University of Hartford
Popular in The Development of the Theatre
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This 10 page Class Notes was uploaded by Emi Almonacy on Monday January 4, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ENG 368-0 at University of Hartford taught by Amanda Walling in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 16 views. For similar materials see The Development of the Theatre in University Studies at University of Hartford.
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Date Created: 01/04/16
1 Preparing to Act Relaxation Every actor knows the importance of relaxation, for it is the necessary starting place for acting. Relaxation is both physical and mental; it allows the body to respond freshly and the mind to create spontaneously. A relaxed actor can do anything; a tense actor is always constrained. Relaxation cannot be forced, but it can be induced or selfinduced. Simple stretching exercises—rolling the head in large circles, bending the body forward and back, and moving the fingers, hands, arms, and legs in figureeight patterns—are excellent warmup techniques that both tone body muscles and release physical tensions. Bouncing lightly on the balls of the feet; vigorously shaking the arms, hands, face, and torso; and rapidly shadowboxing or ropejumping also limber and relax the body. Almost all actors develop physical regimens of exercises like these to use before rehearsals and performances, and you should too. Many acting classes begin with such warmups. If yours doesn’t, you can do your own warmup beforehand. Mental relaxation is a matter of putting out of mind the daytoday affairs of life so that you can concentrate more directly and fully on the problems of acting and on the situation of the characters you will play. Inasmuch as acting is, among other things, a complex mental activity, the more freedom you have from your own daily preoccupations, the more deeply you will be able to involve yourself with your acting situation, even during periods of extreme stress in your personal life. Physical exercise is often a help to achieving this mental relaxation; so are meditation, yoga, thinking about pleasant images, or “playing” soothing music in your head. One of the best ways of achieving mental relaxation in an acting class is simply to look around you and study what you see. What color are the walls? How many people are in the class? Does your teacher wear contact lenses? Are the other students as nervous as you? Who brought their books to class today? Since most mental tension comes from thinking about ourselves (and how we might be failing to measure up), thinking about other people helps us to relax and put the world in a better perspective. LET YOUR BODY GO Young actors first work through tension because it’s the only thing they know. But it’s most inefficient. Do exercises where you let every muscle in your body go, one at a time. Then your body is ready to react to whatever command you give it; your thoughts and emotions will resonate with truth. LAURENCE OLIVIER, ADVISING THE YOUNG ANTHONY HOPKINS Relaxation is the starting point for acting, not the ending point. Don’t ever confuse relaxation with “not thinking.” Relaxation is not stupor; it is a state of openness and receptivity to your surroundings—a state unmarked by extreme preoccupation or worry. Go ahead and think all you want, but don’t burrow into your thoughts and dwell on yourself. Relax with your eyes wide open, with your senses fully awake, and with the idea of taking in all you can. EXERCISE 1—1 Relaxation Stand easily, legs slightly apart, with enough room around you to stretch your arms in all directions. While inhaling, extend your arms fully upward and outward. On your exhale, release your arms totally and let them drop to your sides. Release all the tension in your fingers, then your wrists, then your elbows, then your shoulders. Repeat the preceding exercise four times. Starting with the third repetition go up on your toes as you inhale, and let your heels drop as you exhale. Try to extend your arms and to rise farther each time, and release your fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders farther as well. Shake out your left leg for three full breaths, then your right leg; then repeat. Roll your neck around from left to right on the repeat. Hands on hips, shudder your body and release all tension while taking five deep breaths. Avoid hyperventilating. From the same position, rotate your body all the way to the left and then to the right three times. Then, hands still on hips, bow forward as far as you can, vertebra by vertebra, with your arms hanging to the floor, releasing all tension in your back, shoulders, arms, and fingers as you do so. Hang there for a long moment, taking a deep breath and enjoying the release. Slowly come back up, one vertebra at a time, until you are standing tall and freely erect. Do not compete with the persons next to you! This is