Stanislavski (or Torstov) on Diction for Actors

Stanislavski and Torstov on Diction for Actors_550
Photo Credit: JamesZ_Flickr 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.
Because of the much-publicized excesses of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Actors Studio technique churned out endless imitations of its prize-pupil Brando — “scratchers and mumblers” as they were maligned in their day.
Many North Americans still associate Stanislavski with an inner and self-involved technique which paid little attention to the niceties of vocal production and speech.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
In KS’s second book of his famous trilogy on acting, he devoted chapters to the art of speaking, gesture, even walking. KS often expressed his opinions about the actor’s art through his alter-ego the teacher and director, Tortsov.
Torstov had this to say about speech:
“After many years of acting and directing experience, I arrived at a full realisation, intellectual and emotional, that every actor must be in possession of excellent diction and pronunciation, that he must feel not only phrases and words, but also each syllable, each letter.
We do not feel our own language, the phrases, syllables, letters, and that is why it is so easy for us to distort it. Add to this lisping, guttural, nasal, and other … distortions of good speech!
The dropping of individual letters or syllables make as glaring defects for me now as a missing eye or tooth, a cauliflower ear, or any other physical deformity.
Lack of rhythm in speech, which makes a phrase start off slowly, spurt suddenly in the middle, and just as abruptly slide in a gateway, reminds me of the way a drunkard walks, and the rapid fire speech of someone with St. Vitus dance. Poor speech creates one misunderstanding after another.
It clutters up, befogs, or even conceals the thought, the essence and even the very plot of the play.”
Note from Prof. Palmer – You and your director may disagree about how clearly to enunciate. A good example is “duct tape.” If your director doesn’t want to hear two “t”s because that would sound artificial, then listen to the director.
At the same time, one of the better actors I worked with never developed very far because he steadfastly refused to enunciate the consonants more clearly.
From work by By Norman B. Schwartz (with permission)
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