1st Year Program
International Theatre School Acting Academy
European training programs for Actors
The course will start with the research of actor’s “neutral state”, which is the fundamental condition that anticipates any kind of expression. Feeling the neutrality means being conscious of one’s own body and its endless unintentional signals of communication.
Actors should free themselves of the repetitive pattern of their habitual behavior in order to find a clearer and more conscious stage presence. A deeper and a more eclectic way of communication is necessary to be a good actor.
Students will attain neutrality and stage presence by practicing with the “neutral mask”.
This is an expressionless mask that, through the elimination of facial expression, allows the actor to concentrate on the body, especially on the plexus. To be more specific, the chest, which is the center of our breathing and which gives an impulse to all the expressions. The movement of the limbs and head follow the respiration or act as an extension of the line of force which is
initiated by the chest.
The objective is to obtain an abstract movement, which is not the imitation of something, but the representation of the essential dynamics underlying the reality around us and the natural phenomena: the elements; colors; substance; seasons; animals. Words and sounds will only be integrated into the movement when the actor no longer wears the mask.
Through the study of the neutral mask, students can increase their power of expression. They will be able to discover the dominant element, color or animal which is hidden in each different character they play. This is not carried out through a psychological process, but through the observation of and identification with natural phenomena as: water, fire, earth and air; students will have to understand the intrinsic dynamic and, through the identification with the element, transform them into respiration and abstract movement. Next step will be taking off the mask and let enter sound, word and text.
The actor in now ready to develop a more conscious expressive potentiality staging a large amount of feelings reach of shades that will keep the actor away from banality of stereotyped acting.
The search for essential and clear gesture leads the actor to the primordial examples of theatre. In fact, in primitive theatre, all gestures were rich, symbolic and meaningful. This ancient form of dramatization had a double level of representation: was verbal (narration of myths) the other physical (rituals). The mythological text are conjugated to a ritual work.
Animal habits, such as passion and the need for sustenance through hunting, and the rich spirit of imitation, which are typical of primitive man, are the basis for this kind of dance. The primitive man enters completely into the spirit and the shape of the animal which is being imitated. In fact, in the primitive custom, there was no distinction between these forms of embodiment. From the mystic and magic union between man and animal derives the choice and exaltation of the Totem. This moment represents the climax of this ritual.
Primitive populations had many spiritual beliefs. Consequently, funeral dances were very important. The purpose of funeral rituals was to protect living and dead people from evil spirits. A continuous ecstatic bond is created, so that the deceased are sure to reach the spirits of their ancestors. The favorite rhythmic motifs for this ritual are full of life. Large steps and jumps are performed with the maximum possible vigor in order to create a circular form that has neither beginning nor end.
This represents the “game-preparation” for war. For several days whole tribes are involved in choreographies that symbolize the struggle with the enemy. The ritual has various phases, which show a dramatic imitation of the battle and the desire to reach a victorious and triumphant epilogue. The traditional chorus is here divided into two sides and the choreography outlines the violent aspects of the competitive activity and the
The Tragedy is appropriately considered the first theatrical style to be dealt with in the 1st year of the course. Greek tragedy is seen as a point of departure towards an interpretation that has the tendency to stylize and to trace, through the texts and the great movements, the essential dynamics that govern the space and conflicts in the Greek play. The experience of Tragedy is the discover of what man recognize as a deep belonging to a common part of the entire humanity in order to discover the meaning of “ being a chorus ” on a stage.
The tragic stage
The point of departure is the search for the levels to which the gesture and the word should be addressed and pushed:
- upwardly as an appeal to the divinity to express the tragedy of man’s in the relationship between Sky and Earth,
- in frontal opening toward the city and the community of man: this is the attitude of the brave man, the commander, the hero
- downward, to manifest pity towards the fragile human condition and as an appeal to the gods of the underworld.
The Greek chorus
The next step is the formation of the chorus. In the tragedy, the ancient chorus represents the human condition that is symbolized by the protagonist. The chorus is conceived as a compact, unified body that assumes a single shape and text, which follows and amplifies the movements of the coryphaeus. Therefore, every “throwing-gesture” of the coryphaeus is followed by the answer of the chorus that represents the consent given by the town council. This figure will result in a sharper sensitivity in mutual listening and an ability to experiment with choral structures and images, which have a strong, symbolic and choreographic impact.
The hero, the coryphaeus, the poet, the orator, the priest
The study of the figure of the hero is connected more closely to interpretation. The point of departure is the style of the orator, whose physical and vocal presence leads to the expression of a strategic sense of rhetoric.
Study of the great tragedies
Finally, students will study dialogues and monologues taken from the main tragedies by Eschilo, Sofocle and Euripide, interpreted through a process of osmosis between text, movement and stage architecture. Very important is the tragic monologue as the dramaturgical moment where the tensions and conflicts of the tragedy meet. The work on the elements (water, air, fire and earth) is now applied to acting of text, conjugating breath and feelings in order to interpret different shades of human soul.