a relaxation exercise, not a test of strength, speed, or agility. Swing twice more to the left and the right, and bow a final time, shuddering your body as you come up. On a full breath, exhale while saying “HUH, bubba buh, bubba buh, bubba buh!” Do it four more times, a bit louder each time. On a full breath, exhale while saying “Brekka korex, korex, korex, korex.” Repeat three more times, a bit louder each time. (This line, by the way, is an approximation of the “croaking chorus” of The Frogs by Aristophanes—a play twentyfive hundred years old!) Do this line three more times, this time croaking each “korex” a tiny bit louder than the one immediately before it, as “Brekka korex. Korex! Korex!! KOREX!!!” Exhale on “HUH, bubba huh, bubba buh, bubba buh!” while twisting your body left and right. Continue twisting with “Brekka korex, korex, korex, korex!” Alternate the speeches while twisting and bowing three more times. Run in place—or jump an imaginary rope—for fifteen breaths. Go up on your toes and extend your arms fully one last time; then release and collapse gently into a relaxed standing position. You’re done. Trust Trust is also a precondition for acting. Because acting is something you do with, and in front of, other people, anxiety about those people can eat into your ability to act. Trust, like relaxation, cannot be forced, but you can’t sit around waiting for it to arrive, either. Trust is a mutual relationship between you and your fellow actor—students—a relationship marked by giving, sharing, and common concern. You must take the initiative here, because isolation and apathy invest the first classroom meeting with deadly inertia, and only the determined efforts of you and your fellows will break down the walls of carefully nurtured egotism and suspicion that characterize most groups of arbitrarily gathered strangers. If you can find your acting partner interesting, it will make you interested and interesting; if you find your partner fascinating, it will make you fascinated and fascinating. It is to your advantage to seek out what is admirable and wonderful in your fellow actors, the qualities that will make them prized companions and colleagues and will make you a lively partner dramatically engaged with them. A word about competition: The theatre is a highly competitive business at the upper levels, which means that you will need companions and colleagues all the more. The intensely personal moments that characterize the greatest performances rarely come forth in a climate of contention or antagonism or through the isolation of seemingly selfsufficient individual actors. Rapport among actors, developed through trusting ensemble work, is the context of fine performance. Actor trust means, at bottom, that you are comfortable with your fellows and they with you. It is the feeling that you can make a fool of yourself without embarrassment and can be emotionally open without getting stepped on. Acting exposes personal vulnerabilities (good acting does, anyway). An atmosphere of trust ensures that those exposures are not callously rubbed raw—that indeed they will become, if anything, therapeutic rather than humiliating and enjoyable rather than discouraging. Trust develops first out of selfconfidence and out of shared activities among the acting group. Trust exercises and games are often used; even children’s games are frequently brought into classes or rehearsals by teachers and directors sensitive to the need for mutual trust. Pure socializing has its important place in the work of actors, both in class and in the professional world. Mutual massage or mutual back rubs are also beneficial, both for trust and for relaxation. An excellent basic warmup involving both is the following “spine lengthening” exercise adapted from the Alexander technique (see Lesson 18). EXERCISE 1—2 Spine Lengthening Pair with a partner. One person lies down on a mat, face up, knees raised. The other gently pulls the supine actor’s head away from the torso, tilting the chin down slightly at the same time. Going around the supine body, the massaging actor gently pulls one limb at a time away from the torso center, pulling along the limb, and then at the extremities, returning to the head after each limb. At the end of the massage, the actor is rolled to one side and invited to curl into a fetal position. The actor can then be gently raised to an erect position, his or her head is lifted up and away one last time, and the actors reverse positions. This exercise induces a sense of wellbeing in addition to relaxation and trust; each actor will feel about two inches taller at the end of it. Neither trust nor relaxation comes about automatically, and for some people neither will come easily at all. Each of us brings different fears and tensions into our work. In general, the more you can focus away from yourself, and can recognize the uniqueness and beauty of the persons around you, and can respond to the world with wonder rather