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