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Actor, Theatre Director and Teacher Michael Chekhov

For the Russian actor, director and teacher Michael Chekhov (1891–1955), the essence of artistry in acting, as in any discipline, was transformation. He wrote extensively about ‘the hallmark of talent and the divine spark within the actor’ — the ‘ability to transform oneself totally’ — and explored this transformation in unusual depth in his teaching.
Chekhov was an Anthroposophist, a follower of the teachings of the spiritual philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and his association of artistry with divinity was not merely a turn of phrase, but a reflection of that belief system. Steiner posited intimate connections between the human and the divine, or between ‘the sense-perceptible world’ and ‘the spiritual realm’​.​
​H​e taught a process of ‘clairvoyant perception’ by which he claimed that his followers would be able ‘to perceive the world we enter after death’ and thereby see beyond physical appearances and ‘move from the figure we perceive to the actual being.’ For Steiner, however, ‘clairvoyance’ was not only spiritual but artistic: he defined the artist by the capacity to ‘create in beauty a piece of the world, so that the image on canvas or in marble lets us see more of the world than we do on our own.’

How to Act (3): Theatre actors and their secrets

Roger Allamhas worked with the RSC, the National, Shakespeare's Globe and in the West End. TV and film includes The Thick of It, Tamara Drewe and Parade's End. Here's what he says:

Learn your lines so well that you never have to worry about them.​ ​Keep a notebook about the play, the character, the period, your moves. It'll help you remember what you have done so far – especially if you're having to rehearse in your spare time rather than all day, every day.

Never go dead for a second on stage. Even if you are doing nothing, do it actively. Listen.​ ​If something goes wrong – say someone drops something – don't ignore it. Try to deal with it in character.

Warm up your voice and body. Get used to the size of the auditorium; if you don't know it already, go to the worst seats in the house and have conversations with people on the stage so you get to know what kind of energy is needed to be heard.

Be ambitious. The great actor, director and playwright Ann Jellicoe commissioned writers like Howard Barker and David Edgar, and put on magnificent, large-scale plays in Dorset that involved the whole community.

On the other hand, probably avoid Aeschylus's Oresteia or anything by the German dramatist Heinrich von Kleist.​ ​Try not to worry about embarrassing yourself. That's a lifetime's task.

The Victorian actor Henry Irving said: "Speak clearly and be human" – but if you listen to his recordings, the boundaries of that are pretty vast. James Cagney said:"Never relax, and mean what you say." I think that's pretty good.

You are released from the miserable aspects of having to earn your living in this marvellous business called show, so have fun: be as serious as you like, but enjoy yourself.

How to Act (2): Theatre actors share their secrets

Miriam Margolyes has worked at the RSC and in the West End; she has been touring her one-woman show about Charles Dickens and his female characters since 1989. Films include The Age of Innocence and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

She doesn't see any difference between amateurs and professionals – so she would give her tips, such as they are, to anybody. The aim of any actor is the same: to tell the truth in such a way that people will be entertained, uplifted and surprised.

Listen before anything else. Read the text over and over again, and make sure you know the lines. Go and see other performances, and be critical about them: work out whether you'd have smiled in that place, or turned your head at that moment.

Never show off. You can sometimes come to a particular point in a show and think, "I'm really good in this bit." Never, ever think that. Never read reviews. She hasn’t read hers since she was in rep.

Never know more than your character knows. She isn't talking about research; she means that when you are performing, you must stay inside the truth of your character. Don't signpost to an audience what they should be thinking.

And the most important thing is to breathe. If you stop breathing properly, you get a sore throat. And if you stop breathing, you die.

Edinburgh Fringe session to help performers with anxiety

A free workshop for performers suffering from anxiety will be held at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe and explore how breathing exercises can help them overcome their nerves.

Conquering Performance Anxiety will take place on August 20 at Fringe Central. It is being run by GP Pippa Wheble in association with Equity. Wheble is also a trainer in a technique known as Transformational Breath, which helps actors “open up the full potential of their breathing system for better physical and emotional well-being”.

The workshop comes after performers opened up about the impact anxiety has had on their careers, including Broadway star Patti Murin. West End actors including Caroline Sheen and Jodie Jacobs have revealed their battles with anxiety in a bid to encourage more industry conversations around mental health.

They have been joined by actors including Savannah Stevenson, best known for her roles in Wicked and Chariots of Fire, and Danny Colligan, who was in The Book of Mormon. All have revealed the struggles they have faced with anxiety and the impact this has had on their careers, and have urged the industry to do more to support sufferers.

The workshop will explore “why anxiety is good for us as performers” but also the problems that can then occur. “I will talk about how breathing can be a really direct tool for managing anxiety in those performance situations and techniques that can help with that,” she said, adding that actors will also take part in a practical taster session of Transformational Breath.

