Since my techniques are based on playwriting principles, the craft of playwriting will also be explored.
First, the quotes that will support, throughout the book, the Holographing technique:
From THE DEATH OF TRAGEDY, by George Steiner, Alfred A Knopf, New York, 1961, 355 pp.
“...drama is the formal embodiment of crisis.” (pp.217, 218)
“If there are bathrooms in the houses of tragedy, they are for Agamemnon to be murdered in.” (pg. 243)
“Drama is language under such high pressure of feeling that the words carry a necessary and immediate connotation of gesture.” (My emphasis) (pg. 275)
From THE LIFE OF THE DRAMA, by Eric Bentley,
Atheneum, New York, 1964, 371 pages
“. . .while the novelist may see events through the medium of other men’s minds, the dramatist ‘allows us to see other men’s minds through the medium of events. (my emphasis)’ If plot is an edifice, the bricks from which it is built are events (my emphasis), occurrences, happenings, incidents.” (pg. 4)
“We only dream of being national heroes. But this is another way of saying that we are national heroes in our dreams. Once we realize that we dream most of the time, we have to reverse the conventional view and declare that our lives are dramatic after all. . .the drama of everyday life. . .It is not just that life seems dramatic to us. We wish it to be dramatic; therefore, it is. . .Even our constant complaint that life is boring testifies chiefly to our refusal to be bored. We insist that every twenty-four hours be a drama in twenty-four acts. . .What is undramatic in human behavior--as in Anglo-Saxon manners--is a trick of emphasis by understatement. Anglo-Saxons are so arrogant they shout in whispers. The undramatic is their peculiar drama.” (pp. 5, 6)
“. . .plays are generally about the big people, though what they say applies to the little people. And there is a converse to this proposition: that when a great playwright, such as Chekhov, presents the littleness of everyday life, he manages to suggest--as indeed he must--the largeness of everyday life, the size of those fantasies which range from the secret life of Walter Mitty to the chivalric musings of Don Quixote.” (pg. 7)
“Virginia Woolf once spoke of the novel as an extension of the range of our gossip. The drama, being in general a more violent phenomenon, could be regarded as an extension of the range of scandal.” (pg. 7)
“Why does even a bad description of violent actions please us? How could it fail to? We tend to feel our lives are lacking in violence, and we like to see what we are missing. We tend to be bored, and we like to be caught up in someone else’s excitement. We are aggressive, and we enjoy watching aggression. . . .violence interests us because we are violent. And the gentlest outwardly can be the most turbulent inwardly. . . .And I have sometimes wondered if it wouldn’t make better sense to teach budding playwrights, instead of the usual Dramatic Technique, two rules grounded in human nature: if you wish to attract the audience’s attention, be violent; if you wish to hold it, be violent again. It is true that bad plays are founded on such principles, but it is not true that good plays are written by defying them (My emphasis).” (pp. 8 and 9)
“The flowers of dramatic art have their roots in crude action (my emphasis).” (pg. 10)
“ Chekhov placed his camera in an unusual relation to the violent action, but that action was still there and was still crucial. Only his skilled legerdemain prevents an audience from realizing that Professor Serebriakov, Natasha, and Madame Renevsky are predatory animals--they are the villains of the plays and give them an action of horrifying and traditional destructiveness. (pg. 11)
“What creates suspense? Not merely ignorance as to what will happen next, but an active desire to know it, a desire that has been aroused by a previous stimulus.”
“Great narrative is not the opposite of cheap narrative: it is soap opera plus. (my emphasis)“ (pg. 14)
From The Teachings
“In drama, all acting and production conceptions of the text (on stage), can be found in the text. Therefore, text precedes collaboration.”
“But collaboration, of course, is essential to pull out just one of the many ‘conceptions’ inherent in the text.” (And why is it that a hundred stage conceptions can work-- and a hundred cannot? Elaborate)
“What defines drama?
The live actor.
It is the live actor to whom the playwright hands over his/her playtext to tell the story to the live audience.
(That, alas, is the game; and more about that "alas" later.)
Therefore, the art of playwriting (for the artist-playwright) is all wrapped up in the art of acting. If this is true, dramatic dialogue must have an already projectile quality to it, because the live actor needs to catapult the words out over the stage-apron moat to many people; if the language is already pressured in the text, the live actor can more easily ride that already-pressured text missal off the page, out to the live audience, and let it detonate there (elaborate with examples from the great plays).