than with irritation and envy, the more you will be in the creative state that will permit you to act deeply, fully, and with spirit. Exuberance Acting—in nearly all of its forms—requires a level of performance energy that more sedentary activities, like writing or studying, ordinarily do not. It also requires, during actual moments of performance, a positive and uncritical attitude so that you can carry through your performance tasks with confidence rather than selfdoubt. Putting these two together—energy and positive attitude—we may say that acting requires a level of spirited exuberance and a willingness to make a fool of yourself in public if need be, neither of which is often seen elsewhere in daily academic life. Such exhibitionism (as it is sometimes called) does not come easily, and we all come to acting with social conditioning that inhibits public displays of exuberance. No one need immediately start shouting, grimacing, actingup, and actingout in public to prove that he or she is an actor, but regular public performance activities, such as singing in a choir or musical, reading aloud in class or in staged play readings, giving political speeches for class elections, teaching classes, or even speaking in classroom discussions are all useful in developing performance energy and exuberant expression. Here’s a simple exercise that helps break barriers as well. EXERCISE 1—3 BAMPOW, Dance, Sing 1. Shadowbox Make two fists, and bouncing from foot to foot, with one fist (normally the right) held up to protect your chin, jab at an imaginary opponent with the other, extending your arm fully each time. As you do this, shout “BAM!” with every blow. Continue to bounce from foot to foot, dodging your imaginary opponent’s imaginary blows (“Ropea dope,” Muhammad Au called this). When you see an (imaginary) opening, hit your opponent with your other fist—a potentially knockout punch known as a cross (a “right cross” if done with your right fist). With every cross, shout “POW!” Use your “Barns” and “Pows” to cheer yourself on, to frighten your opponent into submission, and to encourage others to cheer for you (which will frighten your opponent even more). Exult in your (imaginary) victory. Attract a crowd. 2. Dance Balancing on the balls of your feet, step forward on one foot while extending the same arm, wrist forward, in the same direction, letting your fingers follow after the wrist has reached its maximum extension. The movement is identical to throwing a Frisbee. At the moment when the fingers follow (or the imaginary Frisbee is released), cry “Dance!” Repeat with the other leg and arm, and keep repeating, in alternation, crying “Dance!” with each move. Continue, switching to the word “Ballet!” As you step on your right foot, go up on your toes on your left foot, and vice versa. Say the word “ballet” in a way that encourages others to appreciate the beauty of ballet (whether or not you find it beautiful). Continue, switching to the word “L’amour!” (the French word for “love,” pronounced “laMOOR!”) and imagining that you are casting beautiful flower petals—as love tokens—at the feet of beautiful persons. Say the word “L’amour” in a way that encourages others to think you a wonderful and imaginative lover (whether or not you think you are). Exult in your magnificent ballet moves and your beautiful tossing of flower petals. (Feel like a fool yet? Good; you’re doing fine. But in acting, you’ll have to do equally ridiculous things —and believe in them! This is just to get you started.) 3. Sing With your feet planted firmly on the ground, and with one hand on your belly and the other extended before you, sing an aria whose notes you invent and whose sole lyric consists of several repetitions of the word “Aria!” Exult in your operatic splendor. Hear cries of “Bravo!” in your head. Continue, switching to “HUH, bubba huh, bubba huh, bubba buh!” Don’t just do these exercises; do them exuberantly! Discipline DISCIPLINE To be an actor in the theatre is to teach yourself and keep yourself disciplined and honorable. And if you do that, you get a chance to fly in this kind of emotional paradise that acting can be. Acting is just as hard as ditch digging. And if you do all the yeoman work, inspiration will come. FRANK LANGELLA It goes without saying that an actor must be a disciplined artist. Inasmuch as the theatre is a collaborative art, discipline is essential to the effectiveness of the collaboration. Without discipline, trust disappears. If you can’t trust your fellow actor to show up for rehearsal, you can’t trust her or him to be sensitive to your feelings. As a result, theatre artists must be particularly punctual and responsible, must meet all of their obligations on time (and precisely on time), and must be fully prepared to expend their energies in the pursuit of high standards of artistic effort. That “the show must go on~~ is a wellknown cliché does not detract from its serious importance in the theatre world. Theatre