Monday, September 14, 2009

Inner Objects in our daily lives...

One example of how we use Inner Objects in our daily lives is whenever we are recounting a story to someone, we will mentally contact the inner objects to assist us in telling the story.

Rarely do we train our eyes on someone to tell them a story without breaking eye contact to do this. Try it. Tell a friend a story of something that happened to you in the not-too-distant past with your eyes LOCKED on their eyes. You will find it VERY difficult to tell your story to your listener. We naturally avert our eyes (up or to the sides) in order to reconstruct the story we're telling. We do this because we are connecting with our Inner Objects.

Here is an example.

(The Inner Objects in this story are in BOLD):

Yesterday, my friend came over and we made dinner. We had pasta and garlic bread after we got back from a concert at the YMCA Theater. After the concert we went down the subway station and got on right as the train was coming into the station. We transferred to a the 73 bus. The bus was filled with passengers, and I checked my pockets for the change to make sure that I had enough for the fare. Once we got dropped off at the T Stop, we crossed the street and got into the house. Then we made dinner, had a wonderful glass of wine (or two) and enjoyed a television program.

Each of the above objects will be contacted in your mind's eye as you tell the story. Additionally, as the listener hears this story, they will create their OWN Inner Objects. They will visualize the dinner, the train station, the theater, and they will imagine what these places look like in their mind's eye. As the listener hears your story, they will become actively involved through their visualizations of your story.

This is one perfect example of using Inner Objects.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Endowment and the Physical Senses

Endowment is the art of "endowing" an object with properties that it may not possess in real life (i.e., the smell of a rose), or that may cause danger to the performer onstage (a sharp knife).

By endowing the objects that you use in the course of the opera, you are able to summon sensations at will.

It was Uta Hagen's firm belief that the doorway to our human experiences was through our senses. Taste, Touch, Smell, Hearing, and Sight can often remain unexplored by the average person. However, as singer-actors it is vital that we reconnect with these five senses in order to stimulate our onstage life.

It is in the five senses that you can truly open yourself and increase your sensitivity to everything around you. Normal everyday things that can pass you by, can become miraculous when you take them in with your five senses. For example, a tree that you pass on the way to work can become a great thing of beauty when you allow yourself to take it in.

To this day, I can't smell lilacs without being transported to my childhood home in the early spring, when the lilacs were in full bloom. My mother and I would go out and cut branches off the trees and use them as centerpieces for the kitchen table. The odor of those blooms stays with me to the present day, and whenever I smell them waves of nostalgia and memories of my deceased mother move in on me, and I may even find my eyes mist at the memory.

In the same fashion, the taste of cake and ice cream will transport me back to family parties that can instantly create intense feelings of happiness and well-being.

The more attuned we can become to our senses, the more closely we can access a world of creative expression in our acting.

The recreation of physical sensations is a major component of an acting technique.

For further evidence, here is just a very brief listing of physical sensations as they pertain to opera:

Drunkenness: Le nozze di Figaro, L'elisir d'amore

Heat: Carmen, Tosca

Cold: La boheme, Vanessa, Fidelio

Sharp Objects: Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Wozzeck, Lulu, Pagliacci

Fatigue: La Traviata, La boheme, Fidelio

Waking Up/Sleeping: La Sonnambula, Hansel and Gretel, Macbeth

Coughing: Adriana Lecouvreur, La traviata, La boheme

In the next post, I'll describe and discuss the Fifth Exercise: Recreating Physical Sensations.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

Inner objects

Inner objects are mental images that we contact in our mind's eye to propel our thinking during the course of an opera.

These inner objects are not to be confused with the external objects that we can actually see and make contact with in our environs.

They can be used very effectively when listening to others in the opera and also to give a story about the past an authentic reality. These are problems that occur in EVERY opera. Think about every time you are onstage listening to another character tell a story or relate an event, almost EVERY opera contains a character who tells a story about something that happened in the past. One vivid example of this includes Donna Anna's recitative prior to "Or sai chi l'onore". It is a rich depiction of her near rape by Don Giovanni, and is an expressive treasure trove of inner object work.

In the creation of these inner objects, it must be strongly stressed that you do not demand any particular order or scripting of these objects. You must allow them to be fresh and be given free rein while you are staying connected to the particulars of the events of the opera.

The more inner objects that you have, the more creative food you will have for involving, acting thoughts. These objects will help you channel your attention on your character's life and give intense meaning to your ACTIONS -

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The exit

In order to make a successful exit, we must understand that the life of the character who is leaving the stage is continuing off into the wings. It traces back to the idea that as human beings we are always coming and going somewhere. This is what Hagen refers to when she talks about "Destination" and it forms the core of her technique.

Therefore, we can't omit the importance of this idea.

A friend of mine and I recently viewed a performance of "Lucia di Lammermoor" from one of the top opera houses in the country. Following the baritone's first act aria, he exited the stage with a flourish of his cape. My friend and I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of this stagey cliche much to the chagrin of those seated around us. He signaled to the entire audience that this was "the exit" - but in the meantime he had betrayed the truthfulness of the moment, and resorted to bad acting in the service of his ego.

During our last actions on stage, we know where we've come from, and what we're currently occupied with. But you also have to know what your next destination is, and what you WANT as you are exiting the stage. It has to be so specific and detailed that we will be mentally on the way off even as we are exiting. But be on guard that this is NOT just a checking off of fictional facts.

Like the aforementioned baritone, the opposite error can also be made when the self-conscious performer stops acting before leaving the stage. These singers simply "fade into the wings".

