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Regaining Perspective

( Originally Published 1938 )



WE HAVE SAID that attention to details sometimes causes the actor to lose sight of the fresh attack he made upon the lines at the beginning; that the actor, like the traveler, loses sight of the forest because of the trees. There frequently comes a time, after rehearsals have been in progress for some days or weeks, when both actor and director are in danger of losing a clear perspective on their play.

During the reading and discussion of the play at the first rehearsal period, perhaps a definite, intelligent idea of characters and scenes was gained; but the very endeavor to arrive at a character goal has, first of all, shifted the actor's viewpoint from the one he originally held, as his own self, to one he now holds as a character in the play. His concentration on character or on the director's plan has caused him to forget certain details of importance. From the actor's standpoint, there has been a drifting away from the original idea he held to one which, it is probable, is more confused and less definite.

The director, too, may have lost the clear conception he once held. More than one director, watching a rehearsal during the third week and listening to an actor speak his lines, has remarked honestly to himself, "I've seen him do that so often and have heard his inflection repeated so many times that I can no longer judge whether he is doing right or wrong." The director of amateurs is forced to relinquish, bit by bit, his ideals for the production. Slowly, unconsciously, because he is working with imperfect material, he has lowered his standards. Compromising with his original plan, hearing a thing repeated over and over, has brought a certain confusion to the director as well as to the actor.

Two definite changes, then, sometimes take place during the progress of rehearsals. The actor begins to develop a new viewpoint, which is at variance with the viewpoint he held before he worked on the play; and, through much repetition, both actor and director become dulled and lose sight of a clear conception of the play.

As a simple remedy for this condition, and as an exercise guaranteed to bring new life into the rehearsals, the play should be reread slowly and carefully.

The actor has discarded his script. He perhaps hasn't looked at it for days. Now he picks it up again. As he reads through the entire play, speeches now take on clearer, even new meanings; characters assume a place in the scheme of the play that they have never assumed before; and the author's stage directions contain much more of revelation than they contained previously. He is not reading as him-self, but as a character in the play. Once he has lived in the play, his reasons for saying and doing things are different from the imaginative reasons he held before.

And the director, shutting his mind to the stage interpretation that he is building through his specific actors, also takes up the play and reads through it quietly and thoughtfully. Ideas and meanings will be reestablished, confidence in his plan will be affirmed, and his standard will again be raised.

Another thing must be considered. After a play has been in rehearsal for some time, the audience which is to be present in the auditorium on the first night becomes a much more real factor in the imaginations of the actors and the director. The stage play has begun to develop, and the reactions of this imaginary audience to this stage play are felt more keenly; thus, as they now study the play, the actors and the director are more consciously aware of the probable reaction of an actual audience; they read from the viewpoint of the audience as they were not able to do three weeks be-fore.

Therefore, this pause in rehearsals for a rereading is an excellent thing. The whole concept of the play, it may be, has drifted from clarity toward confusion. This careful, thorough reading may reestablish sound concepts. It may bring to light new meanings, clearer motivations, and for-gotten ideas. It may even change certain ideas held before, but this will probably be a good thing for the play. Re-reading will certainly give to the rehearsals, which follow, a new life and interest and understanding.



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