings/experience physically? Could someone who doesn’t speak English figure out what you CHAPTER 3 - INDIVIDUAL INVENTORY 67 ————————____%__ are saying because of this? Or are your hands more likely to move in abstract, less literal ways? 5. Are your shoulders engaged, do you lean in totnake points, does the head join in? How connected are your gestures to the torso? How free or independent are they from the rest? Adaptations When you add stress or stimuli to an otherwise average. day, how does your body respond? Alone or in a group, as you're touching someone or being touched, as your mood changes? How do you adjust to Space Invasions? You have an amount of space that you like to keep between you and others, an invisible bubble around you. It may be larger or smaller (or more or less flexible) than. someone else’s bubble. If you’re on a mountaintop or a crowded elevator, your bubble adjusts in size because you know what to expect. But your bubble bursts, and you’re Unhinged when someone unexpectedly invades what you regard as per- sonal space. I Some people respond with genuine honor to the most accidental “space invasions” of their bubble. forgetting that it‘s invisible. Others are mindless invaders, forgetting that just because they like bear hugs and pats on the fanny doesn’t mean everyone they meet craves that kind of contact. You can invade another’s space by moving very close without touching (as in certain South American cultures, where people like only three or four inches between them for conversation), by envelop- mg, trapping, . - being held, gentle touching in an area- the recipient there are still a wide range of invasions. We all have covert limits. Identify how you react when external elements change, as in: 0 Public versus Private Behavior: Do you react differently in groups? When the focus of a large number of people turns to you? Do you find yourself shifting posture, relating to furniture in a difl'erent way. walking more or less lightly, changing your timing? Are you one of those people who only really comes alive when there is an audience? - Space invasions {Initiating and Receiving): What if actual physical contactt with others is involved? Are you more likely to be an in- vader or a receiver? Do you initiate physical contact? What is your own desired distance? How unsettled are you when others close in? 68 ROBERT BARTON - ACTING: ONSTAGE AND OFF Do you adapt well? Are you more likely to touch a particular place on another person? 0 Mood Shifts (Up and Down): To what extent does your physical life express your emotional one? Is the receipt of good or bad news likely to show in your body language? Does the kind of day you’re having affect your posture, eye contact, and freedom of gestures? Does intense feeling explode into movement? Or do you mask shifts in feelings? Cultural Binding Any group whose members share the same behavior is a culture. Be— havioral scientists call it binding when you’re tied so strongly to the group that you have trouble breaking away from group limitations, even when you need to. You can be bound to a culture like a prisoner bound to a stake. Group membership helps define who you are and can be a source of heritage and pride. You can be bound emotionally but also by geography, conditioning, age, sex, family, and personal inter— ests. Binding becomes a problem when you want to be believably cast as a member of another group. Try to identify these influences on your physical life: - Geography: Does everyone guess where you were born even if they don’t hear you speak? Do people know you are from the city or the country without having to ask? 0 Family: Is your ancestry obvious? Do you share a set of moves with other people whose parents were the same nationality, religion, or any other affiliation? - Conditioning: Do you send information that you have been told for years not to assert yourself in groups, lest you be thought overbear— ing? Or to push, shove, shout, grab attention, whatever it takes to get what you deserve? How evident is the rewarded behavior and the punished behavior that was part of your home, school, or church? - Interests: Can others tell your special skills and favorite activities? That you are a dancer, athlete, pianist, body builder, scholar? Have you picked up the trademarks, along with the love of the activity? 0 Age: Do people get your age right or wrong, and can this be be- cause of how you carry yourself? 0 Sex: On a scale of extreme sexual stereotypes, where are you? Do you fall into a traditional masculine/feminine image? An androgynous mix? Neutral or ambiguous? How flexible and changeable are you? CHAPTER 3 « INDIVIDUAL INVENTORY 69 IAm What I Am You may look at the Body Awareness Checklist that follows, say, “I am phat I am!” and reject the idea of changing. But remember that adjust- ing and-changing are not the same thing. The truth is that cultural bind- tng limits your casting. If you’re “a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx," those are three great things to be. But imagine yourself east as Antig» one, one of the great tragic heroines. She is “a nice Greek girl fi'om Thebes." The actor cast in the role must achieve a classic, universal quality. Too much Bronx in stance, gestum, eye contact, and there’s no way the audience will successfully place her in the ancient world. You cannot get in the way of the audience's imagination. You want to unleash its imagination. Learn torecognize your owu binding, modify it when appropriate, but do not lose it! You never want to lose your own heritage, going home and finding you have forgotten how to be at home there. And the minute you virtually wipe out all the Bronx from your body and mice, guess what the next part to come along will require? Guess what kind of accent and physical life? And guess who will have condi- tioned herself out of consideration? What you want is control and flex- ibility. Being other people does not need to mean losing who you are. Body Awareness Checklist Habits (Still) Standing Sitting Expression 1. Carriage ____ 1. Release 1. Typical 2. Center 1 Leaning 2. Contact 3. Symmetry 3. Crossing 3- Parts 4. Posture 4. Space 4. Timing 5. Focus 5. Curves 5. Clarity ...
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