What is a Practitioner?
A practitioner is a person in an industry who practices in their profession, in this case, it will be someone who practices in the art industry. In theatre terms, there are many practitioners who practice different techniques which can be practiced by others to create an influence. These people may also create performances which reflect on their techniques and can be either similar or contrasting to others.
In order to be able to move onto task 2 and chose a technique from a practitioner, it will be important to research a range of different practitioners to compare and determine if they are suitable to use. The two practitioners I have chosen are Uta Hagen and Augusto Boal.
Uta Hagen was born on the 12th June 1919 in Germany and died on the 14th January in New York. Straight away, I noticed that Hagen was born a year after World War One in the country that lost the war, 1919 was the beginning of Weimar Germany. This did not appear to affect her ambitions for acting in Germany, she had already grown up in an art background with her mother being an opera singer and her father an art history professor. Because of her parents involvement in the arts, it meant she would go to see shows, the reason why she wanted to start acting. Hagen had a passion for acting since the age of 6 after going to see St Joan in Berlin with her family, she was not the only member of her family who wanted to go into this profession as her brother, Holger Hagen later became an actor. A year later, however, her family moved to America, this was not because of events in Germany though, it was because her father was offered a teaching job.
During her career, she did suffer on screen, this was in the 1950’s when she was blacklisted from screen after refusing to take part in witch trials. However, I feel that this had a positive affect on her career as instead she continued to perform more on stage, the reason why she fell in love with acting in the first place. Robert Simpson (2004) included a quote from Hagen in his article, “If you want a bourgeois existence, you shouldn’t be an actor”, this quote from Hagen has her views on actors in Hollywood at the time as she hinted that most actors in Hollywood were there for the money, but less so if on stage. In the 50’s when she was blacklisted, she took part in productions including ‘In Any Language’ (1952), ‘The Magic and the Loss’ (1954) and ‘Island of Goats’ (1955). It was not only stage that Hagen had a career in, in 1947, she opened up an acting school with her soon to be husband, Herbert Berghof, which was called ‘Herbert Berghof Studios’ in New York. This acting school meant that she was able to teach others her style and is part of the reason why I feel she has been able to influence theatre, these students will be able to pass what they have learned to other aspiring actors which would mean they spread around the world.
Hagen has been able to influence actors with her techniques from her acting school, she later wrote a book in 1973 called ‘Respect For Acting’ because she wrote that she felt that audiences didn’t always have respect for actors, instead they would always find something to criticise (2008, p.4). But in the 2008 version has a foreword from one of her students “it will take you the rest of your life to read it” (Pierce, 2008, p.2). From this quote, I interpreted that this book should stay with an actor for the rest of their life and they should keep reading it and understand it. This book has three parts, ‘The Actor’ (2008, p.3) (their intentions as an actor, ‘The Object Exercises’ (2008, p.81) (more detailed work and introduces the idea of the fourth wall between actors and the audience) and ‘The Play and the Role’ (2008, 145) (how to connect with a character for a performance). Each part has different exercises and techniques to help and actor improve which are:
Part One: Concept, Identity, Substitution, Emotional Memory, Sense Memory, The Five Senses, Thinking, Walking and Talking, Reality.
Part Two: Ten Object Exercises (The basic Object Exercise, Three Entrances, Immediacy, Fourth Wall, Endowment, Talking to Yourself, Outdoors, Conditioning Forces, History and Character Action.
Part Three: First Contact With The Play, The Character, Circumstances, Relationship, The Objective, The Obstacle, The Action, The Rehearsal, Practical Problems, Communication and Style.
When I read the foreword by David Hyde Pierce, one of the first things he wrote about Hagen was that she gave him a “life-changing” experience (Pierce, 2008, p.1). With Hagen, I feel that she has been able to influence theatre with her long experience and works, starting with ‘Respect For Acting’ and continuing with her next work, ‘A Challenge For The Actor’ (1991). Her guide on how to help an actor truly connect with a character not just through asking a few questions, but fully analysing that character’s life to make it as real as possible. For example, writing an autobiography of the character by getting each detail such as: when they were born, who their family was and going so far as to ask what the character’s family’s ambitions were and one quote that caught me eye in relation to finding out these details was “It can’t hurt; it might help!” (Hagen, 2008, p.154). I found this quote interesting because of the simplicity of it, none of this extra information will hinder your character, it may be able to help and create a moment which they audience may remember.
Augusto Boal was born on the 16th March 1931 and died on the 2nd May 2009 in Rio De Janeiro. His views while living in Brazil caused effect later in life for him, however during his early life, Francis Babbel wrote that his parents (Jose Augusto Boal and Albertina Pinto Boal were economically secure and in terms of aspiring to go into theatre, he would perform at his home in front of his family (2004, page 4).
