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This is seminars in theatre a series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession who comment on the problems and pleasures of life in the theatre. Here now is the host of seminars and theatre Richard Pyatt Welcome to another discussion with our guests on theatre tonight. The subject is geared to one aspect of theatre I should say one aspect but a little different from our usual discussion in that we are presenting this week festival of Shakespeare in honor of his birth week and all of our programs to deal with some viewpoint regarding the performance of the craft. The obstacles the difficulties of performing Shakespeare of course what I've just stated as a premise or series of premises may be a myth anyway and we're going to get a viewpoint on that from our guests and we have to do introduce first Philip Burton. President and Director of the organization known as
AMD but really is the American Musical and Dramatic Academy I believe that's right if I'm not completely right. Mr. Burton will correct me a member of his staff who teaches acting at David Martin and an actress and. Specifically worked with Mr. Burton in the production of his in Washington. She played Ophelia in this production of Hamlet. Me first of all is there a problem. Are there a set of problems with American actors performing Shakespeare. Oh certainly. The problem is putting it very simply the problems of the words. They get great difficulty in making naturally to that tongue.
And this is because they have lost the skill. That was a very strong and rich tradition in Shakespearean acting in this country about prom the time of the 20s for reasons which I'm certain most of our listeners know. There was a tremendous emperor once emphasis placed upon naturalism. And Shakespeare is not naturalistic. And with the emphasis on naturalism that came into vogue a certain kind of training. It's got various forms though they all say that they derive from Stanislavsky. But it's a kind of training which fundamentally now relies upon improvisation in training and on making. While making the simple truth that behavior of the paramount consideration now.
Shakespeare is not naturalistic. Nobody not even Shakespeare spoke of his characters doing the plays and I have discovered I hold Shakespeare classes for professional actors and I have discovered that even very good ones. Have a kind of psychological block. How can I be true when the language I speak is unnatural. One thing Mr. Burton let me ask you a question about Shakespeare is written and I am the time of her basically and the form basically is the way we speak in ordinary language. I mean if I say to you I've just used a I am going time into rhythm. So what is so unnatural about the rhythm of Shakespeare. It's not the rhythm it's the poetry. People don't talk a lot I make me a willow cabin at your gate and call upon my soul in the house of contaminated love then sing them
loud even in the dead of night. People contemplate suicide it's very possible they could contemplate it to be or not to be that is the question whether tis nobler and still retain I'll go on go on my return. No no no no no because the change is whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them to people talk like that is quite natural. Maybe they don't yank me to an American actor and if it isn't natural you say that I have lost the skill to have it. We used to have in America a declamatory school or used this way. I do too but I think it was used in the best sense of its meaning. But this style even within this declamatory style we had natural actors was a very natural I point to complete it.
He wasn't a natural actor he was a true actor. And there's a tremendous difference. Truth is the criterion of any performing art whether it's ballet or Shakespeare or pinto or the most naturalistic soap opera. Is truth it is the criterion not naturalism. The truth is a very grave abstraction to boot. It is all right. Well what I mean mean by truth then is that the feelings and the thoughts which are expressed whether it be by movement all words all what ever have to be truly felt and experienced imaginatively by the performer. Now you've just said something that it indicts you. And I too from the point of view of one would swear that that was a method teacher talking. Well I'm not I'm not opposed to the method whatsoever. No I'm not saying that you are.
But isn't there some when you suggest that an actor must feel this true and then use the feeling of truth imaginatively in the execution of this is the execution is the point. Yes that's where he's crippled. There must be fear what must he think. But must he feel or must he think. How do you mean. Of course you must feel or think what is yours. No. But is it sufficient for him to think without feeling. Of course not. Well then let me go to one of your staff members Mr. Martin and it is your job Mr. mine to communicate effectively to the students of Mr. Burton exactly the theory that he's just very over simplified for us and we will be talking more about it but. How do you communicate to an actor that he must communicate truth in terms of his feeling and then imaginatively execute this.