This is why dramatic language (a character’s speech) must already be pressured out of the character on the page. It is the playwright's job to do this.
On stage, for the actor, there can be no such thing as a “private moment;” all moments --no matter how intimate, must be shared with (be projected out to, “put out there” to) the live audience.
In playwriting, for the artist-playwright, there can be no such thing as monologue; any interior speech must have an exterior force to be lifted off the page, so that the actor can use that text-force as a starting point to catapult that moment “out there.” In that sense (and in that sense only) does the artist-playwright consider the audience, while initially creating the playtext: “Is there enough pressure in the speech, in the line, in the word; in the pause; in the ellipsis; in the semi colon--the force of which will take it off the page, so that the actor can more easily contact it, give it an emotional life, and more easily project it out to the live audience?”
“ In drama, there is no such thing as ‘conversation;’ only ‘confrontation.’
There can be ‘conversation’ in film or television drama because the camera and editing can supply the confrontational, tension-making, pressured aspects needed; close ups, quick cuts, sounds, music underscoring, ETC. But even in the great classic films, characters do confront each other, or their inner demons, or ideas, or ETC--that’s one of the reasons these “great” films are considered great--these (stage-like) character-clashes exacerbate the tensions that the camera and editing, etc., are supplying.”
From THE LIFE OF THE DRAMA (Bentley)
“The gain made by Granville-Barker’s generation in taste and good sense and literacy was a loss in sheer theatricality. It was therefore a loss for the drama--tragic or melodramatic. In rejecting bad melodramatic acting, the twentieth century has fallen into the error of condemning melodramatic acting as such, and today the task of the actors is to rediscover and recreate a lost grandeur. (pg. 178)
(An epiphany): At a production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN in Stratford, Ontario some years back (before the more recent Broadway production), I was amazed to see that the play was Linda Loman’s play; or, at the least, that she was so much a vital center of the play (ditto the recent Goodman-Broadway revival of play). The Willy, in the Stratford production, was an excellent actor, the kind of character actor that makes sense to play this “little man” of Miller’s tragedy. But the actress had rendered the largeness in Linda’s smallness; the actor playing Willy had rendered the smallness in Willy’s smallness. And then I recalled the original production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. I had purchased standing room for $1.25 and was blown away by the largeness that Lee J. Cobb found in his rendering of Willy. The Linda of Mildred Dunnock, on the other hand, rendered the smallness of the character. I then saw subsequent productions of DEATH OF A SALESMAN on Broadway, always with Mildred Dunnock in the role of Linda; but the Willys changed: Thomas Mitchell, Gene Lockhart and Albert Dekker--all of whom rendered the smallness in Willy’s smallness. In those subsequent performances the play, in a way, came into better balance; an across-the-board rendering of smallness by everyone (although Kazan’s direction and Mielziener’s design were large)--AND I then began to believe that the text of Miller’s play was, in fact, a smaller play than I had first thought; and that it was Lee J. Cobb’s performance that superimposed a largeness on it. Until I saw the actress play Linda in Ontario. (To be developed: “In Search of Bigness--OR--the destruction of bigness in contemporary playwriting and acting--and the reasons for that corruption; teaching--the search for a small truthfulness--the kind that has little “projectile” quality; the miking of Actors; the cinematic fallacy in play production, etc). Ironically, when Lee J. Cobb played the role of Lear in KING LEAR (I saw his performance at New York’s Lincoln Center in the 1960’s), his innate Bigness turned out to be a naturalistic Bigness, which, for Lear’s Bigness, was too small (develop and explore why classically-trained actors are often better equipped to play the naturalistic roles; use Shaw’s comments on this and talk about my own experience with the British Actor Paul Rogers’s first reading of “little man” Morden in my play Father Uxbridge Wants To Marry, and how that great cold reading at the New Dramatists in New York ruined my future experiences with the play because of the naturalistically-trained actors who then played the role).
