Acting And Mimicry:
Acting And Mimicry
What Is Mimicry?
Acting—opera And Stage
How To Study And Analyze A Part
Exercises For Elasticity
Elements Of Mimicry - Part 1
Elements Of Mimicry - Part 2
Elements Of Mimicry - Part 3
Elements Of Mimicry - Part 3
Read More Articles About: Acting And Mimicry
How To Study And Analyze A Part
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The student must read and analyze carefully not only his rôle, but the entire libretto as well. Then the text of his rôle or of the song must be properly thought out and understood. As the librettos of operas are nearly always taken from romances, novels or classics, I consider it absolutely necessary to know the masterpiece upon which the operatic libretto is based. For in-stance, if one is preparing Faust, or Othello, or Romeo and Juliet, he should read the original of Goethe or Shakespeare, and earnestly study the relation of the character in question to the whole novel or play. Then, only, should the study of the musical end of the part be started.
When preparing mimicry with a view to portraying the character of a personage, the singer or actor should consider the following characteristics of the body, and especially those of the face:
First, should come a physiological analysis of the personage in the rôle to be performed, also state of health.
Second, the aesthetic analysis of beauty and ugliness should follow. These physical extremes are represented, for instance, by Romeo and by the rag-picker in "Louise," or by Fiora in the "Love of Three Kings," and the Witch in "Hansel und Gretel."
Third, is the analysis of character and moral qualities. How different are the dark characters of Scarpia in "Tosca," or of Silva in "Ernani," from the noble character of Wilhelm in "Mignon." Also, note the difference between Carmen and Micaela.
Fourth, is the study of the intellectual development and social standing of the character, as in the case of Faust or Canio, in "Pagliacci."
Fifth, comes the analysis of the race, or the study of racial characteristics induced by racial psychology and mode of living. For instance, the bodily attitude, manner of walking, peculiarities of speech and accent of Madam Butterfly, or of Aida, will be different from the same habits in personages of the white race.
Sixth, there is age to be considered; and seventh, sex. The eighth point is the profession or the trade and its influence on habit.
Physiological Analysis (State of Health).—Mimi in "Bohême," when she enters Rudolph's room to ask for a light, is in the early stages of consumption. Her attitude is normal, the only indication of the disease being the slight, unnatural redness on her chin. This is a sign of a feverish condition. In the third act, she is very sick; she is pale and is coughing. In the last act, the climax is near; consumption has partly destroyed the body; the agony is coming. So, in the rôle of Mimi throughout the whole opera, there is a notable advance in her illness. This crescendo must be observed when studying the part, the singer's makeup, attitude and voice must be prepared accordingly.
Take another example: Lothario in "Mignon" loses his reason after the kidnaping of his daughter Sperata. His mind continues to wan-der with varying degrees of sanity until, in the last act, when, recognizing the Cipriani Palace, a strange feeling lights up within him that Mignon is his daughter. He then regains his reason. This scene offers an unlimited amount of artistic possibilities to the observing artist.
Monotony in the portrayal of the progressive stages of pathological conditions can be avoided by a serious analysis of the effects of a certain sickness on the general health at the time under consideration.
AEsthetic Analysis.—In creating a handsome or an ugly type, naturally, the makeup is the first consideration. But mimicry may render very great service. Exaggerating, for instance, or diminishing or prolonging the expression of low or of high spirits, will give the necessary imprint to the face.
In general, the acting and mimicry of ugly types, with very few exceptions, will be similar to the mimicry of the lower, or intellectually undeveloped classes.
Character.—Pathologists have accepted the divisions Hippocrates has made of the human temperament and humors. They are the nervous, sanguine, bilious, phlegmatic, and lymphatic. Inasmuch as each one of these temperaments, if very strongly accentuated, is full of peculiar characteristics, it would be inadequate to confine them within any dogmatic set of rules and advices, for they seldom appear as simple affections but are almost always complex, passing and shading, the one into the other with an infinite delicacy of gradation which has afforded pathologists ample material for the writing of numberless books on the subject. Therefore, in the preparation of theatrical rôles, I advise a study of the personage's temperament and character from a consideration of his external habits and characteristics rather than from a too close scrutiny of the internal conditions and constitution.
Intellectual Analysis.—From a few gestures, from the walk, salutation, manner of being seated, or from an expression of satisfaction or disappointment, we are able to judge the degree of a person's education. The higher the education, the greater the reserve in manner. The passions seem to be well controlled; for education teaches self-control, suppressing the expression of low spirits, and heightening that of high spirits. An uneducated man betrays his feelings; an educated man always acts with re-serve. Different kinds of training will impose different manners: a military education, for instance, suggests a mimicry and an action entirely different from education in a convent, etc.