Well I think there's one definition we cleared up what we mean by natural what we mean by natural. And I think perhaps you can make a distinguishing distinguish between natural and real are naturalism and realism and I think naturalism as we understand the word means a photographic copy of life so that certain attitudes certain truths can be expressed without expression what we call a natural or a photographic way. Certainly you can't tell the darkness in front only and unit of course couldn't have happened that way. Well in this in this way you're setting the clarifying the gnome's would we have a distinction between actuality reality and naturalism. While I know I think perhaps not I think perhaps it's the same thing. Actuality or naturalism in the same way. Then American actors going back to one of the problems that we set out to
open the program with so they are the words words words words we have lost the ability or they do not have the psychological frame of mind in which to deliver these words I think. This is the one of the points you were making. Yes the point I made was that since nobody ever spoke like this they say how can i be true. What is the answer to that. Oh I can tell you. The first thing is you see that they have to be at home. Not every good actor can be a Shakespearean actor let's get that straight. And in more than a person knows tone deaf can go into musicals. I think that the ability to feel poetry and to use all its sense U.S. devices is not dead but somewhat atrophied by disuse. And so the first thing you have to do is to make them
feel at home with poetry and to show the differences between poetry and what they've been used to in naturalistic prose. It works in a different way as well on this matter of poetry let us get the female voice here in the form of Susie me. We've been talking as you know Susie about poetry American actors not having the feel for poetry. But isn't this one of the problems. And you as an actress and even as an actor. That there's been this or awesome fear of poetry so much so that actors American actors have gone to the other extreme and have completely distorted the poetry by concentrating on poetry. How have you gotten around the feeling of poetry in terms of communicating feelings thoughts and very real ideas and Shakespeare. For example when you answer that you know I think
much poetry is that the very fact that it's been charged is much more real you know than human speech the natural speech and then it's it's it's a different it's like prose is like water that can be poured into any sort of vessel. And poetry is like a a cut down time and you can't change it. You can't change it in FLAC. It's inflexible You can't alter it in the sense of being able to change it from one from one thing into another as you can propose. I don't want to get into a discussion of language. Go right ahead. I don't think one thing about. I think language is a difficulty with all actors in Acting Shakespeare but it also is the excitement of Acting Shakespeare because there are
times as in contrast to a REAL to up a modern realistic play or naturalistic play much of it. There are times in Shakespeare when the rhythm of a speech carries the emotion in a sense tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and. While that speech that I had so much trouble with this summer. Oh what a noble mind you 0 3. And that the rhythm the simple rhythm of the speech carries the emotion in the scene. Well for the benefit of our listeners it may not be active so I have this this frame of reference. I think there is a there is a meaning to that and Mr. Burton I'm going to risk your wrath because I'm going to say certain things about it.
One of the things about Shakespeare is that he was such a great writer that he was able to write in and I am big form and place the correct usually the correct emphasis on the verb which is the action word in Shakespeare. I think it was a study made that he had more verbs than. Dante and a number of other people which seems to make him more active but tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. When you say that carries the rhythm of the emotion. This is the kind of thought that seems to be confusing in and of itself and confusing to actors and especially young actors who are trying to get training because and also it sets up for them. I this is what I hear and this is what I think you're confronted with is every day is to burn in with young actors who don't who are not able who have no training but who really are trying to learn the craft of acting as they love it. But it they're so afraid of becoming affected so afraid of becoming unnatural
for what they consider to be natural. That they want to. Experience the very thing that you describe. They really want to feel and they don't. And the idea is that unless they do feel it they're not satisfied. Your MRI. Well what is the guarantee that if you feel it or they feel it that the audience is going to receive it. There's no guarantee at all that's what they that's the way they have to learn the thing of communication. What they feel is nothing like as important as what the audience feels. Cast of any performance is what you make people feel. Well let me ask you this platitudinous question. Suppose the actors are supposed to see me as feeling or get out about the viewer. You know she really feels there's a noble mind being thrown in all this and it's really exploding within her. But the audience isn't getting it because while she's feeling it she's not communicating it. Does the feeling guarantee the communication no not at all and what Darroze. I sense of fear if feeling guaranteed if absorption in a
character and true feeling guaranteed a great performance the best actors are to be found in lunatic. I mean seriously that's nothing to do with their theatrical effect unless they would embarrass us. There's a truth that embarrasses us. It has to be a truth that is geared to the acceptance by an audience. For instance take a simple little thing if they can't hear you. You know me one of the big problems in America and another another thing. Your your physical equipment may be contradicting your feeling. I've seen this very often. There is a wrong assumption on the part of many American actors for instance that if they once they get the costume on in period they will move right. It is not true. It is not true. And unless their body is instinctive the conscious at the instinctive control of their emotions and their imagination. The appearance they make
to the audience will be rock you know. And this is a matter of training. This is also true of the child otherwise that the child would be the perfect actor and it is not true that children do play and make believe but it's only when someone becomes aware that he's playing to someone else that it begins to be something more than just well let me ask this question of all of you. Are they object to. Techniques that an actor can learn or does this sense of theatre that you speak about Mr. Burton is this some mystical vague psychological born with a gift that an actor must bring with him to a training laboratory and then to the stage or is it or is there some way that techniques can be learned objectively. Rather you are confusing all kinds of subjects now right. First of all an actor is somebody fundamentally who finds his best self realisation in performing but
performing for an audience now let's take up Suse's part. Every child plays school shop weddings with complete absorption and with great imaginative control until someone looks at them. When they become inhibited and this is the difference between the universal playing of a child and an actor an actor is not fully performing. Until he has an audience and very often you cannot tell who the good actors are in a class. I would not guarantee now of my students the ones that are going to make it in 10 years time. I can tell you the ones who are best in class but I cant tell you if that magic is going to happen when they step on stage when they
become most fully themselves when they are on public exhibition. This this is a part of the native indictment of an actor. I know most people who become glamorous once they step on stage and I know glamorous we brew fade into the scenery once they step on stage and this is a magic quality. Does this link with the audience bring it out is that what you're suggesting. Of course it's this extraordinary chemistry between the audience. But even so to Burton if this were entirely true. I think anyone would be able to go get on stage and perform who had this. Undefinable quality this particular quality that comes out when they are confronted with an audience and no one would have to train one.
You don't you don't train that you train the control of that what you train is the performance which is a very different matter. You can't teach anybody to act. Now there are teachers in this country so you can hear what they're going on is the universal talent of the child playing. Now I say that true actors are as rare as great pianists everybody can be taught to play the piano and everybody can talk to be told to get up and make a speech but there are a few great orators and I think the talent of acting as I recognize the talent of acting is as rare as that. But then this would not only apply to Shakespeare of all hell be talking on Shakespeare. Well Mr. Martin you know I don't so I feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of your job. What is my. If you can't teach acting as Philip Burton has just said. What is it you do at the studios. Well that's what I ask myself.