Doug Paterson wrote that Boal was a cultural activist, meaning he would try to get political views across through art. Aleks Sierz also wrote about this in an obituary for Boal and wrote that his life and works were affected in the 1970’s when then Brazilian military very successful in a coup in the country. At this time, Boal was getting his views about ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ out which was a democracy theatre, allowing audiences to stop action on stage that had a particular issue and act out their views while the other actors go along with it. This developed because Boal would often ask audiences how they would interpret what they had just seem on stage, one member got frustrated that they were not understood so instead, they went up on stage to act it out, leading to the name ‘spect-actor’, written by Paterson (no date) as it brings together the actor and the spectator. This has influenced theatre because at the time, Brazil was a dictatorship and able to invite audiences up on stage to agree or disagree with political views allowed people to be free and express their views through theatre, something that grew through the 1960’s.
Because of the growth of ‘Theatre of The Opressed’, Boal was seen to the military as a threat and in 1971 was kidnapped, tortured and exiled to Argentina. However, this did not stop him, if anything it helped create, develop and release more ideas as two years later he wrote ‘Theatre of the Opressed’ which was developing on what he had already been doing in Brazil. He also wrote three more books but the one I have focused on is ‘Games For Actors and Non-Actors’ (1992) which I feel has influenced theatre through a range of techniques including ‘spect-actors’ (also known as Forum Theatre’) (1992, page 17) , the focus on emotion and how to get an emotion for a certain scene and connecting to the body’s senses. His exile also lead Boal to travel to Europe where in Paris, he used Theatre of the Oppressed to open up centres and run the International Festival of the Theatre of the Oppressed in 1981. Because of this, it is clear that his influence was able to spread not just through Brazil, but across the world as well. The centre in Paris was not the only one he set up as when the military was no longer in charge in Brazil, Boal returned and open up a centre, bringing his views back to his country.
Out of the two practitioners, I chose to look more into Augusto Boal because of his methods to create a democracy theatre, however, as I did not feel comfortable taking this as a technique to teach, I chose not do do Forum Theatre. Instead I chose another technique from Boal’s book, ‘Games for Actors and Non Actors’ which is called: Feeling What We Touch. Boal wrote that these exercises are written in because in everyday life, a person’s “senses suffer” (Boal, 1992, page 61) and these exercises help get back into these senses. I chose this because my senses will be affected every day and they will effect everyone around me so I can try to get others to keep in touch with these senses with the aim to be able to keep control of our own bodies, which will be very important in acting. I wanted to do something more challenging and take away one of the senses, the ability too see, therefore, I chose four different exercises from ‘The Blind Series’ (1992, page 106) which will make the actor think about what they smell, touch and hear.
1: Noises: Getting into pairs, one is blindfolded and the other will be a guide who will make an animal sound that the other person must focus on. From a different point in the room, that person will make a noise and the blindfolded person has to follow it, only moving when they hear a noise, meaning they have to stop when the noise stops. They will have to really concentrate though as all groups will be doing this at the same time (1992, page 107).
2: Smell of Hands: One is blindfolded and the rest get in a line. The blindfolded person will smell each hand across the line and will ask what their name is. Once they have done this the others will move and mess up the order, the aim is for the blindfolded person to know who is who based on the smell of their hand (1992, page 112).
3: Draw Your Own Body: Each person lays down, thinking about all of their body parts with their eyes closed or blindfolded, after a while, they will be asked to draw their body while their eyes are still closed. After gathering all the pictures, they will be asked what they find most interesting about each drawing and they will be asked to identify their piece of paper (1992, page 113).
4: Touch: This exercise also involves the hand, after getting into pairs, they have to touch their partners hand. They will then have to walk around the room blindfolded and separately, after 30 seconds they have to find their partner just by touching their hand, this may involve touching other hands (1992, page 114).
In conclusion, out of these sensory techniques, I have decided on the noise exercise as it will make everyone taking part more wary of what they have to listen to. Listening is key for an actor as they will need to react to lines and sounds on stage and also know their cue to either come on stage or deliver a line. If this doesn’t happen, the show overall will be effected. As well as that, as there will be other noises around the room, therefore, they will have to really concentrate on one noise and remember to stop when the noise stops. As some will be blindfolded, they must also be cautious of what may be surrounding them.
Thursday 15th September
As our task 1 about practitioners will be due next Friday, the aim for this session was to talk more about the commission and different ideas of practitioners to research. By the end of the session, I would like to have learned new names for practitioners to be able to research, this is because I want to expand my knowledge beyond the three practitioners that I had previously learned about in lessons: Stanislavski, Brecht and Berkoff.
Firstly, we talked through what a practitioner meant as that is the focus of this part of the commission, this was only brief though as we all had an idea, it is someone who practices in their profession, in my case, acting. Erica then asked if we knew any practioners which we could then note down and she also wrote down names she knew: Konstantin Stanislavski, Jacques Lecoq, Uta Hagen, Jerzy Grotowski, Augusto Boal, Georg Buschner, Steven Berkoff, Bertolt Brecht, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Michael Chekhov, Joan Littlewood, Harold Pinter, Lee Strasberg, Peter Brook, John Grober, Alan Agbour.