from the teachings of Frank Gagliano again:
In drama, characters are newly pressured to do something, confront someone, defend themselves, run away, stick around, fight, give up, despair, express joy, fall in love, seek revenge, become paralyzed, go crazy, laugh, ETC. New pressure, in short, is the new force that moves the character to--. . .whatever. It is the artist-playwright’s job to supply the new pressures. It is the theatre practitioner’s job to conceptualize and render those new text-pressures in space; and for the actor to render these text-pressures in the present tense, in front of a live audience that is witnessing the results of those new pressures--while those pressures are being activated.” (See George Steiner entry above)
“In drama, the pressures are constantly shifting. That is why the concept of a through-line is essentially bogus. A dramatic speech is like a plot of earth; it may seem stationary but, in fact, the tectonic plates way down deep (under extreme pressures) are constantly shifting. It is the actor’s job to render those shifts. (Elaborate)”
“A dramatic event is a new pressure that journeys to a consequence (NP+J+C=DE) that sets off a new pressure that journeys to its consequence--that sets off a new pressure that journeys to its consequence that--. . . When the final consequence has been arrived at, it is time to bring down the curtain. It is the consequence that defines the ‘dramatic event.’ The ‘dramatic event’ is Drama’s DNA.” (Elaborate)
“In drama, each element in the definition of an event must be present in order to have a true event: New pressure/journey/consequence. Each word is operative; for the event dissipates, falls apart, marshmallows away--when even one word (element) is eliminated. In a particular drama, its particular dramatic structure is the mounting and accelerating journey of its particular dramatic events.”
“In drama, character behavior is not enough; it is not even necessarily ‘dramatic.’ A character becomes ‘dramatic’ when he/she confronts a new pressure that pressures out of the character a new response and behavior that that character has never shown before in the history of his/her life; but is rendering now, in the moment. That is why the curtain has gone up at this point in the character’s life: Tonight, that life is about to be changed. Or should be.
In the book ‘I Wish You Love (Conversations with Marlene Dietrich),’ by Eryk Hanut; Frog, Ltd., Berkeley, CA, 1996, 138pp--the famous screen legend and great cabaret singer Marlene Dietrich says about war, that it is horrible and fabulous—‘Because it’s in moments of danger, of crisis, that people show themselves as they really are. In ordinary life, you can’t immediately tell who is the coward and who is the real man. At the front, you can no longer cheat.”
In a sense, drama is a battle front; even on the page--especially on the page--where the playwright cannot cheat.
“In drama, character discoveries (that is, new responses to new pressures) are what keep the play in the present tense.”
“In drama, if the pressure on a character in a scene is an old one, it ceases to have vitality on the stage, because the character has already lived, and responded to, that pressure; and because that pressure is now a past pressure and vitiates the present-tense imperative. That is why Horatio is needed in the first scene of Hamlet. The ghost pressure is new to him; it is old hat to Marcellus and Bernardo (they’ve seen the ghost twice before). They have been there, done that; Horatio is about to be there and do that now. In front of us. And we’ll do it with him; because we’ll experience his confrontation with the ghost because his reactions are new, awkward, unplanned, natural, honest, emotional and full of new energy (at least the first time the Ghost appears; the second time Horatio is prepared to confront it on firmer footing -- because the Ghost , when it reappears, is not new anymore, is now an old pressure, and Horatio is more prepared to deal with it ). And Horatio (a friend of Marcellus, a “high born” person who can speak on the same footing with a possibly deceased king--and, more importantly, friend of young Hamlet) is the only character who can then put pressure on young Hamlet to move his (Hamlet’s) bare bodkin to confront the ghost/father--the new pressure that really pushes the play into high gear”
“My definition of a dramatic event (a new pressure that journeys to a consequence -- NP+J+C=DE) can be useful in energizing difficult moments in a text that seem to put on the brakes in a scene and stop things cold.
In HAMLET (Act 1, Sc 1), as soon as the ghost has been confronted by Horatio for the first time, Marcellus, having “approved” Horatio’s eyes to the “martial stalk” of the ghost of King Hamlet in combat “armour,” and reacting to Horatio’s, “This bodes some strange eruption to our state,” pressures Horatio to tell him why these frantic, extraordinary, round-the-clock, war-like preparations. And there follows an expository speech by Horatio that often stops the action cold.
“That can I.
At least the whisper goes so. . .”
