I’m compiling To Do lists. During any rehearsal process I like to read, and right now there are some things I should definitely be looking into. Russia, Bulgakov, schizophrenia, Soviet Poetry… It’s difficult, this. Our long working days don’t lend themselves to even an in-depth attack on my laundry, let alone research. Then there is the question of how useful the research actually is. If I were playing Hamlet would I really play it better if I knew a bit about Danish Royalty? Possibly, but it makes me feel a little icky. I prefer an abstract route.
Every actor I know has a different attitude to this, but the Stanislavskian method worries me. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a great deal of juice in there, but it seems to breed an over-emphasis on your own inner world and, if you’re not careful, fails to take into account what is happening around you. An over-reliance on what you think your character had for breakfast, say, can lead to you forgetting that good theatre is a relationship between the practised and the spontaneous.
It’s best thought of in terms of the banana skin. All good comedic actors know that to make this trick work relies just as much on the journey of the banana skin as it does on the journey of your character. I propose that it’s impossible to really enter the inner world of the character at the same time as making sure you drop the banana skin at the end of Act Two just so you’ll slip on it in Act Three.
This is not to deny oneself some inner journey, but there has to be a relationship between the inner and the outer. It’s what the conductor Daniel Barenboim calls ‘conscious naivety’. Feel the inner, play the inner and be moved by it, but not at the expense of the outer.
I find Laban’s archetypes extremely useful for this. Again, it’s just a tool, not to be taken too seriously, but it analyses a character’s way of moving in terms of space, weight and time. Is he direct or indirect? Light or heavy, sudden or sustained? By combining these simple forces there are archetypes that I can play with and explore. By engaging with these ideas physically I can quickly leave my habitual relationship with these forces behind. This sits alongside the inner world, augments it, supports it.
And by remaining engaged physically you are immediately, inevitably and inextricably caught up in the inner psychological world. What gets really interesting is if you can then add this to the tension work. Maybe Ivan is constantly at a higher state of tension than I am, coupled with moving in a more repressed and restrictive way.
The use of each or any of these techniques is simply about the blend. These tools are there to help, not to restrict, and one man’s meat etc. etc. Each new project helps me redefine my attitude to these processes. Be a magpie. Steal rhythms and moods, ways of being, ways of finding your route through.
And if it turns out my ability to recite reams of Soviet era poetry wins me an Olivier, I’ll proselytise Stanislavski as much as you like…
- Richard Katz