is not a casual activity, and the intensity of the theatrical experience is made possible only by the dedication and commitment of theatre artists to collaborate fully and responsibly with each other on a continuing basis. Discipline makes you someone who can be counted upon, and it makes you able to count upon the commitment of others. There is no better place to start learning artistic discipline than in an acting class. Criticism Every actor, from the beginner to the veteran professional, must learn to come to grips with criticism. There is no way around it. Criticism come~ from instructors, fellow students, audiences, directors, the press, neighbors parents, friends, competitors, and avowed enemies. Some is constructive some instructive, some destructive, and some entirely beside the point Some you will find useful; some you will find inane; some you will inevitably find unfair. And let’s make no mistake about it: Criticism hurts Anybody who says it doesn’t is either a fool or a liar. The reason criticism hurts the actor more than it hurts other artists is that the art of the actor comes directly out of the actor himself or herself therefore, criticism of the actor usually takes the form of criticism of the actor’s voice, movement, feelings (or seeming lack of feelings), expression, or personality. Some socalled criticisms of acting published in widely read magazines take the form of vitriolic attacks on the personal appearance or mannerisms of an actor. It is understandable, therefore, that actors in general tend to take criticism personally—and that’s why it hurts. The best way to relate to criticism of your work is to profit from it. As a beginner~ you must realize that you have much to learn and that persons with some experience in the theatre can be of great help to you. While wellintended and constructive criticism is obviously going to be the most helpful to you, you can learn from callous criticism as well—as long as you filter it properly. The important things are not to take criticism too personally and not to waste a lot of time defending yourself. In the long run, it means little if the criticism is fair or unfair. If you can learn from it, use it. If you can’t learn from it, forget it. All criticism is subjective in the final analysis, and you’re not going to please everybody. You should be aiming at steady growth, greater comfort onstage, and greater freedom to go out on one emotional limb after another. Any suggestions or critiques that you can turn to your advantage are not only to be dealt with, they should be sought after with persistence. The finest actors do not try to avoid criticism; they solicit it. A Playful Attitude OPEN AND PLAYFUL. I was fairly playful, and I think that, really, the space to be in as an actor is open and playful and listening and exploring. SUSAN SARANDON, ON WHAT LED HER INTO ACTING Acting is a serious, but never a solemn, art. While its historic roots may lie partly in religious worship, they lie equally in “play,” which includes child’s play and actingout (if not actingup). In acting, you must develop a healthy balance between disciplined commitment and creative playing, and between studying the reality around you and investigating the imagination within you. Like play, theatre is entertaining—not only for the audience but for you the actors (players) as well. Theatre provides you a very special entertainment, one rooted in deep involvement, energetic effort, and creative improvisation, all within a focused framework. Theatre is mind filling, just like volleyball, chess, and PingPong. Indeed, acting alternates with sports as the chief object of our leisuretime attention; and acting and sports— plays and play—are surprisingly similar activities. For this reason, beginning acting classes— as well as some professional acting ensembles—often begin their work with a few games. Acting is work, but it is also play. If you forget that, you lose a crucial aspect of this very subtle art. Freedom Finally, the actor must learn to be free—free from physical and psychological inhibition—and must learn to enjoy that freedom. The actor must be free to think, feel, touch, and be touched. Above all, the actor’s imagination must be unhindered. Relaxation, trust, discipline, and an effective response to criticism all play a part in this—relaxation and trust because they promote uninhibited interaction, discipline because it establishes a limit to gratuitous encroachment of the actor’s physical privacy (preventing, Lot example, unwarranted sexual groping), and a response to criticism that allows the actor to grow, not shrivel, from his or her experience. The free actor can imagine anything. Fantasy is the actor’s playground unbridled fantasy is the prerequisite to playing Romeo or Juliet, George o Martha. An actor afraid to fantasize, afraid to imagine the unimaginable, is an actor unacceptably bound to a narrow spectrum of emotional life. Play and scenes may be outwardly mild; inwardly