I think one is born with the instincts of an actor. You try to bring out that instinct to try to make them aware to develop the instinct. If you can't put anything in them you simply make them aware of it you draw it out as best you can. That that's an interesting statement but I think that this we are overwhelmed by words and terminologies instincts and you bring out an instinct. Now scientists physical scientists have long ago set up what have they have disagreed among themselves as to what constitutes an instinct. What is an instinct. And you're bringing out. You're going to bring out an instinct in an untrained person a person who wants to be an actor for a thousand and one reasons and perhaps none of them need be told or none of them are important. But you're going to work on something that is what do you when you say you're going to bring out the instincts of a
person. Yeah well the instincts of an actor what are they well a certain a certain responsiveness. You could see the make up of the nervous system for instance the natural act of an instinctive actor a born actor has a certain emotional and physical response to stimuli. For instance you take three people and give them an object. One person will be obviously more stimulated emotionally. But how do you bring this out in class or can this be told. In any word it's possible. It depends on the person. Each person I never go in predetermining how to do it because I see in that person something that I think is a workable quality. I try to draw that out of them. I try to make them aware of it to heighten it. Then as you describe some aspect of teaching it's a very personality oriented facet of a person no I'm not sure it's personality my personality I mean
it would depend in order to teach acting. You must have a very definite personality because there's nothing set up. In other words there is no. Ostensibly no means by which another teacher could come in and teach this class the way you teach it because your personality through the know two teachers teachers know two teachers as well as authority and this is what I keep saying. Anybody who is training to be an actor will take from the teacher what he is going to find suits him and that's why I like to submit them to more than one teacher. There are teachers who have a whole definite series of exercises they go through for beginning actors first to relax them to make them unselfconscious to make their reactions completely natural and unthought out. But that's fine. Exercises that will do that you know. But. Then I was who
start with a text almost. Now look at that. There are students who are going to benefit most from the first and the other students going to benefit more motion the second. However many teachers act to submit themselves to any art whether they are playing piano or any performing art. They will only make all Gammick for themselves. What best suits them. They will make organic for themselves what best suits them. Agreed but we must become a little more pragmatic. After all there are certain tools by which a carpenter builds or whatever he builds there. There are these tools and actors too. Among them are his voice and diction. His body his veins his muscles. Speech is a very tangible factor. Speech is constituted of sounds consonants vowels defines they all have their own characteristics and attributes and they all require that all be taught
in our visits. You do teach off cause then it is it. Then why don't. And again I'm throwing this question at you. Then if this is can be taught then why don't we have actors. And I always have to qualify this that there are certainly exceptions I know we have individuals who are quite capable and we have. Brilliant people on the stage in America and we have a few brilliant American actors I say a few wide then collectively. If this can be taught. Why don't we have better speech with all of our actors. Well let's go into that. I think that the standard of speaking usually of young actors today is infinitely finer than it was 10 or 15 years ago. And now that it's become an awareness of the classics and the necessity for good speech with all these resident theater is that a burgeoning throughout the country. The problem is different. And from when you were playing soap operas virtually whether it was on stage or on
television and speech is improving extremely. I think that in ten years time there are going to be young American actors who will be as good as anything in the classical world and this is the reason I wanted to do Hamlet in Washington last year. And I was enormously proud as a man I want to ask you about that. But go on with us. And there were people from actors who saw it who who told me that they didn't know a young group in England could have done anything better and did not as well. I had the Bristol Old Vic company here when they were here for a few weeks. Yes. And they as a group said on this program was that. They have a lot to learn from American
training American actors and American actors have a great deal to learn from the British. There is supposedly some meeting ground in terms of the technique the dress is amde. I'm. Well let me ask you about this happened I mean this hammer that you had in Washington you got me into or was this where was this dog on the what auspices. It was done under the auspices of the Washington Shakespeare Festival which had been going for some years against incredible difficulties but this was their big splash. When they got the kind of help they really needed and it was done in the open it is comparable to joke perhaps free theater and a beautiful setting except that the airplanes go right over the stage. It's at the foot of a hill on which stands the Washington Memorial the Washington motor packets. It's simply a wonderful setting.
And I more people saw that production than any production of Shakespeare in the world lost so obviously it played for six weeks. No other production did two audiences which sometimes were over for if you did use microphones. Oh and how all over the place. Who played your hand. That's why I wanted to do Hamlet because I had found this young actor who is going to be a very famous actor in five years if you want to test that out in five years you know let us have his name and name is Robert drive us. Oh yes the name is Robert drive us. And he'd been doing Hamlet in class with me and I thought he would be very exciting and I wasn't wrong.
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Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 27 of 31
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Series Description
For series info, see Item 3231. This prog.: The problems in presenting Shakespeare today. David Martin, acting teacher; Susie Mee, actress; Philip Burton, president of AMDA, American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-27 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:27:52
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 27 of 31,” 1968-07-09, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2024,
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APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 27 of 31. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from