with Michael Chekhov's Acting Technique
FOR AN ACTOR
to have any effect on the audience the first prerequisite is that
this actor be alive. This is a simple fact, a dead actor has absolutely
no effect. What makes an actor alive? The first part of being alive
is to really be alive, to have life within. If one were to compare
a living body to a dead body one would become immediately aware
of one thing. The living body is animated. Implicit in movement
is a kind of life. Within the living body there appears to be a
vital force which is clearly absent from the dead body. We could
call this vital force an energy, a life energy which maintains the
life in the living body, it allows all movements, voluntary and
involuntary, to occur. The quality of the energy is a guide to its
health. It is possible to look at a living body and see the quality
of the energy within, and then to say quite simply that this organism
is strong or weak. This energy exists, but until I can recognize
it it has no form only force, a vital and unmistakable force. Without
its influence the physical body has no support, it falls in fact,
and immediately begins to decay. The second part about being alive
as an actor is to be able to appear fresh and spontaneous, completely
involved in the circumstances of the character as if for the first
time, responding with fullness and truth. This, of course, is the
aim of every acting technique. Michael Chekhov's technique says
we will create the second part by working with the first part.
With a small amount of imagination
applied we can begin to give this vital energy, spoken of in the
first part, a form. Let us suppose that the form it takes is a kind
of inner replica of the physical body. The human being, has a body,
and this body has a form, inside this form one can imagine is another
finer body composed of life energy. The physical body is capable
of movement, this is the actor's means of expression, she moves
in response to the world, she moves towards things, or away from
them, with them, or against them. Sympathy and antipathy are the
causes for her movements, also desire or will.
It is possible to imagine a movement
and have an experience of this movement simultaneously. As soon
as we have an experience then so much can be understood. It is very
simple to do this. If I can say that I have a mirror of my body
inside my physical body then it should follow that I can move it.
Here we have to use our imagination and our will together. If I
tell myself to move my arm up and down, and I do it, this is really
a simple thing which requires nothing more than desire. It is an
ordinary movement possessing nothing special nor unique, something
all of us can do, something we do everyday. This is where we can
begin, with the very ordinary. I can continue to practice this movement
so that I am very familiar with it, then I can stop the movement
all together and begin to imagine that I am simply moving my arm
up and down. This particular imagination is not merely a visualization,
it is a movement imagination, I intend to have the experience of
this particular movement without moving my muscles. This inner movement
is as much an event as the actual movement. But it belongs to the
actor as a means to excite within him the evocative and provocative
expressions required of good acting.
We can begin to work with ordinary
movements devoid of psychological or emotional impact in order to
exercise our ability to have a movement experience without moving
the visible body, the purpose being to feel as if we are moving.
Once this is understood, it becomes quite a pleasurable and free
place to work, fanciful, limited only by the images the actor is
able to find and put to use. This way of working is best suited
to talented actors because the principal involved is a direct appeal
to, and an enriching of the talent within the actor, giving rise
to complex performances. By appealing to the talent and not the
psychological history of the actor the technique opens possibilities
that the limited historical organism has never experienced. It enables
the actor to have a real-time inner experience right now. This we
could call the inner event. What the audience perceives is the response
to this inner event, they do not know the actual cause of the response,
they believe it to be the circumstances surrounding the character.
The talent of the actor allows a connection between two different
occurrences (inner and outer) to take place because the talent of
the actor is in a state of giving to the audience. It is incumbent
upon the actor to know the outer circumstances surrounding the character
very well, during the rehearsal process different inner movements
are being experimented with and laid down as sign posts or anchors
for the performance. In performance the concentration is heightened,
the actor really appears to be living freshly, spontaneously, completely
involved in the circumstances of the character as if for the first
time, responding with fullness and truth. Yet it is the image that
is moving the actor night after night. The inner event, generated
by the image, causes certain impulses to pass through the body of
the actor. Following and/or resisting these impulses creates the
behavior of the character, the outer expression of the actor.
This basic operating principal, the
inner event translated to the outer expression is the key to understanding
the technique of Michael Chekhov. The training is always pointing
to this ability of making an identification with an image, and it
continually confirms that movement is essential to living things.
What is alive is never fixed in space, feelings, will, and thoughts
are human functions that are in motion. Movement in space is subject
to laws and principals, and all of Chekhov's exercises concern themselves
with moving the body in space in order to absorb psychological content
from the movement itself. In the training one receives direct knowledge
into the body by practicing psycho-physical movements which then
are used quite consciously at a later time, during rehearsal and
if need be in performance as well.
