Realisations and Intentions – an Acting Guide

Realisations and intentions - an Acting Guide_550
Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski via cc
We are delighted to republish Prof. John Palmer’s ‘Theatre Briefs’ series, Actor Hub hope you find them as useful as we have.
This series of short essays about acting is reprinted with the kind permission of Professor John P Palmer of London, Ontario, Canada. He wrote these ‘Theatre Briefs’ for use by students and fellow actors during classes and rehearsals. Where he has relied on material from others, they are cited.
A strong case can be made for Step 4 being the beginning, but the way John teaches, the Basic Acting Unit begins with Step 1, the intention, since it leads to the next step, the realisation, which is the first action we play. The reaction (Step 4) is precisely that, a reaction to something that has just happened and to which we react *in real time* as it would be experienced by the character. But our preparation for going onstage, or for the director to say “action,” is more deliberate, calculated, and drawn out than this, and thus doesn’t have the immediacy that reaction ought to have as Step 4 of the BAU.
The actor in performance should be both the artist and the art at the same time
In terms of preparation, everything that happened to the character before the dramatic event begins is not only useful, but essential, in determining that first intention, but ought not be confused with what we as the actor experience as if we were the character.
The former is intellectual, derived by conscious analysis by the actor, whereas the latter is arrived at in the moment through an interaction between that part of us that is the actor (objective, analytical) and that part of us that is the character (subjective, impulsive), both working together simultaneously. The actor in performance should be both the artist and the art at the same time.
Our “design” for the role, discovered and developed throughout rehearsal, involves a predetermined intention for each BAU (often the same for a sequence of BAUs), but these intentionS will be adjusted according to our specific reactionS to our partner or partners.
John Crowther writes:
In my first Broadway play, Something About A Soldier, I was playing the part of a young Army private. In the first act Kevin McCarthy, as an officer, was to enter the PX a few minutes ahead of me, so we both awaited our cues in the wings of the Amsterdam Theatre together. As Kevin’s cue approached he would pat his pockets quickly as if searching for something and then turn to me in the darkness and whisper, “Excuse me, soldier, do you have a match?” “No, sir,” I’d whisper back, going along with him. “Okay,” he’d whisper, “I’ll just step into the PX….” and if he’d timed it right it would be his cue to enter. This always seemed odd to me, because our having to speak in a barely-heard whisper robbed the “improvisation” of any truth, at least as far as I was concerned. But, and this is the point, it presumably worked for Kevin, so who’s to argue?
In the second act I waited in the wings with Ralph Meeker, who up to a moment before going onstage would be laughing and joking about his exploits of the night before (usually involving women and great quantities of alcohol). Suddenly he’d hear his cue, excuse himself quickly, and go onstage to a highly emotional, highly intense scene in which he was always remarkable, completely truthful and believable. Go figure.
Emotional preparation for the first moment is another matter altogether, and how one deals with it depends on the demands of the play and the actor him/herself. Bursting in the door having just witnessed a fatal car accident is very different from, say, coming home from a boring day at the office, greeting one’s wife, and then being told that one’s best friend has died. We can imagine a scene in which halfway through it someone is asked about his late mother and then, while answering, recalls something that causes him to become emotional.
This brings to mind the scene in “American History X” in which Edward Norton is interviewed by a TV reporter about his father’s murder. Norton is crying throughout the scene, which, though probably authentic, seems far less interesting than had he begun the scene trying to be very matter-of-fact and strong, and then suddenly finds he can’t hold back the emotion.
Indeed, we can learn a lot from television interviews in which, during the interview, the individual becomes emotional.
Part of the problem is that an emotional result like crying is too often mistakenly (sometimes unconsciously) treated as an intention leading to an action (intention: to cry; realisation: crying), but in fact most emotions are experienced in life and in acting as reactions.
Edward Norton’s character reacted to the TV interviewer’s continued questions by becoming emotional.
This suggests that in most cases the best preparation for an emotional scene is making ourselves emotionally accessible so that we can react without inhibition to the circumstances of the dramatic event as the character experiences them. Norman has made reference to this.
It’s one aspect of what Stanislavski called The Creative Condition of the Mind.
based on work by John Crowther, who devised the Basic Acting Unit concept
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