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Monday, May 14, 2007

On Acting - II

Mime, Movement, Music & (E)motion

I am not the first.
I will not be the last.
But it is sure... there is a lot of consonance between the spoken word and the expressed emotion. It is motion captured in eternity. Perhaps that explains why it is an emotion. But the eternal question is: did the sound derive from the action or vice-versa, whichever the language. My conjecture is, they are independent, but interdependent and symbiotic.

It is true that without sound, movement can exist. For, sound followed silence and still does. Through the movement is the noise born, as an object - organ or not - cuts through the wind space of time. Still, sound can be found in silence. Do not we say that silence after a while gets deafening? But, but...

The talk here is more about rhythmic sound also called music, rather than noise. How does it belong to the realm of speech?

We breathe. Therefore we are. Is breath not the same to speech as punctuation to syntax? Whereas the collusion of two alphabets categorised as a vowel and a consonant give birth to smoother breathing of a word, two apparently perfect bed-mates such as hard consonants produce a louder (in quality) sound. I consciously use the word collusion. Is it not experiential that the unhindered sound of a vowel and the laboured production of a consonant are opposing parties? And yet when they combine they implicitly produce rhythmic sounds? Also, the consonancy arises because of the consonants. They are the Zeroes to the Ones that are Vowels (again, that oxymoron 'One...are'!). Without this marriage, the life of language cannot go on.

Anyway, music is, after all, a certain rhythm pattern of sound. Instrumental rhythm is made understandable to lesser mortals requiring (or in obstinate and polemical cases, even 'demanding') codification and structural logic through notations and textualised grammar. It takes a higher level of implicit honesty in a mind to understand the inherent grammar of music that is experienced than analysed. Blessed are such emotinally sensitised souls. These are the true jazz musicians, who understand those hundreds of rigid grammatical rules inside the science of sound production and yet do not make a beeline for it consciously. In fact, it is ridiculous to even describe grammar as rigid since the concept of grammar was invented in the first place to help bring about an organised approach to achieve the ultimate quest of the soul - perfection, fluidity and grace. It is the same with words. So, then, the duty of an actor becomes it to sensitize oneself towards this task. To become a jazz master of the spoken word. To seek to express effortlessly and gracefully that the speech brings joy to the ears of the listener. In some case, the master of technique is there. The elocution powers of some actors far surpass a great orator that speech just remains a thing to marvel at and not empathise with.

What use is a speech that just touches the aesthetics and has not social effect? The same as a torrent of emotional confabulation that is not well enunciated. The attempt of the actor must be to bring about the poetry and rhythm of the word and the psychological connection to the context. It is then that the body that expressed those spoken words, the mind that motorised it and the meaning that the recipient audience received combine to make a holistic experience. Consequently, the word receives a communicative value in the context of the speaker-listener relationship. This is the true purpose of the spoken word.

Now, having said that, the whole trick (not a parlour trick, mind you!) is in giving the silence before the spoken moment its due space. The recipient audience as well as the uttering voice 'must' experience this space of silence before the utterance.


Because........... in this space does the body go through what the to-be-spoken word feels like; what the yet-to-be-voiced sound does to its (the body's) existence. That is why reaction becomes a key factor in exchange of dialogues in life as in stage. Else, acting whether in life or on stage would be one long spiel of improvisation. There is a lot of freshness in that because it keeps each person guessing. But it gets boring after a while like the characters in Horovitz's Line. They don't quite become Vladimirs and Estragons even after 25 years!

I am not an advocate of 'Naturalism' or the 'as is what is or where is' school of theatre and acting. I do, nevertheless, contradictorily, believe in the passage of an actor to a character. You may ask how! There be some who believe acting is a craft and solely a craft. NO... NO... NO! You can't mechanise your body to search for a certain moment of truthful movement. Without sensitising the muscles how can one 'feel' the movement.
Assuming the brain can be trained to 'detect' the movement twitches the muscles can perform, how would it connect to the spoken word on stage? If it cannot, how does communication between actor and spectator occur, what use is a text but an excuse for these two figures to meet from either side of the fence that is the fourth wall? Therefore...

