Physical and vocal expression and integration
I last wrote a piece on directing Measure for Measure and the importance of first using imagination to explore the circumstances and action, and using the imagery and metaphor of the language to give full expression to that imaginary world. As Stanislavski made clear, we go from the text to the subtext and back to the text, where the subtext means all the given or imagined previous circumstances, character background, relationships, thoughts and feelings etc. that give rise to the text from the writer’s and actor’s imaginary viewpoint.
Once we get into the later stages of rehearsal, we need to make certain that the imaginary world and complexity of language are actually being communicated. Technical voice and movement work are not enough in themselves to achieve this. How often have we witnessed voice and physical skills being left in the skills classes? Body and voice need to be fully integrated into the acting process, as is made clear in Acting Stanislavski, and Voice into Acting, written with Christina Gutekunst (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2014). Apart from ease, flow, co-ordination, energy, stamina, a supported and well-articulated voice, and so on, we want to see the actor truthfully transformed into a character.
Physically, a number of elements need to come through:
- The social, political, cultural background of the character, for example, their occupation, class, accent or dialect, defining build, posture, movement, and speech patterns.
- The Life Superobjective, the character’s basic desire driving them through life, must be physically experienced – we should also see whether someone is predominantly driven by their mind, feeling, or will (Stanislavski’s inner motive forces).
- All the character’s qualities are expressed in the play through actions, so for example, manipulativeness and generosity demand different physical actions arising from inner impulse.
- Every character has one or more imaginary centres, where they experience themselves to exist in the body.
- Equally, we all have different tempo-rhythms and effort actions (viz. Laban).
Vocally, if actors are clear about what they are doing and connect to text, circumstances, action and each other they will most likely be clear and understood – because there will be a desire to change the circumstances and other characters through their objectives. Often, what may appear to be vocal problems, such as pushing or devoicing, may in fact be acting problems. The objectives express the character’s will – and feelings and thoughts – and to find full theatrical expression we need to connect our spines and pelvic support to the drive of what we want. The spine is literally the backbone of the actor and the vertical sense of identity within the imaginary circumstances: we build a bridge between the imaginary life and our own flesh and bone. The words and actions expressing the objectives need to flow flexibly and responsively through our out-breaths, like a surfer on a wave, supported by the spine and other muscles. Also, our objectives should be fully expressed through every beat of thought and measure in a sentence by finding the key words, the rhythm, the antitheses and other rhetorical devices and giving them emphasis to convey what we want. Our intonation, accentuation, range and resonance should be shaped by impulses from imagination, feelings and given circumstances and require clear articulation driven by the need of the actor to affect another actor and reach the third partner, the audience.
I’ve found that only when actors integrate acting, physicality and voice through acting processes incorporating vocal and physical work or vocal/physical exercises incorporating acting aims, do they make a full connection – with communication of both text and subtext – to each other, the action and the audience.