This work requires good listening
skills. One works to become reacquainted with natural physical movements
which correspond to psychological conditions, movements which we
use everyday, but we are not conscious of them. We remain unconscious
of them because they are not perceptible to the eye, but they can
be felt if we listen for them with different ears. These are movements
of the inner body which are followed by reactions of the outer body.
It is a natural process made clear and easy to reproduce through
practice. Speaking to a group of actors in New York in 1941 Michael
Chekhov said, " The actor in the future must not only find
another attitude towards his physical body and voice. The actor
must enlarge himself in a very concrete way even to having a very
different feeling in space. His kind of thinking must be different,
his feelings must be of a different kind, his feeling of his body
and voice all must be enlarged."
Through psycho-physical exercise we
seek to illuminate the human experience for ourselves. We also come
to understand movement in an objective way, free from the personality.
It is the individual within the human body we work to wake up, and
this is where the actor's talent resides, it does not live in the
personality. Something as powerful and unique as talent lives in
a larger place within the talented artist. It is with the individuality
that we uniquely express ourselves as artists. We are able to transcend
the personal for the universal, and from the universal make our
way back to the particular of the character. What we are able to
draw upon comes from both human experience and the creative imagination.
It is essentially transpersonal and
draws from a collective archetypal source. By working with movement
we very quickly begin to distinguish real and useful differences
between movements whose directions are up or down, forward or backward,
expanding or contracting because these directions are governed by
laws and the human organism which is alive and consequently in motion
is subject to these basic laws. It is not mysterious, it is simple
and experiential. To learn the technique requires the actor to have
an experience. If there is no experience then what to work for becomes
clear, and if there is an experience then it must become a repeatable
one so that it can be stored and called upon when needed. This is
what is meant by the term psycho-physical acting technique. This
is a practical approach when we can remember that the inner event
is translated to the outer expression. •2002
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Working with Michael Chekhov's
The dictionary defines archetype as the prototype, the type from
which all types derive. One could say that it is the biggest possible
picture of something which contains smaller ideas revolving within
it. A clear example would be the idea of the cat as archetype. It
is very easy to see that a lion, a tiger, a leopard, and a lynx
are each different animals, but there is no denying that all are
cats. The archetype of cat is able to hold all of them collectively
while not diminishing the fact that each is at the same time individual.
If we were studying these animals it would make our work a bit easier
to view them first as cats then as lions, tigers, leopards, and
The pioneering psychologist Carl Jung had very much to say about
the impact that archetypes as collective images have on the human
psyche. His work and the work of his followers is dense and illuminating.
Suffice it to say that these specific images have found their way
into the lives of human beings across different cultures. The images
reside within us in a place Jung has named the collective unconscious.
Cultural history has poured itself into this collective unconscious,
it is a region within the human psyche that is active, yet hardly
in our conscious control.
The ideas about acting developed by Michael Chekhov rely very heavily
on this idea of collective energies. We find, through exercise and
practice, that we can expect specific responses to certain images.
If a room full of actors is asked to create a large movement of
the physical body that could express the archetype of the hero clearly
and succinctly, we would see that virtually everyone in the room
will move more or less in the same way. Heroes are everywhere in
history, in all the great literature, from David slaying Goliath,
to Luke Skywalker defeating the evil Empire. This image lives in
us, and we do respond to it by moving the body. The direction that
the body is compelled to move in is of particular importance to
us. In the room of actors moving we will see that the actual gestures
created by the actors will differ from each other, this having very
much to do with the individual making the movement, but all of these
movements will be in a forward and upward direction because this
is a collective response to the energy of this archetype. The direction
the movement wants to go in holds the useful information for the
actor, because he can rely on it as a living truth. If I move in
this direction there is information for me to take and use, and
also, if I witness the movement as a spectator I understand something
about what is going on. This understanding is not conscious, it
When looking at Michael Chekhov's system one is struck by its simplicity,
its lack of intellectual or analytical substance. We see a few simple
multifunctional tools supported by clear principles. This is so
because he teaches us to use larger trans-personal ideas as source
material to build our work upon. When we address the archetypes,
they lead us to what is called the Psychological Gesture.
