Hysterical Hygenesis

Can be used in conjuntion with the exercise in “Breaking Away” if you are attempting the Vocal Sequence Tutorial:

This is something of a variation on a Meisner exercise (but not really; it’s its own animal; closer to being on the couch). It is designed to bring you into contact with some aspect of the Other, to do and think and be yourself in the presence of this Other with no acting required. In fact it is a way to practice shrugging off that nagging impulse to act. We might work with this some in class to refine the method, but it is primarily designed as something to do away from the work, when you are tired of making things up but want to create with someone outside of tedious soap-operatic options. It compels you as a person to entertain some new depths.

(That paragraph was aimed at last year’s group. It’s true; you can use it as a fun creative exercise on your own time with fellow actors; but we will employ it as a fundamental research tool this time.)

Sit with a partner, facing each other comfortably, close but not intimately so. One of you is to simply be yourself (a terrifying prospect for many actors). The other is to seem to be his or herself but will actually do something quite “unnatural.” There will be a cycle of actions and then the roles of being and seeming change.

The actor who is being his or herself begins to speak to the other actor. No acting. Just speak to this other person you know in a way which would be comfortable.

The other is in the seat of the Other. To sit in the place of the Other you should seem to be yourself but with some important differences. You do not answer questions. You do not try to meet demands. You listen and assure the speaker you are truly listening. But you must listen in a particular and somewhat unusual way. You listen to the speech with an ear toward hearing something other than what is being said (you are “the Other,” after all). Once you have heard something different, you give it back to the other person. What does it mean to hear something other than what is being said? By forgetting that you know a person is talking to you and listening just to the speech. What if you chopped off part of a sentence or phrase? What if you pulled out a word or a slip of speech? Would it imply some different meaning? What if you re-punctuated or searched for puns? What if you answered some question which was not asked? What if you simply emphasized a word? Or asked for a meaning to be made explicit? Homonyms or antonyms? You are scanning the speech waiting for something else to happen and then you deliver your discovery (no matter how irrelevant) to the speaker. And you shape your “intervention” in a particular way. You don’t want to do a great deal of talking. Keep your response short and somewhat vague. Do not offer any explanation for how or why you formulated your response. Consider making it somewhat oracular (as if uttered by a sage or soothsayer). Or if a question, strangely provocative. Brevity, however, is crucial. Multivalence is preferable. “Overdetermined.”

Once the Other responds to the speech of the first actor, the first actor who is just being his or herself must take in what the Other has said. Give it a moment. Then share a true response and see where it takes you. Think about how you attribute an attitude to this Other because of what is said. You make a projection. Or you strive not to make a projection. But you take in the word of the Other all the same. What happens?

The Other makes one more attempt to hear something else and offers that to the speaker. The speaker takes it in and offers a response. At a certain point in this next response the speaker chooses simply to stop speaking and becomes the Other. That is one cycle. Now the actor who was the Other picks up the speech by truly responding to what the first actor has said and speaks of it to the other without acting. Then the first actor listens as the Other and a second cycle begins.

This should continue until one or both of the actors are ready to stop. If there are troubling emotions emerging at the end, the actors should work, as people, to a comfortable and acceptable close.

(That is the basic framework. Try it first as “yourself.” But feel free to explore in other ways. Speak as a distinct “character” from some script or from your imagination. Speak from a “breakout” position in the Vocal Sequence.)

Because you’re young, a final warning: Remember that this is ultimately an investigatory tool for expanding creativity. Goodwill is essential for this kind of exploration to be fertile. And to maintain trust. Don’t play this game if you intend to be malicious. This is not a first person shooter or a chance to humiliate someone. You can provoke with your interventions, you can even be mischievous (let’s say Puckish), but only because you are interested in finding new truths and new meanings which will be rewarding down the road for you and your partner.

You can share comments at the Performance Group Potlatch.

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