Life Skills Learned in Theatre

Many students find that theatre helps them develop the confidence that's essential to speaking clearly, lucidly, and thoughtfully. Acting onstage teaches you how to be comfortable speaking in front of large audiences, and some of your theatre classes will give you additional experience talking to groups. Furthermore, your work on crews has taught you that clear, precise, and well-organized oral communications are best.

Most people expect theatre students to exhibit creativity in such areas as acting, design, playwrighting or directing, and many companies do recruit creative thinkers. But employers are not always aware that theatre experience also helps you learn creative problem-solving techniques that are applicable to many jobs. 

Being involved in theatre productions and classes demands commitment and motivation. Many theatre students learn to transfer that attribute from theatre to other activities such as classes and jobs. For employers, that positive attitude is essential.

Your work in theatre companies teaches you how to work effectively with different types of people.Theatre demands that participants work together cooperatively for the production to success; there is no room for "we" versus "they" behavior; the "star" diva is a thing of the past. In theatre, it's important that each individual supports the others involved. Employers will be pleased to know that you understand how to be a team player.

In theatre, you're often assigned tasks that you must complete without supervision. Crew chiefs. Directing. Putting together this flat, finding that prop, working out characterization outside of rehearsals. It's left up to you to figure out how best to achieve the goal. The ability to work independently is a trait employers look for in their workers.

As a theatre student, you have many opportunities to assume leadership roles. You may, for example, assist a director or designer and lead other volunteers, serve as a crew chief, or even design or direct a production yourself. Leadership training like this can open the possibility for comparable opportunities in a company that hires you.

Theatre training teaches you confidence in yourself. Your accomplishments in theatre show you that you can handle a variety of jobs, pressures, difficulties and responsibilities. You develop a "Yes, I can!" attitude.

Told by an Idiot presents Napoleon Disrobed at the Arcola Theatre London

Told by an Idiot explores the human condition through theatre that is bigger than life. They acknowledge the artifice of performance & make no attempt to put reality on stage, instead they inhabit the space between laughter & pain which exists in the real world. Their work is rooted in the live event & thrives on a sense of spontaneity & risk, celebrating the unpredictability of performance. Through playful collaborative writing, anarchic physicality & a comedic sensibility they create genuinely spontaneous experiences for audiences.

Through their work on stage & through their Taught by an Idiot participation work they foster a sense of openness, curiosity & the desire to play.  They consistently experiment with what art can be & who can be involved, & in doing so their work blurs the lines between artist, participant & audience. Their commitment to accessibility informs the entwined relationship between their productions & their participation work. They take creative risks, they tell universal stories & they include everyone.  

Their latest production will open in Plymouth on 25 January and at the Arcola Theatre in London from 14 February. Napoleon Disrobed is a comic alternative history based on the novel The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys. What if Napoleon didn’t die in exile? What if he swapped identities with a lowly sailor and made it back to Paris?What then?

One of the UK’s most unique theatre companies creates this poignantly moving and wryly humorous re-imagining of the final years of Napoleon Bonaparte. Using their trademark comic physicality Told by an Idiot explore the absurdity of trying to retrieve time and glory. An irreverent and hugely playful show about what it is to lose immense power but gain personal freedom; to transition from one identity to another, and to lose public face.

Following their collaboration on the smash-hit My Perfect Mind there’s nothing quite like it... Paul Hunter will take the role of Napoleon under the direction of Award-winning actor and director Kathryn Hunter. 

 

 

 

Actors' tips on how to memorise your lines

When asked for audition advice, many actors will tell you, “Know your lines as well as possible. That way you’re free to focus on everything else without holding a script.” Sounds simple, right? But what if your audition is tomorrow, or in three hours? How can you memorize your lines as quickly as humanly possible?

Learning lines quickly is a matter of conditioning; it takes practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Visualize what you’re talking about, rather than focusing strictly on how to say it. If you have very little imagery in the text you’re attempting to commit to memory, flex your imagination. Imagine what the language in the text reminds you of, then picture each thought using as many of your senses as possible to recall each thought (each line). In other words, picture what you’re talking about with as much sound, movement, and imagery as possible. Walk around your room and place each thought in a different spot as you do. This engages sight and your own movement as well, and explains why we learn our lines best when on our feet. The results may astound you.

Others think that actors shouldn’t be memorizing lines. Memorization is not acting. You cannot simply memorize a Shakespeare play and then regurgitate it on stage. You can do that, but no one will come to the second show. Just like in Shakespeare, once you understand the meaning behind the words, then his words flow freely as if they are the actor’s own words. Memorization is also not comprehension. Just because an actor memorizes a sequence of words doesn’t mean they understand the words—that’s why actors can be thrown off so easily in the room when they flub or mispronounce a word. 

Playwright Jim Cartwright Drama Studio's Quiet Revolution

Cartwright, whose plays include The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and Road, holds three drama classes every Sunday. He started the classes in 2015 after reading comments from Dame who said she would not be able to afford to become an actress if she was starting out again."It made me really cross because I'm from a working class background," he says.

