Friday, June 22, 2007

Uta Irritates

I'm glad Uta Hagen is dead so no one assigns me any more of her self-important and "scientific" pronouncements for me to read. Oh--don't get me wrong--her theory and exercises are just fine, but she's a blowhard, and turns me off. Her arch tone and complete lack of humor destroy my ability to listen to her, as I AM able to listen to Lewis, or Meisner, or Johnstone, or Cohen (as convoluted as he can get), or any of the other acting gurus with whom I'm thus far familiar. She just turns me off. She's a snob in the wrong ways.

Though, I did, at last, find a way of making "emotional memory" work for me. I had to bridge some gaps in my own imagination to do so. I've found that I don't very successfully transfer an emotionally-loaded image from my own memory to the character/action I'm working on--at least, not just by a mental act of cut-and-paste. What does work for me is to WRITE out an imaginative and situation-relevant character biography in which I marry my own, fictive imagery, situations, characters--what-have-you--with the given circumstances and character details provided by the text; from the biography--which is episodic as well as narrative--images emerge that have the emotional punch I need, and which I don't need to cut-and-paste, because they're already an organic part of the character's life. Finding my emotionally-charged images in a character biography seems to get me past the emotional defences that stop me in my tracks when I just try to raid my own MEMORY. The combination of my imagination, my memory, and character as given in the text, seems to liberate me, however. (It's been a couple of years since I've read Meisner, but if I remember correctly, he'd not be surprise to hear me say this.) I'm also finding that emotionally-powerful images I develop this way for one role remain available to me for work on further roles, which Uta would approve.

UPDATE: I need to confess that my sour disposition toward Uta is less about her than about the associations I have with her work through some bad training experiences, which were not the consequence of her writing. My training experiences have mostly been good, so far, but not all have been (don't bother to look on my resume: I don't list training with which I was unhappy.)

One bit of bad training that did come directly from misappopriation of Uta: an emphasis on playing objectives and tactics so rigidly that little room is left for spontaneity, a problem for which Meisner offers a great corrective.


jason said...

Uta Hagen's first book, Respect for Acting, was great. It was our beginner's book when we went to college and I think it helped lay down a lot of basics. Her second book, A Challenge for the Actor, was absolute crap and I recommend avoiding it like the plague.

I never did care for Cohen's "Acting Power". I know it's a fav at some universities (mine used it) but my guess is they get a deal from the bookseller. He's just regurgitating things that have been better-said by others.

David Millstone said...

Who else has articulated the ideas behind what Cohen so clumsily calls "Relacom?" If there's a clearer description of these ideas, I'd like to read them (IMPRO touches on some it.)

jason said...

I think we skipped over "relacom" as it was a silly word and unneccessary technique. A wise man said, "Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves."