Saturday, 25 February 2017

Thoughts in Progress

If we do not work on our exterior, our internal characterisation as well as its conception will not reach the audience. Thus spoke Tortsov, theatre and school director whose collaboration with the great theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski formed the basis of the latter’s book An Actor Prepares. His words were on my mind recently as I watched a group of smokers carefully.

Observing them at a distance I came to the following conclusion: they all looked as if they wanted to hold something, anything, all the time. The cigarette in their hands was a mere prop. It could have been any other object, a glass, a dumbbell or a pencil, but I guess the effect would have been less dramatic. This was the second outcome of my observation: their cigarette-holding exercise was a performance.

As a race, we humans are prop-friendly or prop-obsessed (depending on how close we feel towards them). The current mobile phone craze has given us yet another excuse to handle an object. Never mind that the constant swiping and screen-glancing make mobile phone users walking hazards, all they are focused on is the public, unintentional, off-the-cuff (unasked-for) performance they are regaling to an uninterested audience.

This is not a new phenomenon. Go back a few decades and you will notice that cigarettes and alcohol were the go-to props of the day. I have just gone on You Tube to watch a collage of fag-filled clips of the unforgettable Bette Davis. At less than a minute long, the amount of smoke in the video is enough to make you cough. You even forget for a moment that you are watching the late American star … on your computer.

You might disagree with me on the following statement but I do believe that nobody held a ciggie like Ms Davis. Hand on hip, or looking intently in the other person’s eyes, or slowly walking down a set of stairs, or putting the stogy butt out, there was always class in her acting. Precisely what Tortsov insisted that his students have. In another chapter he talks about an actor’s presence on stage, how some have an aura that precedes them even before they utter a word. They could read the telephone book to the whole theatre and still no one would get up to leave. Props very often have a certain influence on this total control of actor over public.


Now, that's the way to hold it

When I was still doing theatre back in my 20s one of my main concerns was what to do about my hands. Not being a smoker or a heavy drinker myself, I did not have the habit of permanently holding an object. To this day I remember my lessons in each of the groups to which I belonged. Once we had a masterclass with a renowned professional Cuban actor. At the end of the session he approached me and said sternly: “I liked your performance. You have a good voice, perfect spatial sense and clear articulation. But your hands let you down. They are all over the gaffe. Rein them in. You are in command. Rein them in.”

I did not mind his comment, it was true. The issue was that I seriously did not know what to do with my hands. The most common mistake for two actors rehearsing a scene is to put their hands in their pockets (if they have them), cross their arms or adopt the teapot pose (hands on hips).

Perhaps this is what Shakespeare had in mind when he stated that “All the world’s a stage”. Now, I wonder what he ever did with his hands. Or perhaps, he was a smoker.



© 2017

Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 1st March at 6pm (GMT)

21 comments:

  1. Ha! Very interesting. Because of you, I'll now be paying closer attention to actors' hands.

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  2. Terrific observations! That added addiction to cigarettes as a prop is one of the things that makes it so hard for some smokers to quit.

    And you're right about Bette Davis. She personified class and glamour. Her skillful use of cigarettes as a glamorous prop likely prompted many women to take up the habit.

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  3. ( i'm a little teapot short and stout here is my handle....shit, i'm a sugar bowl)

    A fun post. I don't think I would have enjoyed the video as much if I hadn't read it. Waits uses hands as a prop like nobody else.

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  4. You are very observant! Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Hard to hide when you are fidgety but how about putting them in one's pockets ~

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  6. They did make smoking seem so sexy but I can remember the first time I really kissed a smoker and, as a non-smoker, about gagged

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  7. I always look at people's hands when watching them...Interesting observations. Do you do anything differently with your hands now?

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  8. All time they want to sell us something..cigarettes ,cellphones ,yes ,you name it..and always With a pretty girl og a handsome man showing it

    Besides that..I loooove old Movies and stars..Think they really had a class you dont find today..and Bettie Davies along With Ava Gardner ,Laureen Bacall ,Ingrid Bergman and many many more(they are such beauties I should like to blog about some of them in a time)Nice post once again Cuban!

    Have a sweet sunday!

    Greetings from Norway

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  9. Peoples hands fascinate, I like to watch a twitching pair. Can't say I like them when holding cigarettes but I agree Bette had it down to a fine art, as well as her acting.

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  10. Quire a hands on approach today, had to at my bay. I watch where hands go once in a while.

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  11. Occasionally in a social situation, if I am not very interested in what is going on, I start thinking about how everyone is standing, including myself. And at that point I also run into the problem of what to do with your hands. When you're not thinking about them they seem to hang quite naturally, but ... !!

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  12. I love looking at people's hands. With so many people botoxing there are too many faces that seem wiped of all stories. But hands - thankfully they still give away our age, and some of the ways we've spent our years.

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  13. I have seen many actors who over-use their hands. It takes away from the performance. Hands and eyes can be the difference between good and great.

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  14. En las películas antiguas el cigarrillo hacía parte de ellas cosa que ahora es bien el móvil y menos toxico.
    Un feliz domingo

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  15. strange. I was looking at her lashes, not the cig. :)

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  16. I have to hand it to you--very nice post. Now you've got me wondering what the heck Shakespeare had in his hands.

    Being half-Italian I do so much of my speaking with my hands. I never noticed this until I did a video interview for a news web site. Even I was amazed at the way my hands traveled all over the place.

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  17. I was looking at her eyes, and not her hands.

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  18. Hi ACIL - so true ... I can't believe everyone (nearly and not me!) wanders around with a phone in their hand ... and yes that fag. Bette Davis was/is an incredible actress .. that video shows here at her best in so many ways - the way she blows the smoke into her partner's face, her eyes are so expressive too ... that languidness. It's interesting how people get nervous as they stand around ... and I do too, but not with a fag, phone or drink in my hand! Cheers Hilary

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  19. I often don't know what to do with my hands and often feel I wave them round too much, specially when teaching or reading poetry in front of an audience. The habit is worse when I speak Italian!

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  20. Hands tell stories...hidden ones. And hers tell some.

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