Race.—Mantegazza thus divides nationalities according to their power of expression: agricultural nations have little expansive mimicry; commercial or traveling nations have the facial muscles flexible, consequently, their power of expression is developed to the utmost; nations with fighting spirits have heavy, ferocious, unsmiling mimicry; expression in the oriental nations is very quiet, because they are, above all others, fatalists. However, their characteristic inscrutability is also induced by the use of drugs, such as opium, morphine, etc., for these have a depressing effect upon the temperaments and facial expression, so that the mimicry of the latter is rightly characterized by apathy.
The use of coffee and tea has rather the contrary, or exciting effects. The mimicry of per-sons addicted to their use should, therefore, be more lively.
But to analyze in detail the peculiarities of expression among nations is outside the scope of this book. In Italy alone nearly every province has its own dialect and mimicry. It would take volumes to describe all the gestures of the Neapolitans, so we may say that their mimicry is characterized by gestures. The "Piedmontese," and, to some extent, the "Milanese" have a mimicry similar to the French. The inhabitants of Cagliari have a mimicry similar to the Spanish, for the provinces were historically associated. The "Roman" is aristocratic, while the "Tuscanian" is diffident and very reserved, which, according to Mantegazza, is the result of periods of oppression in Italy. The mimicry of the French is quick and gay ; of the English, stiff and superb; of the Germans, heavy, sluggish, lacking in plasticity. The mimicry of the Spanish and Portuguese is full of dignity and restraint. Some Slavic nations do not look one in the face, but have a shifting, restless eye; their mimicry should, therefore, convey the impression of that which is false, untrue. Other Slays are frank, generous, hospitable, and capable of undying friendship. The oppression of the Jews has created well-known peculiarities in their psychology, their mimicry is humble, diffident, and suspicious. The Swedes have heavy and ungraceful gestures, as have some of the Norwegians, although some among the latter are gay, boisterous and lively. The mimicry of the red Indian is full of suspicion, at some moments full of dignity, at others full of meekness. The mimicry of the negro does not call for richness or variety of expression. The expression of the yellow races is apathetic. Still it must be said that mimicry of characters of the yellow and oriental races, to which we have been accustomed, has not been a true delineation, but rather adapted to our ideas of what these peoples are. The mimicry of an American, as far as I can analyze, is agile, graceful, noble, full of poise.
Age.—As an infant is unrestrained by intellectual ideas or educational influences, he has a mimicry, which, while intense, is, at the same time, expressively poor. As intelligence grows with age, the expressive faculty matures, so that the child comes to express love or hate, irony or suspicion, etc. Mantegazza calls this the period of transition. In the lower races, and in the case of subnormals, this transition stage endures.
Youth is characterized by richness and variety of expression, modified by education, continuous intellectual development, and will power. With continued intellectual development, the richness of mimicry gradually diminishes, as the expression of passions is controlled by education, and the circumstances and necessities of life. As the old are no longer so susceptible to passing emotions, their mimicry is even less marked by variety and richness of expression.
Sex—The Difference in Expression between a Man and a Woman. The mimicry of a woman is much less energetic than that of a man, for sex has a great influence on the expressive faculty. As a man develops strength of command, energy and will power, so a woman's mimicry is rich in affection and painful emotions. The expression of violent emotions which produce wrinkles and therefore make the face ugly is seldom given to women; dark characters and low spirits are, as a rule, given to men on the stage. Women mostly enact the rôle of victims, because in life woman is subjected to more moral and physical pain than man.
A man, in portraying pain, swells his neck, bites his lips and clenches his fists, because he tries to control his emotion. A woman cries and beseeches instead. Thus it may be seen that there are greater possibilities for mimicry in the case of a man than in that of a woman.
Profession; Trade.—Profession influences habit. Therefore, it is necessary to study care-fully the profession of the character being enacted in order to give a realistic portrayal. As we all know, a seaman is easily recognized by his gait, or a soldier by his military bearing even in civilian clothes, but civilian clothes will hardly camouflage the habits of a priest.
After detailed analysis of the play and the rôle to be performed, the singer should, by the aid of his thought steeped in imagination, create for himself the type which he is to portray. As in the case of the voice, where colorful interpretation is needed, the actor must visualize the character, mimicry, and attitude of the person-age whom he will portray from the image in his mind. There is the same process of creation as in the writing of poetry or inspired prose.
In the classical opera, where tradition and the music impose certain details, it is absolutely necessary to consult the stage manager before beginning work on the part.