In fact, one often feels that the actor playing Horatio often is getting through the speech as quickly as he can so that we can get to the ghost’s reappearance (or the speech is truncated, or cut). The reason why the speech puts on the brakes, is because it is not encased in a dramatic event. This is unusual for Shakespeare; just about every speech in his plays is encased in a dramatic event (especially in HAMLET), journeying from some new pressure to a consequence. That’s why the plays of Shakespeare are so much easier to act than most plays; the mounting of dramatic events are so clearly defined that the actor merely needs to surf the wave. The question is: Can Horatio’s speech be activated by approaching it in “dramatic event” terms? I think so. If one thinks of the speech as still part of the consequence of a new pressure. -- “the journey” part. (Elaborate)
“In drama, character is event and event is character.” (To be explored in greater detail)
“In drama, everything is compressed, crude, blatantly stated and rendered. (see Bentley above)”
Re The Use of Pressures for the Director: “ Blocking’ comes down to three things: The character is either pressured to move toward another character, away from another character or to stand still.”
“In drama, the basis of each moment is the character’s wants, and the obstacles to those wants. In great drama, dramatic characters have great wants and face great obstacles; in lesser drama, dramatic characters have lesser wants and overcome lesser obstacles. That is one of the main differences between great and less-than-great drama.”
“In drama, the playwright pressures the character’s wants and the obstacles; the live actor then projects those pressures out to the live audience.”
“In drama, as long as a character struggles to find his/her next word, present-tense interest is maintained; because the character is responding to the new pressure and, therefore, cannot know what the next word will be--until the word drops in and is said (put out there). This is, of course, the paradox of acting; the live actor memorizes the text, sees (S) and experiences (E) the pressures and pressure shifts and then must say (S) them (S.E.S.) ‘put them out there,’ as if they were being ‘newly minted’ (a phrase I first heard used by actress Helen Burns); the playwright has it easier, in this respect (at least in the first draft), because he/she really does not know what the next word will be, has not memorized it; the word is ‘dropping in’ as it ‘drops in’ and the writing created; the playwright is actually newly minting the word as he/she goes about the business of organizing some recent chaos from the larger chaos of his/her life and making it into this play.”
“In drama, punctuation in the text is the means by which the text is scored.”
“In drama, punctuation is part of the “dramatical” needs--not the “grammatical” needs--of the character. Like everything else in a dramatic speech, the character is making up the punctuation, as well as the words; as he/she journeys along. For example, a character will effectively score for him/herself a semi colon when a discovery is about to be made. The character thinks he is about to stop (the period part of a semi colon), but then decides to say more (the comma part).” (Here will follow a section on pressured dramatic punctuation)
from LIFE IN THE DRAMA again. (Bentley, on Dialogue:)
”All Literature is made up of words, but plays are made up of spoken words. While any literature may be read aloud, plays are written to be read aloud. It is because the drama presents men speaking that the theatre hires speaking men to communicate it. This is expensive. And nothing testifies more surely to people’s interest in hearing words spoken than their willingness to pay for it. (pg 70)
“. . .the phrase ‘the magic of words’ is figurative. It covers phenomena both good and bad: Hitler, too, was a magician with words. On the positive side, “the magic of words” connotes the magic of literature and, especially, of dramatic literature.” (Pg. 72)
“ If one is not eloquent, one latches on to the eloquence of others. No one, it seems, can do without eloquence: it is as indispensable as it is irresistible. We may regret this when thinking of the eloquence of some rabble-rouser or evangelist, but to it we owe also the perennial human interest in great drama, which, as Ronald Peacock says, ‘is based on the poet’s voice.’ “ (Pg. 73)
“For the bad writing of everyday, literature provides good writing to astonish and delight. For the bad talk of everyday, the drama provides good talk to astonish and delight. The drama is the talker’s dream and the taciturn man’s revenge. For it is ‘all talk.’ A play is written by someone who wishes to do nothing but talk for an audience that is resigned to do nothing but listen to talk.” (Pg. 75)
“Bad talk and silence can in a play be used only as exceptional effects.” (Pg. 75)
“. . .to make a whole play out of bad talk would be to make a bad play. I see no real exceptions to this rule. . . . the primary pleasure of dramatic dialogue: the pleasure of perfect articulateness. Nothing pertinent is left unexpressed. Each speaker says all he should say, and says it perfectly--according to the kind of perfection that is appropriate to the context, be it witty and concise or poetic and elaborate. Which may seem a straightforward enough thing for it to do but, in the case of the confusion of things in this world, and the inadequacy of most people to most occasions, a piece of good dialogue is always of itself a source of delight and comes with the shock of surprise.” (Pg. 76)
* (GAGLIANO ASIDE #2:“Thus the evil of paraphrasing.”)
