A User’s Guide to Acting by Peter Reznikoff

It’s November 1, opening night of “Something Intangible.” What a journey from first read through on Oct 14th to first run through, complete with costumes, lights, and revved up acting juice, exactly two weeks later! How did that happen? Well one, a consummate cast, two, the actor friendly play, and three, the creative, inspirational,  and anything goes atmosphere, set by our director, Cody Nickell and by extension, Kristen Coury’s inspired artistic direction for Gulfshore Playhouse.

Still, I’m of two minds about this cost cutting rehearsal reality.  On one hand a two week rehearsal period cuts out all the fat and gets a cast up and running. Each hour is devoted to freezing lines into the crevasses of one’s brain and permitting those lines to freely leap from synapse to synapse; solidifying exits and entrances; handling props; timing door openings and closing. All these activities add up to one big ultimate goal: bringing a role and the spoken word up to an Olympic performance level.

Peter Reznikoff

Peter Reznikoff

Yet on the other hand, two weeks in a normal four week rehearsal span – practically non existent now, due to theatre economics – is just about the time an actor discovers the nuances of his character and begins to fine tune stage moments. More specifically, the actor is turning psychology into human behavior. Voice, movement, bits and pieces of character quirks are seeping in; the actor and director are shaping a role not just within the context of what a character’s says and does, but how the character’s behavior fits into the whole of the text. Usually at this point, when actor-director exploration gets more precise, an actor will likely recall from the deep recesses of his or her brain; the common sense insights hatched from the quintessential Alfa Male of acting theory: Constantin Stanislavski. Some may have brought their dog eared copy of “An Actor Prepares,” the Holy Grail and beginner’s guide to acting technique. And so, utilizing one of Stanislavski’s most rudimentary laws, “The Magic If” (a formula meant to stimulate an actor’s imagination) you return to childhood when you made your first baby acting steps. “The Magic If” goes something like this: “if I were a soldier who is told by three witches I am to be a King, what would I do?” Closer to “Something Intangible” and one of the parts I play, I could say: “if I am playing a flamboyant musical conductor who is meeting a genius animator, what do I do?” Unfortunately, that formulation died out 90 years ago, when one of Stanislavski’s great protégés, the Russian director Evgeny Vakhtangov, reconfigured the formulation by giving equal weight to action and imagination. Look at the change: “If I am playing a flamboyant musical conductor, and I have to impress a Walt Disney type, what would I, the actor, have to do, to create for myself belief in this kind of event?”

Acting is making imaginary events real for the actor. And here, Vakhtangov nailed it.  What do I, the actor have to DO (active) to create for MYSELF BELIEF IN (imagination) this kind of event….. Yep, a perfect user’s guide to get role on its feet in two weeks!

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