This is the argument of the school first show. Once chosen the myth to represent, actors will stage their own text becoming: chorus, living set and danced ritual that amplifies the action and word of other actors. Through the pressing rhythm of picture-sequence, dramatic introspection is barely outlined while the epic-mythological aspect of the tragic events is stressed. The result is an interesting individual work on the epic text connected to a powerful choral dimension.
Recently the pedagogy of the school has been extended to include Eastern philosophy. As a preliminary study to the tragic form students will be introduced the sacred texts of India, Taoism and Tibet. The martial Arts, the Thai Who Chuan and the Zen experience are new disciplines that like the neutral mask, work on the solar-plexus and on respiration. All these help the actor to “center himself” reunifying "the feeling and the being”.
The second study period is oriented to different narration forms directed to the audience without any kind of mediation , from chivalry romance to oriental stories, from narrator/mime to tells of occidental tradition, from characters of the “fair theatre” to charlatans charmers sellers.The literary text: courtly, sacred and profane
This is an original and complex style where students are transformed into do-all actors , minstrel globetrotters, fighters - acrobats - jugglers, who are able to turn a public square into a stage en plain air . The explosive charge of fair-theatre finds its full shape in the granguignol tale to the paradox the ingenuous jokes of fairy tales, making them naïve and aggressive at the same time.
Who introduces the themes of the legendary story. He aims at a naïve and delirious humor, through the taste for exaggeration and deformation.
Who connects the story to the images to make the tale become a rhythmic score. He often modifies the narrative contents to open towards new meanings.
Doctors, actor, illusionist that stage the persuasive charm of “sellers” of any time.
Very differently from the study of western tales, we will approach the oriental mythical story in order to discover new forms of narrative and gesture. Several kinds of stories will be dramatized: Zen tales, which are synthetic and symbolic and “the word” is essential and poetic; the Tibetan fables, which are pervaded by mythical and fantastic images where the gesture blooms, baroque and delicate as a lily; and finally the comic and rough stories of the Mongolian and Chinese tradition.
The study of mask is preparatory to the study of characters. These are “no-talking” masks where the body movement reaches its fullness and complete amplification. Silence creates a stage space which is finally free of the “noise” of the word. There is a multiplicity and universality of human reactions and interactions, so that with the Basle masks the use of words, which are often trite, is not needed. The Basel Carnival masks are “dawning” masks and for this reason they are also called larval masks. Their state in fact, is not pre-defined because the mask’s expression finds a
shape according to the actor’s movement and his breathing. For this reason, the actor will lengthen the time span between one reaction and another.
The artisans of Basle's masks divide them into four categories: - animals - the mad people of the village - the extroverted people in expansion - the introverted people in contraction. All these characters speak a silent, lavish language that underlines the essence of human feelings. These masks are able to show if the actor’s movements are confused and banal. The student’s aim is the search for a "talking immobility", so he will work on the decomposition of the character’s timing of action and reaction.
The study of the characters of the human comedy begins with the analysis of daily life. The actors’ research begins with the observation of human behavior. It’s important to look at gestures, postures, uncontrolled reactions of man, especially when he is with his fellow humans. We should pay attention to how actions become gestures and the gestures communicate messages. To reach this aim, the students will work on a theoretical as well as a practical plane: from the social-behavioral analysis of Desmond Morris, they learn that unconscious actions and the expressions we are unaware of can reveal much more than words can. From the observation of places and situations in their lives (train-station, bus stop, swimming pool, elevator, a lunch or a meeting) actors can discover signals and impulses to divest conventional reactions. They should be open toward the events and relationships with others, in order to find a natural and genuine interpretation in their acting.
From the observation of reality comes the search for daily life characters. They are first
observed objectively and then pushed toward their allegorical stylization. The objective and detached analysis of daily reality is focused on human behavior, especially in the situations where there is no speaking: "SILENCE ZONES". The character’s psychology is not very important, while the actions are the basis of this study. The philosophy of J.Tati supports this approach. Students will then be asked to identify themselves in a precise daily context, such as a lecture or a meeting. Each student can choose a character in order to “bring it to life”. From the moment students leave their house they have to put themselves into their “character’s shoes” with the purpose of gaining credibility. Therefore, the assignment will be to build the story (past, present and future) of our character’s human typology. During an improvisation of a meeting characters will interact and their psychology and their vices (tic, manias) will emerge. Then situations of
emergency (black outs, fires, accidents of different nature, etc.), will be simulated. In this way the characters should follow their instinctive reactions. We will see whether or not they feel the panic and that will reveal their hidden and repressed nature: their “contrary”. From this point the situation becomes surreal.