As Tosca is exiting in Act Two, she will be gathering her things (i.e. gloves, wrap, safe-conduct notice, etc.) but mentally she will be connecting with the waiting carriage outside and the journey from the Palazzo Farnese to Castel Sant'Angelo. She is already anticipating getting to Mario as quickly as possible so that she can give him the news of his reprieve.

Whatever your final destination is, the action is obviously incomplete until you are well off-stage.

Every exit is a new destination.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reality in Art, Reality in Life

"If Otello were to feel the rage expressed musically and dramatically in Verdi's final scene, one would need to engage a new Desdemona every night, and the tenore robusto would face charges of homicide. Otello could not successfully accomplish strangulation and high vocal tessitura simultaneously. Nor can Violetta become a wild, inebriated woman while accomplishing her melismatic tasks at high levels of vocal intensity and physical energy. A genuinely weeping Rodolfo will find it impossible to deliver his final, heartbreaking, sustained G#4 vocal cries of "Mimi" Andromache cannot move us with her decision to throw her royal son over a precipice if she is as torn apart emotionally as she would be by such a horrible act in real life."

"Art consists of the disciplining of reality for the portrayal of emotion without succumbing to emotion."

- Richard Miller, "On the Art of Singing"

Both quotes come from the great pedagogue Richard Miller, whose contributions to the vocal pedagogy world are legion.

It's very interesting that his thoughts and feelings are not at all out of line with the precepts that Uta Hagen discussed in her life's work. I thought that Miller's ideas just go to show the artistic aspects of the creation of a human character on the stage. It speaks to the necessity of a technique, not only for singing, but also for acting.

I am only impressed when the actor's technique is so perfect that it has become INVISIBLE and has persuaded the audience that they are in the presence of a living human being who makes it possible for them to empathize with all his foibles and struggles as they unfold in the play."

Uta Hagen, "A Challenge for the Actor"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

L'ho perduta, me meschina!!

One of the great things about the Hagen exercises is that they continue to build on one other, adding a different element each time you do another exercise. When approaching any new exercise (whether for singing OR acting) it's important not to forget the other elements as you are adding to your exercise regimen.

In Destination (Exercise #1) we learned how to select pertinent activities from our daily lives in a three-minute time period. We see what motivates our behavior in the pursuit of a simple task, and all the little things that create a life onstage. In the Fourth Side (Exercise #2) we finally manage to create a relationship, either primary or secondary, with the Fourth Side of the theater - neither pushing out into, or ducking from the audience. Changes of Self (Exercise #3) opens us up to the potentialities in finding different aspects of ourselves and putting them to the service of any character we're called up to play.

In Hagen's fourth exercise, The Lost Object, we're able to learn many levels of information that are often overlooked in bringing a character to life. On the first level is the moment to moment existence of any part you play. It teaches you to be TRULY occupied with a task that has high stakes, and to find the way that emotions work on us as human beings.

Emotions in singing can be a deadly topic, because any intense emotionalism can wreak havoc on the singing mechanism. It is my assertion (and I believe Hagen's assertion as well) that we are creative artists, and should have complete control of any character we ever portray. In her own words, Hagen said:

"And hysteria is a state to be avoided by the actor at all costs. It is a state in which one is flooded with truly uncontrollable emotions, in which one becomes illogical to the point of losing awareness of any contact with surrounding realities. It is of no artistic use. It is anti-art!"

Emotions fluctuate like a fever chart, and they are sourced in the circumstances in which you find yourself. As human beings we NEVER plan when we're going to get angry, get happy, cry, laugh or scream, and neither do we plan the length and intensity of these emotions.

Emotions TAKE US, we can't take THEM.

In the fourth exercise you'll set up circumstances in which you find a lost object that has tremendous value to your circumstances. It can be any object - keys, a check, credit cards, directions, phone numbers, eyeglasses, jewelry, airplane tickets, theater tickets, etc. The object MUST have great value to you so that it will intensify your search. Not being able to find this object will evoke STRONG emotions in you. That's good. Make sure you know what the consequences will be IF YOU DON'T find this object.

As you rehearse this at home, observe how something in one moment leads you to the next moment. Remember, too, that you're FAITH in your circumstances is GREATEST when you are TAKING ACTION!! That way, when YOU REALLY look for the lost object, you will find emotions coming in on you and you will BELIEVE that you have really lost the object.

The purpose of the exercise is to train you to focus on your DOINGS, not on your FEELINGS. Many singers go terribly wrong in this department and play general states of emotion which do nothing to further their character's existence onstage. You'll almost always be able to tell someone how you FELT when something happened, but you'd be hard pressed to tell them what you DID in the circumstances.

You'll also notice how emotions work on you - one minute you may be calm. Don't judge that calmness and think "Oh, that's wrong. I should be FEELING SOMETHING here." Let the calm be there, continue the action - you may get something EVEN BETTER in a few moments.

Also be aware that any time you try to REPEAT an emotion you experienced in a rehearsal or performance - THAT BECOMES YOUR OBJECTIVE - and it prevents you from playing actions in the IMMEDIATE present.

You will find that the more you practice this exercise, the more you will become alive to the impulses that move in on you, and will allow you to approach character work in a FRESH and HUMAN way, every time you practice or perform.

To show an example of a "lost object" at its FINEST, here is an example from Act II of Tosca with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi. When the lost object exercise is done correctly YOU as the audience will find that YOUR pulse quickens and that you become involved in the seach. Is she going to find it?

The lost object work begins around 5:35: