Please sit…tell me all about it!
The actor’s coach, Um…COUCH, I meant couch, yeah! Sorry, a Freudian slip.
Oh boy, do you hear that? Do you hear that slight metallic sound? Heh! It’s the sound of a can of worms!
Enjoy this small article on a HUGE subject!
More and more teachers find it necessary to study and adapt their techniques and teaching to new scientific discoveries of this century. Discoveries, you say? Yeah, baby, Da sciences!
As we move forward, science and the arts intertwine. Freud, Jung, etc., don’t lose their analytical relevance, they are as relevant as ever in meta dramatic/symbolic theatre, but even more so in psychological theatre, old school is not necessarily obsolete. At least not all of it!
Ribot, Pavlov, Freud, Jung influenced actors’ training as we know it today, Stanislavski, Meisner, Strasberg read everything they could get their hands on! But scientists like Arron Beck, David Burns, Joseph LeDoux, and many others give us new insights in the human workings and the human Psyche!
By Stepping into such treacherous but necessary territories in the most humane of the arts, that of acting, we undoubtedly have to answer a question that is lingering like a Damoclean sword over our exposed necks! Are these practices, or any methods that include psychology, sometimes welcomed inappropriately in a class by the teacher? In what capacity are they implemented?
And of course, the answer rests in a Gray area!
It Depends! Our work is indeed psychological!
It depends on the use of the tool, the attitude of the teacher, and the way of conduct. Are these practices supposed to be used on the actual actor? Or should they instead be used by the actor as a tool taught by the teacher for character purposes and for circumstances analysis only? Do we have a say as teachers on the artist’s problem (blocks and remedies), or should we restrict ourselves to just working on the character depicted on a piece of paper trying to ignite our empathy and understating the human condition in a play?
What if you have to train empathy first?
What if the instrument of the actor is not correctly tuned?
Should one address that directly?
Historically speaking, there are no sides; there is no answer for what came first, “the chicken or the egg” but we can (and should) evaluate if some practices arrived at a detrimental cost for the actors-student.
Indeed some Sardonic, megalomaniacal teachers nurtured hysteria into actors under a sacrosanct seminary environment. Yeap, this is not unprecedented, even today!
Those were teachers who had a polemic attitude against students, thus needing a place on the psychologist’s couch themselves. But most teachers are and have to become some kind of “behavioral artist” if they want to do their job correctly.
So maybe, just maybe, we should become a little bit more scientific in our approach, precisely like a behavioral scientist. If not, we should be kept in check and accountable!
My mentor is right when he talks about “trauma — drama,” let me explain. When you take an actor by the hand, driving him through the characters turbulent life, you are in a sense creating “trauma — drama” you accept the traumatic life of the character, his circumstances, and his pressures, all fictional mind you, and by using them correctly and through drilling and training you create drama, art!
There is no prerequisite of a traumatic life to be supplied by the real-life of an actor.
There is no real trauma involved.
All efforts are directed toward an artistic result.
However, some teachers create “drama — trauma” by creating drama in class, thus creating a traumatic environment-experience for the actor. They do that either by referring to real traumatic experiences the actor had (acting as psychoanalysts) or if they don’t have any to work with, the teacher steps in as a surrogate abuser to create one for the actor in class, then they relate that to the circumstances, and they call that art!
We are not talking about a disciplinary or strict teacher here; I am not talking about a demanding teacher; I can do demanding, I am talking about psychological abuse!
Most acting teachers worth their salt spend time studying behavioral sciences, psychology, even neurobiology, anything involved with the study of mental and physical processes! Acting consists in analyzing the character, evaluating the circumstances, and understanding the pressures in the human condition!
At the same time, self-discovery is involved, learning your own Psyche, understanding your own complex behavior as an artist creating an absorbent canvas to work on!
Stanislavski studied human behavior, Vakhtangov also did; A Russian legend was an acting teacher and also a legitimate psychiatrist! Strasberg was also known for his clinical eye and for his diagnostician capabilities, but sometimes acted as an appointed psychotherapist for the actor, something that Meisner vehemently denied to do with his actors (even though in his book we can see points that indicate a tremendous ability to modify an actor’s personal life as it related to acting). Stella Adler, Uta Hagen can indeed easily interpret and explain the complex natures of different characterizations demanded by writers and can certainly “diagnose” blocks in actors and offer wanted remedies!
A good friend of mine, let us call him J, an already brilliant teacher, and coach, is, as we speak, studying in a university to get a psychology degree so he can genuinely help actors and their processes.SCIENTIFICALLY!
One of the most prolific teachers of our time Eric Morris (one of J’s many teachers), is perhaps one of the most involved teachers in behavioral sciences. In his brilliant lifetime, Morris searched and expanded thespian’s consciences in an unprecedented manner. So much so that the sciences are now catching up with his discoveries!
So to one extent or another, actors and their teachers are involved in behavioral sciences, but stepping into such territories begets caution, or our work with actors becomes a cautionary tale. Teachers should be trained, teachers should be informed, teachers should stay sensitive and open!
Open to doubt what they already know and the traditions they sometimes follow as teacher disciples, sometimes as artists themselves. Social changes are fast; a class is a social microcosm! Some ideas or points of view of teachers of the past should be discarded. Misogyny, homophobia, and verbal abuse are prevalent in their books. The acting information should be preserved and expanded, it should be handed down, the points of view should be discarded and referred to as exactly that, old stupid points of view!
We need more training! I am not talking about university training; I am not talking about sterilized academic processes. I am talking about human sensibilities! You don’t need a university degree to understand that caution should be used in training another human being. If you need to have that explained to you, it is time to sit on the psychologist’s couch.
With love and respect, always
Copyright 2022 Kimon Fioretos, All Rights Reserved.