5/30/2018: AWS Advanced Class Recap: “M’Lord Hamlet!”


Great work on the 30th, everybody! I really had a great time working with you all! Here is a recap of what we covered – if you’re looking for the Gilmore Girls scenes we filmed, you can scroll down to the bottom of this post. That’s where I’ll embed them once they finish uploading to YouTube…

We started class with Coach’s Notes, and then had a good discussion on Theatricality vs. Naturalism. We talked (finally!) about Konstantin Stanislavsky, and the impact he had on theater, with the formation of the Moscow Art Theater in 1898. We discussed how theater since the time of ancient Greece was very focused on the external work that an actor needs to do to perform effectively live, in front of a large audience (in Ancient Greece, outdoor theaters held up to 14,000 people!). You needed to be very big, larger than life, and clear in your outward presentation.

Once naturalism began to take hold (in the late 1800s), it caused an uproar, revolutionizing theater, as far as what was possible in a live production. It attempted to recreate life as we know it, down to the detail, on stage, and had actors setting “theatricality” aside in order to act like themselves (like “real people”) in their performance. Stanislavsky first experienced the naturalistic approach to theater by watching a touring German Theater Group called “Meiningen” in the mid 1890’s…

This tempting theory [of naturalism] was enthusiastically adopted by the Art Theatre, the leaders of which had already had occasion of seeing how it worked in practice. Only a few years before they launched their theatre, the famous German company of the Meiningen actors, under the leadership of Cronegk, had paid a visit to Moscow and startled the public by the extraordinary realistic effects it was able to produce, both in the setting and the method of acting. With this example in their mind the Art Theatre boldly proclaimed the gospel of naturalism as the only road to salvation–and proceeded eagerly to emulate Cronegk.

Stanislavsky devoted the rest of his life to developing methods of best achieving effective naturalistic acting, and turning it into a teachable curriculum. This played itself out dramatically in America, laying the foundation for the craft landscape as we know it today, with most techniques and schools of thought tracing back to Stanislavsky in one way or another.

We’ll talk more about it as the weeks progress.

His approach was not universally accepted – it had it’s strong detractors, including Bertolt Brecht, whom we also discussed in class, with his opposite approach to theater – trying to make sure the audience remains fully aware that they are watching theater, and not to attempt to have the audience connect emotionally with the play AT ALL, but rather use the theater experience to energize the audience to go out into the world and change it for the better. Brecht strongly believed that the Naturalistic approach to theater only strengthened the societal problems that needed to change, and thus was counterproductive in the extreme.

If you’re feeling brave, you can learn more about Brecht and the Alienation Effect in THIS VIDEO, if you want. But bring your thinking cap: this lady dives deep…


We then rolled forward with our Cold Read Audition, which I turned into an actual audition, having you read sides from a play that I wrote called Front and Center (which has strong Brechtian influences, actually), which I do hope to produce at some point. It was a lot of fun having you all audition, and it led to some good conversation in the aftermath. And who knows? It could lead to an actual play gig for one or more of you…

Then I fired up a pair of video clips, comparing a scene from Hamlet, performed theatrically (by Laurence Olivier and Jean Simmons in the 1948 film version) and performed naturalistically (by Mel Gibson and Helene Bonham Carter in the 1991 film version), to see how the same content can be performed in radically different ways.

I plan on pulling this scene from as many different versions of Hamlet as I can, and editing together a video essay comparing them. I’ll post it when I finish it, sometime in the future, in case you’re as fascinated by the play as I am…

Some of you enjoyed the clips, others of you were not impressed. ­čÖé Both styles are legitimate; however, I believe that pure theatricality (like Olivier’s) is clunky and ineffective on film, and more at home on live stage, where “bigger and simpler” is better (for the most part).

Moving on, we broke out the scenes from Gilmore Girls that we passed out last week. I then took you out of the classroom, in pairs, to film your scenes on the go, down the hall, into the elevator, and into the lobby. We then did another take coming back up again. On occasion, we filmed at the banister overlooking the lobby instead.

I had so much fun doing this! I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. You seemed to all get a charge out of adding movement and physicality to the scenes. You all had great moments. The camera work was a little shaky on my part, and the ISO levels were all over the place (as you’ll see), but the point of the exercise wasn’t making perfectly filmed results, but to get you guys to stretch your wings a bit. I think it worked.

Scroll down to the bottom to see examples of the work.

While I was filming you in pairs, the rest of you got a chance to watch the results of the taped auditions from earlier in the evening.

We ran out of time before I could show you the last video I had prepared. I was going to embed it here, but I think I’ll wait and show it in class next week.

In the interim, if all this talk on theater history piqued your interest, I’ll point you toward an amazing YouTube channel called CrashCourse (sponsored by PBS), which has a terrific series of fun episodes on the history of theater (as well as other topics, film related and otherwise). Well worth bookmarking and exploring.

Please follow THIS LINK, which will (hopefully) take you right to the CrashCourse Playlist on Theater History.

Thanks again to all who came to class. More fun stuff coming up!

Dave Wagner
AWS Staff


Here are the videos of the class work. I’ll tell you next week the easiest way to download them off of YouTube, if you’d like.

By |2018-06-07T11:08:58-07:00May 31st, 2018|Advanced Acting Blog|