The technique is not a linear A to B process. We do not have to
start at the beginning because the beginning and the end are the
same, namely, inspired acting. This is what he was seeking in developing
it. Everything in it adds up to One, each piece of it stands alone,
and at that same time touches all the other pieces. When it is taken
up by a talented actor, one particular tool begins to make connections
with other tools that have been engaged during rehearsals. It's
a matter of applied energy traveling on different circuits, each
vibrating in sympathy with one source. Using archetypes as dynamic
vibrating energies, our task is to set up a condition within ourselves
so that we can have sympathetic vibrations to them. These are honestly
felt things by the actor, real food for artistic self expression.
In Chekhov's own words: "All you experience in the course of
your life, all you observe and think, all that makes you happy or
unhappy, all your regrets or satisfactions, all your love or hate,
all you long for or avoid, all your achievements and failures, all
you brought with you into this life at birth, your temperament,
abilities, inclinations etc., all are part of the region of your
so called subconscious depths. There being forgotten by you, or
never known to you they undergo the process of being purified of
all egotism. They become feelings per se. Thus purged and transformed,
they become part of the material from which your Individuality creates
the psychology, the illusory "soul" of the character."
(To The Actor)
The archetypes are how the unconscious can communicate to the conscious,
and the body is the medium of this communication. We can also take
the process in reverse; by making a psychological gesture that corresponds
to an archetype we can touch the vibration within the unconscious
resulting in an excitation of the conscious. This is essentially
Michael Chekhov acting technique.
To work on movement in this way has a few benefits: It leads the
actor towards making very defined and delineated movements which
are aesthetically pleasing to watch and to execute, it also encourages
a feeling for form, but most importantly it trains us to move what
Chekhov calls the inner gesture which is the ultimate aim of the
technique. The psychological gesture must in the end become an inner
gesture. It is found with the physical body, it corresponds to the
archetype and is archetypal in its form, but this gesture is never
shown to the public. It must become an inner gesture, an archetypal
image that is in Chekhov's words, "a crystallization of the
will forces of the character."
To find the correct archetype as a model for the character is very
simple, it requires neither analysis nor speculation. We must read
the play and make a list of the deeds done by the character in the
course of the play. It is through what has been accomplished that
we can understand an individual. Aristotle said that a man is the
sum total of his actions. When we speak of actions here we must
not confuse them with Stanislavsky's objective, or the actions played
by the actor to achieve the objective, nor his idea of physical
actions; we must stick to the facts given by the author within the
finite world of the play. We can call them deeds done. If we make
a list of these deeds we will be able to draw a defining conclusion
about the character, it is a thread connecting these deeds one to
the other, and this thread is the archetype.
Using this approach let us now find Romeo's archetype from Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet. The immediate response to the question of Romeo's
archetype invariably produces the image of the lover. This could
perhaps work; it is after all a play about two young lovers, and
young actors who see both Romeo and Juliet as the quintessential
lovers more often than not play it that way. A gathering of the
facts will easily illuminate some different choices. Here is the
chronology of Romeo's deeds:
He speaks of his special
love for Rosalind.
He crashes a party at the Capulets, knowing it could be trouble.
He sees a girl there whom he must have. (So much for the love of
He finds out that this girl is a Capulet.
He climbs over the wall of a house where he should not be.
He sneaks up to the balcony to propose love to her, knowing it could
He falls desperately in love.
He receives Juliet's nurse and reassures her that his intentions
He arranges a secret wedding.
He makes love to her.
He marries her.
He rashly kills Tybalt as a result of Mercutio's fatal wound.
He runs away.
He makes attempts to communicate to his wife.
He sneaks back to Verona, a place he has been banished from.
He discovers the apparently dead Juliet in her grave.
He kills himself.
With this list of deeds it is easy to see that the dominant quality
of Romeo's actions is impetuosity. He acts first and thinks later.
We must now begin the simple line of questioning which is "what
kind of person does these things " or who does these things?
The answer is not Romeo. We are looking for an archetype, this image
should appear at the end of the search, it must be at the top of
the ladder, so to speak, and every smaller answer must be asked
the same question. Who is impetuous? A child could be considered
impetuous, but the archetypal child is altogether too general here,
it does not create a spark. One would have to qualify that answer
with something like the only child, or the spoiled child, the orphan
child, the lost child, the prince or princess etc., but none of
these does those deeds. Clearly this line goes nowhere for Romeo
so we leave it and return to the basic question. Who is impetuous?
