Want Your Actors To Do It? Try It For Yourself First.

First A Note about Under-Reading & Emotional Release for Actors, Directors and Writers (as I’m working with it at the moment)…

I first encountered Under-Reading & Emotional Release from a marvellous teacher and director Brian Astbury. Brian has worked with hundreds of actors to work out ways to be in the moment and to take risks in their work. I really recommend reading his book Trusting The Actor which is about his journey into figuring out how actor’s work and has definitely inspired my own.

  • Under-reading, very simply is not having the actors holding onto a script whilst rehearsing. Brilliant! Stick with me and I’ll tell you why. Instead of clutching onto a book or wad of papers as some sort of protective armour, their lines are fed to them by an ‘under-reader’ (another actor or person in the room). The under-reader shadows them and feeds them their lines in short bursts whilst keeping the sense of the sentence.  For actors you are literally freed from the script. Immediately the focus is on your partner and on your environment. You are allowed to respond instinctively to the text listening to your gut response. Now this may be controversial but with script in hand, whether consciously or unconsciously, you are pre-deciding the line in your head.  You are self-editing! Some actors can do this brilliantly but I’d guess only after years of experience but even still, how wonderful to not go over the line in your head multiple times on first sight and instead hear it, as though you’re own thought. For the directorI have found that discoveries of character and text are sooner, more immediate and actors make riskier choices quicker losing their fear of leaping into the unknown.  Excitingly, it allows for exploration of movement, fight and voice work to happen alongside text as opposed to often coming second in a separate rehearsal.  It is a phenomenal way of working that I recommend to everyone and can be used alongside many other styles, techniques and exercises. (Go on try it with actioning – I will be this month).

    Johnny Schumacker and Angela Bull with Under-Readers Dan Styles and Claire McKenna and me in the middle of Emotional Release work. Photo by Andy Colbourne

  • Emotional Release is a series of exercises developed to physically tire out the actor. Why? Well when we are physically drained our natural defences or our in built settings of fight, freeze or flee shut down and our emotions that are normally kept bottled up are released. We all have these physical and emotional defences on a daily basis and our brain is there to protect us from pain, physically or emotionally.  Actor – have you ever been told to stop some sort of repeating physical gesture, like waving your hands, which until the moment it was pointed out to you, you weren’t even aware of and then, one being told it’s all you can think about? You go from having some sort of manic wave to clamping your arm down by your side? I’m only guessing now but I’m pretty convinced you were unconsciously blocking against an unwanted emotion. That’s what the brain does, or as Brian likes to call it, (keeping it simple), the Left Brain. Below is how my friend and colleague Ana-Catrina Buchser brilliantly explains it…

Defences are unconscious reactions that protect you and your body in any given situation – from extreme emergencies to everyday encounters. They protect you from your emotions, which can often be too much to handle, by placing you in a state of fight, flight or freeze. Some common defenses: shallow breathing, tense jaws and shoulders, stiffness, strangulated voice, swallowing, crossing arms, tapping, the list is endless.

Pushing Angie…Johnny Schumacker and Angela Bull with Under-Readers Dan Styles and Claire McKenna and me in the middle of Emotional Release work. Photo by Andy Colbourne

Now, if you’re an actor, defenses can be an impediment. If any emotion sets off a defense meant to protect you from said emotion, how are you, the actor, supposed to connect emotionally with your character? I wish there was a way to instruct the Left Brain that some emotions are good, really good, and you want to experience them fully. But there isn’t. So when a character’s emotions reach out from inside your core, trying to connect with your emotions and create beauty, your defenses put up a wall, slam the door and throw away the key. You, the actor, are blocked.

(From Modicums of Inspiration by Ana-Catrina Buchser.)

I first met Ana-Catrina whilst participating at The Lincoln Centre’s Directors Lab in New York, June 2011.  Based on my application I was asked to deliver workshops for the other participating Directors about Under-Reading and Emotional Release. Wonderfully several directors took part physically and left keen to keep exploring the work. And this is then the important bit of this post, finally,…

Try It For Yourself First…

Good actors are brilliant, empathic, intelligent beings that want to be pushed and challenged in the rehearsal room. How can you know how far you can push an actor? Simply by having done the work for yourself.  I have participated in  Brian’s workshops (and very eager to do some more) as well as with many other directors (those blogs will appear later), so I a have a sense of what I’m asking my actors to do. Somebody watching may think I’m being mean or pushing too hard, in fact in New York a couple of directors observing the work said exactly that. I didn’t respond. I turned to the participant and asked them honestly how they felt. Every response at each workshop whether from an actor or director was the same. ‘Exhilarated!’  ‘Worked!’  A recent participant in London said she hadn’t been worked so hard for a while and felt she had made huge discoveries in her own ability.

Whether it’s Under-Reading or Repetition (Meisner)or Image Work or any other from the huge list of acting exercises and methods the only way to truly know if they can or can’t work in the rehearsal room is to give them a go yourself. Then perhaps develop them to work for your rehearsal room, your actors.  So far I have found my biggest task as a Director is to find a common vocabulary between my actors and myself, no matter what School of Acting we each may come from. Whatever works is whatever works and it will be different every time so to make sure you’re ready, try it for yourself first.

Post Exercise giggle…Johnny Schumacker and Angela Bull with Under-Readers Dan Styles and Claire McKenna and me in the middle of Emotional Release work. Photo by Andy Colbourne

Literally having to push Johnny in an Anger Run…Johnny Schumacker and Angela Bull with Under-Readers Dan Styles and Claire McKenna and me in the middle of Emotional Release work. Photo by Andy Colbourne

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