they are usually stormy and violent. The actor’s mind must be able to play freely with the inner turmoil c the character: The actor’s mind must be open to lust, terror, joy, and exaltation by turns—and must be open to playing the actions that emanate from those mental states. Acting is emotionally risky. Indeed, one of the joys of acting is in taking those risks. The exercises and suggestions that follow in this book, and experience that will ensue in any acting class, will lead into these emotional risky areas. An actor obdurately refusing to follow that lead—an actor who instead, retreats behind a fixed image of herself or himself—is not free to a Preparation You may begin to study acting at any age. Indeed, the study of acting is variably a prerequisite to the study of other theatre arts, such as directing is also a useful preparation for public speaking, politics, law, business, a any profession where selfexpression and communication are important. But there are some useful things that you can do or study before beginning to act. Dance, in any fashion, is most helpful to the beginning actor because it teaches a physical mode of performance. Athletics also provides a good background for acting because of the energy it demands and because of the public nature of its exhibition. Singing, poetry reading (and writing), and storytelling are exceptionally helpful because they involve language and performance and getting at the heart of feelings in a constructive way. Reading (novels, plays, and biographies) helps the young actor to understand the complexities of human life, including varieties of human experience not immediately observable in the actor’s environment. And of course, theatregoing is a prime preparation for acting: seeing the potentials of performance, and seeing the work of accomplished actors firsthand. Summary The precursors to acting—relaxation, trust, exuberance, discipline, the response to criticism, a playful attitude, freedom to act, and prior preparation—do not simply appear on command; nor need you have them in your hip pocket before your first class in acting. They are developed continually in a beginning actor’s work, and they need refreshing throughout an actor’s career They will stand you in good stead whether you become an actor or not, for they are also useful preparations for the interactions of daily life, for relationships of every order, whether personal or professional. And they are the sort of basic goals you should check yourself out on regularly as you pursue your studies toward artistic advancement in the theatre or elsewhere. 2 What Is Acting? EXERCISE 2—1 Pledge Your Allegiance to a Flag* Imagine there is an American flag on the front wall of your classroom. Pledge allegiance to it. Here are the words: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Go ahead. Good. Now repeat the exercise, very sincerely. When you finish, as before, don’t move or talk; just keep looking at the imaginary flag. Go ahead. Keep looking at the flag. * This exercise might best be led by an instructor prior to the first assignment out of this book. A video of the author conducting this exercise may be purchased on VHS cassette from Insight Media (www.insightmedia.com) or on DVD from First Light Video (www.firstlightvideo.com). Now imagine the following situation: You are not and have never been an American citizen, nor have visited America, nor indeed have ever been outside your own country, which is across an ocean from America. The country where you have lived your entire life has, in the past years, come under the rule of a tyrannical regime that regularly persecutes—for no reason—people of your race or ethnic origin. This persecution has gotten much worse in recent months. Goon squads are driving through your village arresting people at will. You hear cries of torture from a military post right outside of town. There is no mail, television, radio, telephone, or communications from the outside world, and you are not allowed to criticize the regime to your friends or even your family. And yesterday your little sister was picked up by the goon squad and driven away, screaming for help. You have decided you must leave your country by any means. You sneak out of your town in the dead of night, with nothing but the clothes you are wearing, and walk toward the distant ocean. Eventually you manage to get on a boat headed to the United States. After a long, miserable crossing, you now, miraculously, find yourself standing on the sand of a beach, facing inland. In front of you is a hill, covered in green grass; on the top of the hill flies an American flag. You have never seen a real American flag, but you have seen pictures of it. You believe America to be a land of freedom, justice, and democracy, and you decide you will, before proceeding farther, write your own prosepoem offering to become an ally of all Americans. Your prosepoem will declare not only your allegiance to this cloth symbol