West Side Story was born of a collaboration between dancer/director Jerome Robbins, librettist Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and of course, composer Leonard Bernstein. It's a retelling of the Shakespearean story of 'Romeo and Juliet', but reset amongst the gangs and ghettos of New York.
Elizabeth Avery Scott, Perform Australia's CEO, spoke with Paula Kruger about the significance of West Side Story in the history of musical theatre.
Program: Afternoons with Paula Kruger, ABC 666
Date first broadcast: 19 March 2019
Acting techniques can help broaden your imagination and skill set as an actor. They can help you explore your character, what makes them tick and how you can authentically embody them.
Acting techniques can help you develop as a performer. They can provide a strong foundation for you to discover who your character is, break down a script and explore your motivations. Trying different techniques is a great way to get to know what works for you as an actor and how to get the most from your role.
Some great actors throughout history have established techniques that saw them through a lively and full career. At Perform Australia, we teach a variety of techniques through our acting courses, so you emerge on the other side a versatile performer with a whole range of skills in your arsenal.
Meisner acting technique
Sanford Meisner (pictured) was an actor in the Group Theatre in the 1930s. The Group Theatre was arguably the most important in modern American history, bringing forth some of the biggest and best acting teachers, playwrights and directors. Meisner was also head of the influential acting program at New York city's Neighborhood Playhouse.
Working with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, who were also at the Group Theatre, Meisner developed and refined his technique for some fifty years. His techniques revolve around series of exercises in which the actor stops aiming for a result, and instead learns to operate in the moment and given circumstances for the scene. This is developed through improvisation, instinctual and impulsive response, emotional truth and personal response.
Spontaneous repetition is one of his primary exercises. Two actors sit across from each other and respond to a repeated phrase about the other person's behaviour in the moment, such as "you seem frustrated with me". For one, this eliminates the need to learn and read rehearsed lines and also helps actors to get in touch with their initial and spontaneous responses.
Meisner said the technique "is based on bringing the actor back to his emotional impulses and to acting that is firmly rooted in the instinctive. It is based on the fact that all good acting comes from the heart, as it were, and that there's no mentality to it." Meisner sought to help actors "to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances".
Stanislavski's acting technique
Just the phrase 'acting technique' can't help but conjure the name Stanislavski. It was this revolutionary individual who famously said, "Remember: there are no small parts, only small actors."
Constantin Stanislavski was a Russian actor who developed his famous series of acting techniques in the early 20th century at the Moscow Art Theatre. Through trial and error, these new techniques became a new style of acting which have helped great actors create something great.
Through techniques such as relaxation, observation, sense memory and given circumstances, an actor could understand their character's motivations, obstacles and objectives. They can help performers completely embody their characters, giving a totally realistic portrayal.
With this technique, actors are encouraged to think of the play or movie as a point in time in this character's life. Emotional memory refers to when an actor knows about the character's past experiences and emotions.
Another element of this technique is the observation of people in different situations to develop a good emotional range, so on stage or in front of the camera an actor can respond freely and authentically.
'The magic if' is an activity where an actor identifies with a character as much as possible - empathy is crucial. They can link their own personal experiences with their character and ask themselves the question "What if this situation happened to me?"
In order to make a character more well-rounded, the Stanislavski method encourages actors to have an internal monologue while performing. People have thoughts running through their head constantly, and doing this as your character can help you to immerse yourself in the situation and role, putting yourself in their shoes wholeheartedly and make the scene seem more spontaneous.
As Stanislavski said, "Create your own method. Don't depend slavishly on mine. Make up something that will work for you! But keep breaking traditions, I beg you." The Group Theatre emerged in response to Stanislavski's teaching, building on and changing his original ideas - and Meisner's techniques were in fact a further departure from the practices of The Group. At Perform Australia, we use some of Stanislavski's ideas and some of Meisner's, while rejecting some of both. There are, of course, other approaches to acting which we also endorse. We aim to use those techniques which have proved useful to students over the years.
So yes, take on board techniques and throw yourself into them fully while learning, but find what works for you. Not every technique will connect with you personally.
Perform Australia's CEO on ABC Radio Canberra to speak about 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat'
Writers from Perform Australia contribute to these posts