Teaching Philosophy and Invited Residencies
My teaching has one overriding goal, which is to have the actor not only say the playwright’s lines, but appear to have thought them up as well. This, to me, constitutes great acting: to have the audience believe you are not only speaking Hamlet’s lines, but making Hamlet’s decisions, and thinking up what Hamlet’s going to say and do next. As well as deciding where to go, what to wear, and how to part your hair – although of course these decisions have actually been made ahead of time by Shakespeare, the director, the costume designer, and a whole host of people (including you during previous rehearsals). But the goal of acting is to look like you’re doing all of this right now, right before us. And in fact most great actors feel that they are doing it right now, right before us – as do their audiences. But this is not as easy as it sounds, is it?
This immediacy of action is just as important in a classic play as in a realistic one, or in a musical comedy or opera. It’s crucial wherever actors play human roles, which is to say virtually all the time. Immediacy of action is what gives the audience permission to share what they think of as the feelings of the characters and to care about what’s going on onstage, even when it’s obviously fiction, or even fantasy. For the audience does care, often weeping real tears even when the play’s events are manifestly contrived and rehearsed – as in Japanese kabuki.
I don’t presume, of course, that this single goal answers all the questions and problems of acting, or even most of them, but it does help to focus the dialogue that goes on in the classroom and rehearsal hall. My teaching seeks to integrate the “real” emotional impulses of the actor with the structured dramaturgy of the play, no matter how seemingly artificial or stylized. It seeks to find the level of emotional improvisation and even anarchy within the precise configurations of a dramatic text.
My methods for this emphasize the character’s goals, within the dramatic situation, and the actor’s efforts to win these goals on behalf of the character he or she is playing. Virtually all the work in my classes can be described as interactive, which is to say that a character’s goals are only achievable through interactions with other people – mainly, the other characters in the play. I therefore try to help actors define particularly challenging interpersonal goals, and to develop and employ powerful and winning tactics – even for characters who may eventually lose.
Powerful actors, in my opinion, can be forceful and attractive, scary and magnetic, charismatic and inspirational, all in the same play. The acting I most admire is viscerally unsettling and intellectually brilliant, and I ask no less from my students. At the same time, however, I recognize that these are not qualities quickly – or even fully – achieved.
I work neither with oratory nor improvisation, but at the precise point where structured language meets unconscious emotion. While I am keenly interested in theory, my acting classes (with the exception of an occasional theory seminar) are entirely practical and hands-on.