“Buchner is articulate in presenting the inarticulateness of Woyzeck, but to write a whole play around such a man was an unprecedented procedure.” (Pg. 76)
“For the dramatist human beings are articulate. Words are the sign and insignia of their humanity.” (Pg. 77)
“. . .a born playwright is a man who does not need stage directions: reality as he sees it. . .can be compressed into dialogue and expressed by it.” (Pg. 78)
Paraphrasing: In the Theatre, Actors need to render a character’s truth. In order to do that, the actor must articulate the character’s truth through the specific words in the text that the character needs to say in order to articulate that truth. And then the actor needs to project that truth to a live audience. This is why paraphrasing is a bad thing: Since the paraphrased words are not the specific articulation of that truth, that makes the truth a half truth.
On the one hand, the first read-through of a new play is often fresh and full of discoveries; just because the actor’s are truly “newly minting” the words for the first time-- putting them “out there” for the first time--and mixing their words with new voices who are doing the same. On the other hand, many directors, at a first read through, urge the actor’s “not to act; just explore.” Unfortunately, many actors take this as license to do nothing. They mumble, hold back, paraphrase, misread--even when they have the words in front of them. They are afraid they might start “to act.” But, at that first read-through, it is impossible “to act” anything. If, by acting, one means giving the character an emotional life, there is no way an actor, at a first read through, can give a character an emotional life. But he/she can “demonstrate the text;” “put that out there,” so that the newly formed ensemble can sense the architecture of the text they will be committed to rendering (in emotional form) for the entire rehearsal period. Elaborate.
[Another thing an actor can bring to the table in a first read through is research. The actor can know what each word means and how it is pronounced. That is the actor’s job. And it should be there at the first reading of the text. Nothing is more frustrating than an actor interrupting the rhythm of the reading, saying, “sorry -- how do you pronounce that?” Or, “what does that word mean? I’m not sure.” If the actor has the script before hand, there are all sorts of places where the pronunciations and meanings of words can be found.] (Elaborate)
THE IMPERATIVE OF THE
IN DRAMA. (Elaborate)
From DIRECTORS ON DIRECTING, Editors, Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy., Bobs Merrill, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1963, 464 pages
(From the essay, ”An Audience of One,” by Tyrone Guthrie (page 251)
“Where I think the producer’s (director’s) work requires the greatest amount of time and care spent upon it is in the vocal interpretation of the play. . . .the performance of a play is, on a smaller scale, a performance of a musical work. The script is, as it were, sung, because speaking and singing are, after all, the same process. Although I am speaking now and not singing, I am uttering a definable tune all the time. Every syllable I utter is on a certain pitch and a musician could say precisely where it was. Every sentence that I phrase is consciously phrased in a certain rhythm. The pauses, although I am not conscious of it, are expressing an instinctive need to pause, not merely to breathe, but for clarity and various other interpretive purposes. . .”
(From the essay, “Staging Shakespeare: a survey of Current Problems and Opinions”)
“The modern actor, and director, for that matter, inhibited by an overabundance of naturalism, tends on the whole either to shirk these highly colored musical/emotional climaxes (sometimes by destroying their true quality through shapeless underplaying, sometimes by cutting them) or to present them with a loud, empty rhetorical flourish. It is perhaps a reflection of this age that our actors and we in the audience seem to have lost the appetite for the big dramatic aria where a ‘larger than life’ hero or heroine faces a ‘larger than life’ conflict. We have not lost this appetite in the opera house; indeed, we should be grossly affronted if an opera singer hummed his great aria. . .”
The actor’s first job is to say what is on the page.
The actor’s second job is to demonstate what is on the page.
The actor’s third job is to transcend what is on the page.
While the second and third jobs move the actor off the page and onto the stage, the first job always remains; always stays the underpinning for the demonstrating of the second job and the transcending of the third job. Elaborate.
But how did it go? What happened?
Blanche takes these two simple, seemingly reasonable, questions as an attack.
You’re a fine one to ask me how it went!