So, today I held my first acting workshop based upon the techniques and methods I mentioned in yesterday’s blog. I Invited 5 friends to the first session, 2 of whom had previous acting experience and 3 with none. The session was a great success and, as well as being a great way to try out ideas on how to run an improvisation, it was also lots of fun, and genuinely surprising for all involved.
At first I was a bit unsure about the acting method i wanted to try and was torn between choosing a Mike Leigh approach, where I would work with my actors individually on back story and characterisation, or Scandal Copti and Ulrich Seidl’s method where actors are given discreet instructions and scenes are allowed to play out spontaneously. I decided for the latter and am pleased I did as it gave my non-actors a great boost to know they could ‘act’ before involving them in rigorous development sessions and also helped them to trust me and my hands off approach.
What was fascinating about the session was how philosophically rich the experience of giving my actors discreetly different world views was, (which will be apparent if i reflect upon a couple of the sessions.) For example, In the scene below, which i have titled the “Two of Us” – I first spoke to my characters as a unit telling them the objective details that they would all know – such as: John – was the father in his 60′s – Caroline was the older daughter and Sarah was the younger daughter and that both sisters were visiting their father over the weekend at his house. After this I took my characters into a separate room where I gave them very simple accounts of how they FELT about the other characters. This is what I told them…
JOHN (the father) – You want to give your attention to SARAH because she is fragile and needs your support. CAROLINE is much stronger but can be a bit too dominating.
SARAH (blonde daughter) – You want to tell give your father JOHN, who is a bit depressed, a big boost by telling him all the good things that are happening in your life and to be cautious of Caroline who is a trouble maker.
CAROLINE – You want to spend time with your father but your Sister always steals his time – maybe tonight is the night to tell them how you feel.
It took a few false starts to try and stop my actors from feeling the need to ‘act’ and to relax and wait for the scene to evolve naturally. After a few moments, though, this is exactly what happened as John and Sarah established a natural bond with Caroline being naturally excluded.
The scene i have attached is a few moments after John and Sarah have been talking together as Caroline picks up a magazine in protest.
“The Two Of Us”
What was interesting in this scene is the way in which all the characters have the feeling that they are justified in how they interact with the other characters. No one is playing a ‘bad’ character – everyone has a completely warped sense of reality that they are trying to impose upon the others. In fact, thinking about the scene, what is really interesting is, that rather than there being 3 distinct characters in the scene, there are in fact many more. (I am working this out as write so please bare with me).
The Interpretant: and what i mean when i say there were more than 3 actors in the ‘two of us’ scene?
Well, for example there were 3 Carolines – Sarah’s competitive sister, John’s competent daughter and Caroline’s own excluded version of herself.
There were also 3 versions of Sarah – John’s delicate daughter, Caroline’s attention greedy sibling and Sarah’s version of herself as the bringer of positivity
There were 3 versions of John – Sarah’s needy father who wanted picking up – Caroline’s unloving father who needed a truth lesson and John’s version of himself as a caring father who wants to help his allot attention where needed.
I find this idea to be extremely interesting and puts me in mind of a semiotician and philosopher I have been reading recently called, Charles Peirce, and his notion of a triadic semiotics and his concept of the interpretant.
What is that? (here’s a quote from Stanford’s philosophy website and a link to the article if you are interested to learn more)
Peirce’s basic claim is that signs consist of three inter-related parts: a sign, an object, and an interpretant. For the sake of simplicity, we can think of the sign as the signifier, for example, a written word, an utterance, smoke as a sign for fire etc. The object, on the other hand, is best thought of as whatever is signified, for example, the object to which the written or uttered word attaches, or the fire signified by the smoke. The interpretant, the most innovative and distinctive feature of Peirce’s account, is best thought of as the understanding that we have of the sign/object relation.
The importance of the interpretant for Peirce is that signification is not a simple dyadic relationship between sign and object: a sign signifies only in being interpreted. This makes the interpretant central to the content of the sign, in that, the meaning of a sign is manifest in the interpretation that it generates in sign users.
For example the sign of – MARMITE – is not just a signifier and a signified it is many things – depending on how it is interpreted… for example
Not sure how this really relates to acting but it does seem like a useful conceptual tool when I stop to think about the complex relations between people I want my films to capture. Each of us reading each other in our own unique way – interpreting everything differently so that 2 characters are always 4 – and 3 characters are always 9. Every action being read in multitude of ways. (Very interesting stuff to ponder and does make me feel like I am grappling my way towards BAKHTIN’s ideas of polyphony and multiple voices. MMMmmm…)
Next steps towards creating a film?
Anyway, that’s enough about Peirce for now – So what next?
Well, I am aware that I have used up some of my arsenal of acting tools by running the session the way i did it. For example I will never be able to run the father and daughter scene with the same people and every be able to capture the same levels of spontaneity again. However, I can use different actors or the create new scenarios for the same actors all of which i really need to think about… Having said this – i am aware that Mike Leigh does use the content generated from his initial improvisations as material from which he can then develop a written script which he then has actors relearn. Not sure why but this does seem like an odd thing to do and a part of the process i feel (for the moment) i should avoid replicating.
One technique of Mr Leigh’s I would like to use, though, is to have my actors develop characterisations based on people they already know and with this in mind following our last session i asked my actors to think of 3 people they know well (same gender, similar age) who they could use as a basis for a character profile, explains to them that i would help them develop these characters in follow up one-on-one sessions. I haven’t run these sessions yet but I am hoping that when i do that some kind of vague story will start to suggest itself following which I can help my actors to settle on and develop in full one of their 3 characters chosen.
Anyway, here is another clip taken from our recent session – this one is called Dodgy Geezer