of the United States, but also your bond with its democratic government and free citizens. Still facing this (imaginary) flag, make your pledge to it: However, the words of your prosepoem just happen to be the identical words of the Pledge of Allegiance cited above. But these are your own words now, and you are making them up as you say them. On your own time, and without making any effort to say this prosepoem in unison with anyone else, go ahead. Keep looking at the flag. Now give the pledge one more time: This time, when you come across the four words or phrases described below, think of the possible alternatives—the sort of words you might previously have said under these circumstances, or could otherwise say—before you choose the one precise word that is in the pledge as you have twice now given it. These words or phrases are: “allegiance” In your former country, you had to pledge your “obedience.” But that wouldn’t be right here: You’re going to he an “ally” of the flag, not a slave to it. On the other hand, what’s the single word that means “an ally of”? You don’t remember saying this word ever in your life, but you know it: It’s “allegiance.” So your thinking (in parentheses) that accompanies these first words is something like: “I pledge ... (not obedience but, ummm .) allegiance . . “United States of America” When you and your friends talked about this country in earlier times, you always said “America” or “USA” or “the US.” But that seems a little too informal at this moment, doesn’t it, when you are pledging to be an ally of it? “republic” What were those definitions of governmental forms we heard about in school? Dictatorship, monarchy, empire . . . no, America is probably a . . . “republic.” “under God” In your old country, your nation was ruled by the tyrant, and the army, and the rich, and the upper class, or the favored ethnic group. Your new nation, to which you would pledge allegiance, would recognize only one higher power—if any—and thus would only find itself “under God.” Pledge your allegiance this time as before, but choosing—immediately before you speak them—these four words or phrases from your list of possible alternatives. On your own time, as before, go ahead. Keep looking at the flag. Now you are going to give the pledge one more time, exactly as before, except that this time when you come to the word “United” in the country’s name you are going to reflect on the fact that what became the United States was originally a group of independent states—and the people in them—that chose to unite and that now you have chosen to unite with them. As you say the word “United,” then, let the people behind the flag, who have already united with each other, know that you are coming to unite with them. And how about the people standing next to you? For the first time, listen to them and discover that they, too, seem to be pledging their allegiance—in words that sound amazingly like yours. You must now realize you are not an isolated escapee from another land but, rather part of a group of emigrants, all fleeing to a country that promises liberty and justice—not just to you, but to all. So—without looking at these other people—start blending your voice with the voices around you. Unite with them. Make clear to your fellow emigrants—purely by the sound of your voice—that you hear them and that you are willing to help them and gain their help as well, in a united cause. And when you come to the words “one nation,” say this phrase in unison with those around you, making this a united pledge rather than your own solo effort. And when you come to the word “indivisible,” let everybody on the ,each know that you will not let this group be divided again. The dictator n your home country, by not permitting the freedom of assembly or letting people communicate with each other; kept the citizens isolated: Persuade tour fellow emigrants that you will never let this happen again. And when you come to the words “for all,” insist to everyone—both beside you on the beach and three thousand miles behind the flag—that you will work to provide universal freedom and justice for all Americans, including the American you plan to become. So, starting on your own time, and beginning to listen and blend with the theirs on “United,” go ahead. Now one more time. Bend down and, with the hand you ordinarily throw with, pick up some 7naginary sand pebbles from the beach. Stand back up. This time you are going to make your pledge exactly as before, except that at the words “with liberty” you are going to turn around and face ~e ocean you have just crossed and, beyond that, the country from which you have fled. Thousands of miles from you are the goons that picked up your little sister. As well as the dictator who ordered them to perform those horrific deeds. As well as those friends and family members you left behind. Send your word “liberty” all the way across the ocean so that your friends and family can hear it—and can hear