An actor, I believe is an instrument of the state. (I use the word instrument consciously, in the full knowledge that it belongs to the area of technology and not of sense) A State of Mind. An actor in front of an audience or a group of audiences has the job of conveying the emotions of the character s/he is playing truthful to the body's experience. The body that s/he inhabits. Although the body is devoid of pain, and emotions are the visiting cards of psychological impressions (that are in turn results of the mind's recognition of grammatised and codified structures created by us, the civilised animals), these truthfully belong to the region called brain functions. That is why an actor is the instrument of a state of mind at a given time in a specific mental space represented or presented on stage through sets, backdrops or sceneries... or sometimes just furns or objects... or blocks of wood that homogenise and neutralise the naturalistic creation of a bedroom or garden.

You may think, as a result, if you followed the rationale behind my argument, that Stanislavskian 'method mumble' and Meyerhold's 'physics of speech' are no different. Lecoq and Strasberg are merely the obverse sides of a classical coin of acting; that all these talk about realism and naturalism, representationalism and presentationalism, impressionism and expressionism are just corollaries and theories of the same belief. Yes. There is only one Truth. It is not out there... but in here. The truth lies in the tooth. And the tooth is out there... in the way of our breath, which the body experiences.

This perhaps, then, is why the art of acting originated in mime (or acts without sounds), movement, rhythm and in course of time, orchestrated rhythm, appended through percussion and wind instruments. My credo is, an actor must learn to breathe and breathe properly with the sole focus being to fill the body... in a yogic sort of way. When one breathes deep and in total concentration, oblivious to external impressions, one's body goes through an experience that is truly exhilarating, revealing and releasing. That is when we de-mechanise and defamiliarise ourselves to the sensory experiences that have come to clutter out modern and day-to-day lives. That is when the sounds really connect to meanings civilisations have attached to them. That is when a sound becomes a word, a verbal symbol of a pictoral object such as rose or lemon or violence or Kafka or sky.

In the last 300 odd years since the Industrial revolution, we have de-centralised the sounds and individualised the noises to the noise of a scooter or the noise of a baby in need of diapers or the noise of the commode flush or the noise of amplified and mic-ed voice et al. But we have not thought about the capability of the brain to store and retrieve when required all these noises. We go about our hurly burly daily existence forgetful of the complexity we have webbed us in. An actor suffers as a result of this, because an actor has ceased to realise the specialness of oneself and has gone about becoming another zombie on the move in the traffic of daily life. Time we helped break an actor's un-trance.

Let's start breathing genuinely.

1 comment:

Srini said...

Dear (sir) KK,

Beautiful, and as you would like "meaningful" last line that almost sums the post! I caught up on both the posts today and liked - or perhaps understood better - the second post - despite its intrinsic complexities - more than the first because I could associate with it much better.
No prizes for guessing therefore that the section on silence and sounds and consonants as bed-mates and vowel-production was a joy to read... it was a beautiful - and perhaps poetic - exposition of one of the essential tenets of the phonetics of the human vocal folds and the Phonology of various languages.
I am afraid my ramblings might be tangential... due to my lack of expertise in the theatre department. But I truly cherished reading the posts: both beautifully written and I guess invested with the sort of clarity and vehemence one tends to associate with you.
And the part where you talk of "trance" a la Bhakti and bring to compare it with acting, which should also be a trance, is quite poignant... for though the analogue initially seems merely "lovely" I am sure it has deeper manifestations that... which ties down with your reference - towards the end of the post - about us having de-centralised noises and the need for actors to observe the real actors - people - and learn from LIFE!!!

However on the following question:

"What use is a speech that just touches the aesthetics and has not social effect?"

I guess while a throughly pragmatic view - whether ones talks of theatre or life in general - makes it a rhetoric question whose obvious answer I support, I still do believe there is, or there was, place for speech merely as an aesthetic medium alone. I guess it all depends on one's own commitment to and through the spoken word too (commitment not in the sense of a vow, mind you!)
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read though I am inadequate to understand the import of it all...