Reading articles about shrinking opportunities made him "like a bull with a sore head", he says. So his wife told him: "Don't get angry. Do something." He took her advice and set up the drama studio with the aim of bringing through more working class talent, advertising his services in his local fish and chip shop."I got a little card saying 'drama studio' and stuck it on a chippy wall. And I waited. And they came, and they came, and they keep coming."

Two years later, he has five classes in the two locations and has set up a talent agency to represent the budding stars. There is also a youth group. The adult class members range from people who have never set foot on stage to jobbing actors who are honing their skills. There are students, retired people, a few teachers, a former policeman, a fireplace salesman.

Cartwright's efforts come as privately educated actors like Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Damian Lewis seem to have taken over the TV, film and theatre landscape. Last year, The Sutton Trust found that 42% of the winners in three main Bafta award categories had gone to people from private schools, while Sky News recently calculated that 45% of the BBC’s best-paid stars were also privately educated. Also in 2016, researchers found that 16% of actors came from working class backgrounds - half the level of the population as a whole - and that the British acting profession was "heavily skewed towards the privileged."

Cartwright has turned drama teacher after more than 30 years as one of the most vital voices in British theatre. His debut play Road is currently back at the Royal Court in London, where it launched his career in 1986. He has also acted in TV shows like The Village, From Darkness and Coronation Street. With the Cartwright Drama Studio, he hopes to replicate the "explosion of energy and talent" that came with the Kitchen Sink movement of the 1950s. That was fading by the 1980s, he says, when he noticed "the floppy fringe coming back".

His students come from all sections of society. Some would identify as working class, some wouldn't. But he believes the mindset is what sets his studio apart. Cartwright brings casting directors and agents to see his students perform at regular showcases. Some have won small film and TV roles and are working on their own theatre shows and short films. There are no stars yet - but he is sure some have the talent to go all the way.

At the age of 19, Emma Heyes has studied acting at college and is attending the classes in preparation for auditioning for drama school. In the meantime, she's working on the checkouts at Tesco. She has already had enough acting experience to know her accent puts her at a disadvantage.

As part of the training, Cartwright tasks the group members with writing and performing monologues. He recommends one by 38-year-old Scott Brerton. Brerton reads it and it is a bittersweet tale of trying to remember what happened on a big night out. It is exactly the sharp, funny, full-of-life voice that Cartwright is trying to encourage. Brerton had not acted before he started coming to the classes six months ago. He has now been for his first audition and won his first role, performing in a three-night play in Liverpool last month.

It is early days for all concerned, and the "quiet revolution" may end with a whimper or a roar. But at any rate, Cartwright is on a mission to make it happen.

 

Self-Confidence and the Actor's Inner Voice

The way we talk to ourselves has a big impact on our acting abilities. Self-talk is the name given to the internal dialogue we constantly have with ourselves. When our inner voice is negative, it increases pressure and potential for failure. As actors our inner voices greatly influence our performances.

If our self-talk is damaging and turns into a permanent critic, it will constantly impede our progress. However by increasing concentration we can calm the inner voice down. Yoga, meditation or simple breathing and visualising exercises will quickly show great results. The secret is to incorporate these practices in your daily life so they become part of your being.

Once a state of calm can be reached and maintain periodically, it is time to invite positive thoughts about yourself and your acting capabilities. To start with, remembering big or small achievements on stage or in the rehearsal room, perhaps a drama teacher’s praise or a friend’s encouraging words may inspire you to find your own reasons to feel confident in yourself as an actor.

Little by little you will notice changes. Firstly, less stress will make your enjoy much more the performing experience. Then, this new confidence will allow you to step into new territories and therefore develop your drama skills: you'll become a better actor. With repeated effort and increased awareness the inner voice will become gentle and will provide support and motivation when faced with the next obstacle.

Creative visualization and mental rehearsal for actors

Creative visualization is the cognitive process of generating mental imagery, with eyes open or closed, simulating or recreating visual perception in order to maintain, inspect, and transform those images and consequently modifying their associated emotions and feelings with intent to experience a subsequent beneficial effect, alleviating anxiety, improving self-esteem and self-confidence, and enhancing the capacity to cope when interacting with others.

For actors, mental rehearsal can make a big impact on performance. Research shows that mentally rehearsing scenes, monologues or auditions in your head is almost as effective as actual rehearsal. The explanation is that the same neural pathways are activated by mental rehearsal as actual rehearsal.

So how should you mentally rehearse? First, relax, find somewhere comfortable and quiet and breathe deeply. In through the nose, then hold and out through the mouth.  Second, imagine in vivid details of sound, movement, feelings and visualisation, whatever you want to practise. Third, imagine it from beginning to end, including a successful conclusion. Fourth, repeat regularly. Mental rehearsal is a technique that athletes, musicians, doctors, soldiers, and even astronauts use to prepare for the worst and perform at their best. 

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