Towards an integrated theory of actor training : conjunctio oppositorum and the importance of dual consciousness

Swart, Rufus (2014-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The proliferation of Western actor training methods in the past century had mainly been derived from the groundbreaking research undertaken by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and Constantin Stanislavski at the Moscow Art Theatre, as well as their students Michael Chekhov, Vsevolod Meyerhold and Evgeny Vakhtangov. Poor translations of their original Russian texts have however meant that many of the principles they discovered were compromised due to misinterpretations. Yet, the ‘system’ of Stanislavski, a veritable repository of these theories, served as a template for acting teachers ranging from former American Group Theatre members such as Stella Adler, Morris Carnovsky, Robert Lewis, Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg, and the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, to formulate their own distinctive techniques. The result has been a challenge to traditional notions of actors as impersonators to a more holistic view of actor-performers; versatile, multi-skilled artists willing to reveal themselves through sincere disclosures to an audience, as the theatre poet Antonin Artaud advocated they should. Although this interrogation of the essential nature of the 2,600 year old art of Thespis was necessary, there is a danger that its core tenets may have been marginalised in the process, a setback which might further delay the formulation of its own science. This research was undertaken to identify the core principles of the actor’s art that distinguish it from the other performing arts, as well as to determine how these might best be conveyed to student actors in a contemporary context. Employing the ‘system’ as a guide, in particular its ‘work on oneself’ process, which refers to an actor’s personal training, as opposed to ‘work on a role’, which relates to characterisation and performance, the theories of the abovementioned practitioners were examined and compared to Stanislavski’s to ascertain if they contributed to the further evolution of the art. Once an integrated theory of training emerged it was then tested in praxis, working with different groups of students during a three year period. This thesis documents the findings of both the literary research, based on an analysis of texts related to actor training, and those derived from ‘real-world’ applications of these theories in an Higher Education environment. A key aim of the study was thus to determine whether a ‘work on oneself’ form of training could be offered in the formal education sector, despite its psychological implications, and how this might be approached in a ‘healthy’ manner. A selection of audio-video recordings done during the empirical investigation accompanies the thesis in order to substantiate its theory.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die verspreiding van opleidingsmetodes vir Westerste akteurs in die afgelope eeu het hoofsaaklik ontstaan uit die baanbrekers-navorsing van Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko en Constantin Stanislavski aan die Moskou Kunsteater, sowel as dié van hul studente Michael Tsjechov, Vsevolod Meyerhold en Evgeny Vakhtangov. Swak vertalings van die oorspronklike Russiese tekste beteken egter dat van die beginsels wat hulle ontdek het weens misverstande gekompromiteer is. Tog het die 'stelsel' van Stanislavski, as neerslag van hierdie teorieë, as 'n templaat vir toneelspelopleiders gedien wat wissel van voormalige lede van die Amerikaanse Groep Teater soos Stella Adler, Morris Carnovsky, Robert Lewis, Sanford Meisner en Lee Strasberg, sowel as die Poolse regisseur Jerzy Grotowski, om hul eie kenmerkende tegnieke te formuleer. Die gevolg was 'n uitdaging van tradisionele sienswyses van akteurs as nabootsers tot 'n meer holistiese sienswyse van akteurs as veelsydige, multi-bekwame kunstenaars wat gewillig is om hulself opreg te onthul voor 'n gehoor, soos die teater-digter Antonin Artaud voorgestel het hul moet. Alhoewel hierdie bevraagtekening van die essensiele aard van die 2,600 jaar oue kuns van Thespis nodig was, is daar 'n gevaar dat sy kern-beginsels in die proses gemarginaliseer is, 'n terugslag wat die formulering van die kunsvorm se eie wetenskap verder mag vertraag. Hierdie navorsing is onderneem om hierdie kernbeginsels van die akteur se kuns te identifiseer wat dit van die ander uitvoerende kunste onderskei, asook om te bepaal hoe hulle die beste oorgedra kan word aan student-akteurs in 'n kontemporêre konteks. Deur die 'stelsel' as 'n gids aan te wend, in besonder die ‘werk aan jouself’ proses wat verwys na 'n akteur se persoonlike opleiding in teenstelling met ‘werk aan 'n rol’ wat verwys na karakterisering en performance, is die teorieë van die bogenoemde praktisyns ondersoek en vergelyk met Stanislavski s’n om te bepaal of hul bygedra het tot die kunsvorm se verdere ontwikkeling. Toe 'n geïntegreerde teorie van opleiding te voorskyn gekom het, is dit prakties getoets met verskeie groepe studente oor 'n tydperk van drie jaar. Hierdie tesis dokumenteer die bevindinge van beide die literêre navorsing, gebaseer op 'n ontleding van tekste wat verband hou met akteuropleiding, en die bevindinge wat uit die toepassing van die teorieë in 'n Hoër Onderwys omgewing gegroei het. 'n Belangrike doel van die studie was dus om te bepaal of 'werk aan jouself’ as opleiding in die formele onderwys sektor aangebied kan word, ten spyte van die sielkundige implikasies, en hoe dit dalk op 'n ‘gesonde’ wyse benader kan word. 'n Seleksie van klank-en-video opnames wat tydens die empiriese ondersoek gedoen is, word dus by die tesis ingesluit om sekere teorieë te ondersteun.

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