6/13/2018: AWS Advanced Class Recap: Check Chekhov Off!

Greetings, you talented bunch of thespians!

So, we got to wade knee-deep into Chekhov this week!

Class started with the Traditional Reading of the Coach’s Notes, whereby we acknowledge and congratulate those among us who (whom?) are hanging “job pegs” on the ol’ Career Board. This week, I got to bask a bit in the congratulations, having had a successful 48 Hour Film Project Weekend!

I’ve participated in this annual event for the past 5 years, and this year, I was fortunate enough to be Team Leader for our team, called Team Apex. We had 48 hours to craft a short film, from concept to finish. On Friday night, we were assigned the random genre choices of Drama or Sports Film, and given required elements: A character named Fernando/Fernanda who is a lifeguard; a cardboard box; and the line of dialog “That’s outside my comfort zone.” We were then turned loose to create a short film up to 7:30 in duration.

And create we did! I believe there were around 80 teams participating. Our team filmed at the beach in La Jolla Shores and at a gym in La Mesa. We had a fairly smooth, fun, comparatively-brief day of filming, and finished the film on time, 48 hours after beginning. We’ll have our screening on the 25th.

I showed you all the film in class (called Riptide). After our screening on the 25th of June, I’ll add the film to this post, for those that want to watch it again.

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We then took a few minutes to review the Stanislavsky exercises we worked on last week, before beginning work on our Sherlock scenes.

I had many of you on the cameras as we performed and filmed, and recorded the results. I’m going to post a compilation video super-cut here in the blog post once I finish the editing. Importing the files into Adobe Premiere caused the audio to get all wonky. I didn’t want to wait any longer to update the blog, so I’m doing that now, and will finish the work on the videos and add them later.

I also did some handheld filming for a scene or two with my Lumix – I’ll be incorporating that footage into the supercut as well.

The hope with the Sherlock scenes was that you’d be able to use some of the Stanislavsky work from last week in your scene prep. Wasn’t quite as evident in your work as I’d hoped. Which is fine, for now. We may linger on Stanislavsky and Chekhov another week or two, before moving on to the Group Theater, and the fascinating triumvirate of Adler, Meisner and Strassberg. My hope was to quick-hit one acting technique per week, but I think that ultimately might be too swift to be very productive. Gonna slow it down a week or two, and see how it goes.

After finishing with the scenework, we shifted gears again, and introduced Michael Chekhov and his philosophy towards acting.

Chekhov was a favorite pupil of Stanislavsky’s, in the earlier days of the Moscow Art Theater. Ultimately, Chekhov had some bad experiences with the Memory Recall work that Stanislavsky was doing (the process whereby the actor remembers, in detail, traumatic events in his past, with the purpose of being able to trigger the emotions on stage in a performance, to produce life-like, realistic emotional responses), which led to a nervous breakdown, and required therapy (and hypnosis!) to overcome.

Chekhov began to rethink the Naturalistic, realistic approach to theater that Stanislavsky so strongly promoted, and eventually parted ways with his mentor, formed his own company, and developed a technique that was more physical and artistic in nature. Chekhov felt Naturalism reflected and represented life as it really was, similar to a photograph. He felt theatrical storytelling was better served by representing life as it could be, as interpreted by the actor, as an artist. A painting, rather than a photograph.

Chekhov decided that people don’t go to the theater to see real life (they get enough of that every day), but they go to the theater to see something that resembles real life, only cranked up a few notches. Like real life with the contrast and saturation levels boosted. Life as it could be, not as it is. He felt actors needed room to create, rather than directly reflect.

His approach deals with the energy that the actor/artist has within him/herself, and tapping into that energy to marry the actor’s physical performance to what was going on within the actor at that moment. Rather than an actor standing there, feeling emotion and reacting “naturally”, the actor could train his/her body to move in concert with the feelings, a dance almost.

It’s better to see what I mean in action. And who better to demonstrate the possibilities of the psycho-physical connection than the man himself. Here’s a clip from the 1944 film “In Our Time” (dir. V. Sherman) in which Michael Chekhov himself employs his technique.

Look at the robust physical work that Chekhov saturates his performance with. You can’t take your eyes off of him! He makes the rest of the cast members look like lifeless statues. His every physical movement directly reflected the emotions he was feeling inside, moment by moment. When your inner energy is harnessed fully like this, your screen presence goes through the roof.

We watched a couple other videos in class to demonstrate this as well, including this clip from Season 1 of Broadchurch, featuring the spectacular work of Olivia Colman. [Spoiler alert!]

Again, notice the direct connection between her physical work and the inner turmoil she is feeling.

We also watched the Strudel Scene from Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglourious Basterds, featuring Christof Waltz and Melanie Laurent. The physical work is more subtle (by design) but no less powerful. The tension is palpable, and that moment at the very end, with that devastating sigh of relief – man, what a moment…

We went over the basics of Chekhov’s system, from Optimum Position, into Staccato/Legato, Expansion/Contraction, Floating/Sinking, and full-body pushing/pulling/lifting and smashing. These movements we performed together as a group, sending our “energy” out with each movement – and then sending the energy out before the movement! And then letting the energy linger out there after the movement was over. We tried it with smaller and smaller movements, until we tried it standing still, and sending the energy out and back again, by itself.

Yes, it was weird for many of you! But I encouraged you each to at least experiment with it, and try to find the gold in it, rather than merely dismissing it because it’s weird…

The idea being that instead of merely moving naturally, we bathe our movements in our energy, making each movement more powerful, energized, purposeful — and definitely more watchable. Don’t believe me? Watch that Chekhov clip from In Our Time again…

I left you with your Sherlock scenes again, with instructions to contemplate what you could add to your scenes physically, using some of what we covered with Chekhov. If you want to watch that episode of Sherlock, it’s on Netflix at the moment, and it’s in Season 3. The episode is called His Last Vow. You can see how the pros handled your scene, and try to reverse engineer it a bit, to get ideas on ways to approach the scene yourself.

We ended class with Kent, Jason and Alexandra performing their latest monologues. I had mentioned to Bryce and Alexandra that I would give them new monologues to work on, but forgot (sorry!) I’ll try to track down your email address this week, and email you new monologues. If not, I’ll bring them to class next week.

I taped Kent and Alexandra’s monologues and will post them below this post, for review. I didn’t tape Jasons, when I really should have. It was very solid. I’ll tape it in two weeks, when you return to class. I’d like you to see it in progress.

6/20 SNEAK PEEK:

  • We’ll do more Stanislavsy and Chekhov exercises.
  • Continue work on our Sherlock Scenes
  • Monologue work, if time permits.
  • And More!

Have a great weekend – and get out there and live!

Dave Wagner
AWS Staff

By |2018-06-17T10:14:02+00:00June 14th, 2018|Advanced Acting Blog|