The phases of study are the following:
At the end of this study, students will analyse dialogues and situations of theatrical literature: character in now create on given circumstances and motivation. His transformation is connected to the evolution of set and his psychological and behavioural lines will be defined through the text analysis and an interpretative training.
The didactic is now focused on the search of feeling, from the lyricism of poetry to the raw realism of the war scene.
Strong beliefs are certainly a part of the existential development of man in every era. However,
it is between the 1600s and the 1800s that these feelings were expressed through art. Gericault
and Delacroix are witnesses of this figurative art.
The melodramatic acting
The exasperation of feelings, suspended respiration and forward tension are the main characteristics of the lyrical-dramatic style of melodrama.
The great movements of the Tragedy are softened. They are made damp and watery, while the dynamics of flow and reflux predominate. At the beginning, the work on melodrama is very similar to a dance. As in choreography, students will experiment with attraction and repulsion movements. The whole body is involved. Only when this body tension is captured, students can search for sincerity in their interpretation and acting.
In the study of melodrama movement assumes a theatrical dimension. It becomes the expression of feelings or attitudes such as love, hate, hope, pride, strength, weakness and nostalgia that the actors should find inside themselves. The following are some typical situations of melodrama:
meeting, desertion, betrayal, separation, nostalgia, social conflict, war, letters from battlefields. These themes are subjects for dramatization that will have a musical soundtrack. Acting will lose the epic emphasis of tragedy while the ordinary dialogue of the modern play is required and is more appropriate. Interpretation is realistic and the dialogues are dilated until the words reach a metaphorical meaning.
The study of heroes and anti- heroes of the industrial era (abandoned orphans, merciless usurers, slave merchants, sailors, prostitutes, emigrants looking for fortune) will follow. Misty and faded backgrounds, like old photographs, will be created. The light rhythm of Waltz or the sensual Tango are the appropriate notes to accompany the great feelings of the stories in the melodramatic repertoire.
Narration, stories and auteur poems
Finally we will deal with the reading and studying of narrative works, stories and poems; we will go from the ‘800 till today: from Russian romantic literature Novels and poetry taken from romantic literature to French one, from Flaubert to Rimbaud, from Neruda to Pessoa, from Apollinaire to Hikmet from Pavese to Baricco; Students will also try short poetic writings later elaborated inside complex stage picture.
Exasperation of feelings
Sometimes the tragedy of human destiny is loaded so that the dramatic exaggeration often leads to paradox and laughter. The situation and the characters become grotesque representations of fateful destiny. Life can be tragic or comic: it just depends on how man faces his existence.
The student soon discovers the endless potential of this style. He creates comic, absurd or paradoxical adaptations by drawing on different writing mechanisms: "mime - narrator" , the narrator’s "voice off", the disorder in narration, the roles switching, etc.
From the White Pantomime to “Ragtime”
The Pantomime and its evolution in the world of the image, represents the conclusion to this section about melodrama. Pantomime is the art of silent stories, which uses the language of mime. The gestures are like words in a dictionary which give meaning and describe characters, environments and
feelings. The nineteenth-century “white pantomime” of the lunar Pierrot, introduces the study of the poetic melodrama. Its historical evolution, which is also the consequence of the birth of the photograph and the silent movies, leads to the caricature, which transforms vague characters into fixed stereotypes. The stage writings in this phase use the style of “silent movies of the 20s” as a model, which includes: - falls, misunderstandings and cake throwing would be the normal evolution of the stories as in the best tradition of "ragtime" (C. Chaplin – B. Keaton – Marx brothers - Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy).
The study of primitives’ theatre, characterized by rituals, the Greek theatre and the ancient tragedy, the Latin theatre: comedy and tragedy, the Medieval theatre: jester, farce and the religious drama of sacred representations; the renaissance theatre and the rediscovery of ancient classics, the comedy of art, sudden and auteur comedy: Moliére, the ‘700: theoretical development of acting and function of theatrical art for society, the bourgeois theatre and the ‘800 theatre: Romanticism, Symbolism, Naturalism and Verism. The birth of Cinema.
The writing follows step by step the study of interpretation. During the first year students will practice writing and staging of poems, monologues and narrations both original and of auteur. The approach to a real composition work will be during the 2nd year, beginning from the analysis and staging of intrigues and plots of the Comedy of Art, to the elaboration of a dramatization where improvisation disappears and there will be a fixed plot and text. During the 2nd year students will also start from sketch’s writing and free adaptation of “scenes” and “acts” to arrive to the synthesis of an entire work of a studied author.
THE GRAHAM TECNIQUE
COMEDY OF ART
The lecture notes concerning programs of the International Theatre School of Rome is written by the theatrical didactic responsible of the school, approved by Program for Actor’s European Training (Syllabi for the Actor European Training): Art. 7 of 3/4/08.
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