Friday, 13 March 2009

Method acting & the To Be Or Not To Be monologue & stuff

I've been kind of busy these days. I'm writing an essay on Method Acting and even though I enjoyed doing the research and analyzing performances - thinking as a stage director is something I feel is a very rewarding experience - it's just eating up my days. And right now I'm just sketching out my ideas about the performances I watched and am going to analyze.

A friend of mine recommended watching a very interesting series, which some nice fellows uploaded on youtube - it's called Into the Actor's Studio. It's fun to watch all the episodes, because they're actually inviting some famous actors (like Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro as well as some directors - such as Martin Scorsese; even though I'd prefer them inviting some theatr directors as well) and they're talking about their experience of acting. Of course, I started with Meryl Streep being a guest and I enjoyed it pretty much. Anyway, for me it's hard to say if Meryl Streep is a Method actor. All the characteristics are there, but I doubt she's doing her work consciously following the Method. She just adopted some of the Method's characteristics, but I don't consider her a Method actor. Meryl herself states that she cannot talk about her process the way other actors do, which she finds funny, since people often discuss her as a very technical actor. Anyway, just watch these videos. They're entertaining and it's really funny seeing Meryl Streep discuss working with a coach for her Irish accent in Dancing at Lughnasa. (If you don't know, Meryl's considered a master of doing different accents.) Here's the segment:

I started reading Marlon Brando's autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me.
It's huge, but easy to go through and there are some interesting stories he's telling and the text made me curious about who Stella Adler was for example. I've never known all that much about her - an actor, an acting coach, a collegue of Lee Strasberg (whom Brando openly dislikes). Anyway, it was funny to read that Laurence Olivier refused to do accents, because he just didn't consider it a possibility to talk like a peasant. Olivier himself didn't feel comfortable around actors of the Method and considered acting being something on the surface. That's why Brando calls him an architect of an actor, because he didn't change anything in a performance once he's analyzed it and shaped its form. His performances never changed, which I think is kind of impossible for a stage actor. Where's the meaning in such a strategy? And above all, where's the pleasure from being on the stage? That's why I decided to write about Olivier and other Shakespearean actors (Kenneth Branagh) as opposed to the Method actors (Brando, James Dean etc etc). Anyway, just for fun, I started to think about the different approaches to Act Three, Scene One, which is To be or not to be.

I've never done the monologue. Just read it a few times (and I have to say I like the Bulgarian translation pretty much) and I think that the big challenge an actor finds in it is finding the rhythm. Of course, there is another huge problem (for the director and actor) - it's a long monologue and the stage is supposed to be empty, which makes it even harder for it to work. The actor has to get all the attention, but that while he remains kind of passive! And he doesn't even move on the huge empty stage! How can somebody make it work? I think that the success of such a scene depends on the actor's charisma and I wonder if a lavish set could actually help or would rather do some harm! I've never seen Hamlet on the stage and I think that directors rather shy away from it. It's the monster play. Anyway, I've seen two adaptations - Laurence Olivier's film from 1948 and Kenneth Branagh's adaptation from 1996 (which contains the whole text!). And it's interesting to see that Olivier and Branagh struggle not only with the text, but with the visual decisions as well. Laurence Olivier's version of the monologue appears to me more as a visual presentation, even though I don't like most of his work on the film. Especially the transitions just don't work most of the time. But I have some issues with Branagh's visual strategy. This is the scene, which represents Hamlet's crisis and the dilemmas he faces most clearly in the whole play. But at the same time it happens through words, because Hamlet remains passive, melancholic and quiet on the surface. He doesn't display any great emotion. Just the eyes - eventually. (Even though in Olivier's version - we barely see Hamlet's eyes directly.) It's all about the words and the idea that while he says something, he surpresses some even greater emotion. Then why the mirror in Branagh's version? Why does he show Hamlet's reflection in the mirror? And that from such a POV that we barely see Hamlet's eyes? The static camera really helps the viewer to focus on the voice and the text, but the strange POV rather confuses. We don't get the contact. But film and to a certain degree theatre are about the visual aspect of presenting the words. Laurence Olivier does a lot of POV change during that scene and I think that it was a clever idea to make the scene outside the palace and with all the mist around him and the sea - you just get the visual idea of the unquiet words. The camera is instantly moving and helps providing the idea of isolation. Anyway, it's just the beginning of me working with this scene and I think it could help analyzing it. Right now all my thoughts are just a chaos. So any help is welcome. :D

Here are the links to both Branagh's and Olivier's approaches to the scene: - Olivier's Hamlet - Branagh's Hamlet

But anyway, now I'm going to have some coffee with friends. And in the afternoon I'll continue working on the essay.

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