that you have made it across the ocean to a land that gives you the liberty to make a pledge such as us one. Send your words “and justice” to them as well—and also to the goons ~d the dictator and indeed the entire population of your country, so that they will know that justice does still exist in the world, which means that e days of the goons and dictators are numbered. And with the words “for all,” throw your sand pebbles all the way across the ocean, so as to blind the goons, and at the same time to float as signal of hope—angel dust if you will—upon your sister and your captive friends. Go ahead. That’s all. The exercise is over. What was the difference between the first pledging of allegiance and the last? If you are like the thousands of persons who have participated in this exercise, you will have noticed many if not all of the following changes that occurred: • The speech was more emotional. From a mere rote recitation, it move to an expression of real feeling. • The words were invested with meaning. What were at first vaguely understood concepts became specific political or personal principles. • You felt a sense of connection with other people, both the real ones next to you and the unseen, imaginary ones planted in the improvisation. • You felt connected personally to the words you were saying, which seemed to come not just out of your mouth, but out of your active mm as well. • You felt more creative, the creator and not merely the reciter of the text • You felt active, not passive. • You felt your emotions grow during the speech, rather than being static • You experienced exhilaration by the end, whereas the first time you only felt dutiful or even (when asked to pledge “sincerely”) a sense of failure • Technically, your pledge was, in general, louder, and by the end it ha built to an accelerating crescendo. The same was true for the pledges you heard others saying. • Also technically, the inflections (pitch changes), which had always gone downward between phrases (after “allegiance” and “flag,” for example, now often went upward, both for you and your fellow students. This exercise shows exactly what acting is. Acting is taking a memorized text, almost always written by someone else, and investing it with your own personal feelings, intelligence, communicative skills, interest in other people, and personality. All of these are brought out by living the situation that the dramatic character—in this case, an immigrant to the United States—experiences. And, as it happens, the abovebulleted “changes” in your reading from the first to the last pledge all represent what most people call “good theatre” and “good acting”: namely, acting that is emotionally vivid, intellectually precise, interpersonally communicative, personally authentic, creative, active, growing, and with variation, momentum, and uplift. Notice that none of these changes happened when you were simply asked, on the second time through, to “be sincere.” Indeed, you probably felt a sense of failure at that request (“Wasn’t I sincere the first time?”) and again in the pledge that followed, since you were made selfconscious about your level of sincerity (and being sincere basically means not “trying to put on an act,” which the “be sincere” command makes you do). Sincerity, and good acting (and of course great acting), comes from fully throwing yourself into a situation, not “putting on an act. Please note: This exercise is not about your or your author’s politics! ft is not about America or your belief (or disbelief) in God! It is only about acting. The improvisation is sheer fiction. If your ancestors came to the United States on slave ships, they moved from relative freedom to unspeakable oppression. Other immigrants came for business or family reasons; still others emigrated thousands of years ago, across the Bering Sea, long before anyone had conceived of “America.” And no one can seriously believe that America has provided liberty or justice for everyone—all the time. All you are asked to do, in this exercise, is act the role of a person who has had, and is having, the described experience. And you are asked to imagine that you could throw sand pebbles across an ocean, which of course can happen only in fantasy. Acting, and the imagination that powers it, create all the bulleted points listed above. Summary So, by experiencing this improvisation, you have learned—by doing it—the most basic nature of acting. You have taken a memorized text, written by someone else,* and, by accepting, elaborating on, and playing a situation, invested it with your own person. Almost everything in the rest of the book will build upon what you have experienced in this fundamental exercise. The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy, a staff writer for Youth’s Companion; it was first published in the magazine’s September 8, 1892, issue. The phrase ‘under God” was added by Congress in 1954.
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