There were many of these names that I didn’t know about before this session so this lesson was interesting for me as I was able to learn of different practitioners in theatre. As two practitioners are required for this research, I had a range of names to choose from, as I was particuarly interested in Stanislavski’s naturalistic techniques, I have chosen two practitioners who are also naturalistic so I can see how their work differs, these are Uta Hagen and Stella Adler.
Now that I have picked two names, I can now go away and start my research on these two practitioners and look through their techniques. I would like to have read through their techniques over the next week so that if I want to change who I am researching, I will still have enough time to do so. Overall I was able to achieve what I wanted to this session as I learned the names of many different practitioners and was able to talk though the commission with Erica and my group.
Monday 19th September
The main focus of this session was for all year 2 actor, dance and musical theare students to have an individual talk with Sarah Berrington about our choices. This will therefore be my aim and if I have enough time, I would like to have gone away to do some research by going into the library and researching both online and in books.
Before this session, I had not looked too much into my choices, Uta Hagen and Stella Adler, however, I had researched about one of Hagen’s techniques called ‘The Three Entrances’. This exercise focuses on the actor thoroughly thinking through what their charatcers purpose for going on stage is: ‘What did that charatcer just do?’ ‘What are they doing at the moment?’ and ‘What is the first thing they want?’ (Hal Frydman, no date). This is what I talked to Sarah about and in order to get more information, I went to the library to research. I was able to find two books for my practioners: Respect For Acting by Uta Hagen and The Art of Acting by Stella Adler, however, I also found a book by another practitioner, Augusto Boal. I decided to look through Boals book, Games For Actors and Non-Actors which had techniques which I found interesting, especially forum theatre, where an audience member goes on stage to change a piece of action that they had just seen on stage to express their views. I then decided to change my mind and use Boal as one of my practitioners. Because I had started research on Uta Hagen, I decided not to carry on with Stella Adler.
I now feel confident with the practitioners that I have decided on, I was also interested in the historical context of both of their lives with both being detained by their country. I will continue with this research and aim to have chosen a technique by Thursday. I was able to meet my aim and have a talk with Sarah with my choices, even if they have since changed.
Wednesday 21st September 2016
Through the morning was Directed Study and a commission session where the aim was to be able to continue research and finish the historical and social context of Uta Hagen and Augusto Boal.
I started my research by looking at Uta Hagen and her social and historical context, what I found most interesting was the reason as to why she was blacklisted in Hollywood. She was blacklisted for refusing to take part in witch hunts, however, this didn’t stop her with her acting classes and performances on stage. In terms of Augusto Boal, I was very inspired that he didn’t stop after being tortured and exiled from Brazil, instead he spread his views on ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ through Paris.
Because of Boal’s backstory and his techniques, I chose to focus on techniques on his book rather than Uta Hagen, I originally looked through his ‘Forum Theatre’ technique, however, because it is focused politically on expressing views, I wasn’t too confident at using it as a technique. As I continued to look through, I started to read through his techniques to get the bodies senses going, especially the blind senses. As there were so many techniques, I chose specific ones that would cover each of the senses, although this didn’t include taste. The exercises I chose are written in my research above. I wanted to pick exercise that I thought would be exciting to teach to my group next week and could learn as to why the senses are so important.
After this session of research, I have decided to use ‘blind senses’ as my technique from Augusto Boal to teach to my group next week. I am glad that I was able to be decided on a technique before the deadline I had set myself. Before next week I now need to have this session planned out so I know what I am saying and how I will conduct this.
Brennan, C. (no date) Uta Hagen Biography. Available at: http://www.notablebiographies.com/newsmakers2/2005-Fo-La/Hagen-Uta.html (Accessed: 20 September 2o16)
Simonson, R and Gans, A. (2004) Uta Hagen: Legendary Stage Actress and Teacher, Dead at 84. Avaiable at: http://www.playbill.com/article/uta-hagen-legendary-stage-actress-and-teacher-dead-at-84-com-117366 (Accessed: 20 September 2016).
Stearns, D.P. (2004) Uta Hagen. Avaiable at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2004/jan/17/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries (Accessed: 20 September 2016).
Murray, M and Portantiere, M (2004) Uta Hagen: Legendary Actress and Teacher, Dies at 84. Available at: http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/news/01-2004/uta-hagen-legendary-actress-and-teacher-dies-at-84_4283.html (Accessed: 20 September 2016).
Hagen, U. , Frankel, H and Pierce, D.H. (2008) Respect For Acting. 2nd edn. Canada: John Wiley & Sons.
Babbage, F. (2004) Augusto Boal. USA and Canada: Routledge.
Paterson, D. (no date) A Brief Biography of Augusto Boal. Available at: http://ptoweb.org/aboutpto/a-brief-biography-of-augusto-boal/ (Accessed: 21 September 2016).
Sierz, A. (2009) Augusto Boal. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/may/06/augusto-boal-obituary (Accessed: 21 September 2016).