A fool is also impetuous, a fool is someone who would do the deeds
in the list, and a fool is indeed an archetype, it is an image that
vibrates within all of us, and it can create a spark for Romeo.
This is enough to begin, a little spark that can be brought to a
Chekhov did not recommend that the actor present the archetype of
the fool and call that Romeo. The archetype has too much power as
an image and is not a clearly defined character, in fact actors
presenting only archetypes in their performance appear strong but
blurry, general, and quickly lose interest for us because nothing
can unfold, it is merely force thrown out. It can be astonishing
for a short duration, and can perhaps be useful in a stylistic or
formalistic fashion. It is not the thing itself that interests us,
but the type of will force it has. This is what we use to build
Shakespeare's Romeo upon because it is the energy behind the sum
total of his deeds. These are the things that a fool does and they
are also the things that Romeo does. The fool is the thread one
can draw through all the deeds. This approach to seizing the essence
of the character is quick and direct; it is, as Chekhov says, "the
first clear bell we ring for the character". This image must
be seen as a vital food for the actor to feed upon during rehearsals.
The actor does not enter the stage screaming the archetype, rather
he feeds upon it and easily reflects it in all his behavior. It
could also be called the spine of the character. Through rehearsal
it becomes known directly into the body because the body creates
the psychological gesture for the archetype thereby experiencing
directly the vibration of this energy. The impulses that are stirred
up in the actor are now connected to the will of the fool, and this
is the foundation on which the character of Romeo is built.
The work of the actor and the director is an interpretive art; suggesting
the fool as Romeo's archetype in no way absolutely defines him for
every production of this play. This is only one actor's choice,
one possibility. As was said above he could be played as a lover,
he could also be played as a gambler or even a rebel. I have merely
tried to illuminate a process. The really wonderful thing about
working with the archetype is that the creative individuality of
the actor is given something it can sink its teeth into. Each actor
will respond to his own image, and each actor will know when she
has arrived at the image that will serve her. Some clear confirmation
will present itself as if to say "this is the image to work
with." A kind of bell will sound within. The real purpose of
working with the archetype is to find a synthesis of all the disparate
elements before us. Something must hold it all together, one guiding
principle, one feeling of the whole that makes it possible to act.
. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
with Michael Chekhov's Acting Technique
We have all touched fire before and we have been burned
by it, so we do not have to think about how to behave when handling
it. Every experience we have ever had has been witnessed and felt
by the body. The body has reacted to it and the body has also recorded
it. If we seek the experience as a sensation which is something
felt by the body, as opposed to a memory of a specific event, then
we begin to discover that these sensations are tied together, all
of our sorrows having been forgotten by our conscious selves but
never forgotten by the body are alive as sensation. The specifics
of any past event need not be so important to us. What we find is
that the response to the event is there and can be felt again, triggered
by the inner movements we made when we first experienced this event.
We also discover that all the sensations that produced a particular
reaction in us live together within us. All joys, all fears, all
jealousies, all regrets, all loves, all pleasures, all doubts, all
sorrows and all hopes. They have accumulated each in his own house,
each house living within us as archetypes. I, the actor, can summon
A curious thing about Michael Chekhov’s investigations is
that they invariably yield a limited choice of possibilities. But
soon we begin to understand that with the proper application these
few choices can exponentially grow into a multitude . A clear example
of what I am talking about are these sensations. Soon before his
death Chekhov began to experiment with sensations as archetypes.
He discovered that there are three primary archetypal sensations.
The first sensation, floating, holds all the positive feelings we
might experience. This physical sensation is essentially our ability
to move upward. It is revealed in our language in more idioms than
one, but one will suffice here. We speak of our spirits being lifted
etc. Sensations of joy, pride, love, freedom, hope, etc. move in
an upward direction, and we experience them as a kind of floating
up. The second sensation, falling, holds all negative feelings we
might experience. We speak of being down in the dumps, falling into
despair etc. Sensations of sorrow, doubt, confusion, panic , despair,
etc. move in a downward direction and we experience them as some
kind of fall. The third archetypal sensation, balancing (or seeking
the equilibrium) holds the transitory sensations of understanding
and revelation which follow from the other two. These moments of
balance are when we gather all of our forces to keep our feet on
the ground, as it were, to not fall, to not float away. It is so
easy to fall, so easy to float off, but it requires much work to
stay balanced and awake and this has its accompanying sensations
of calm, collected reserve, power, sobriety, etc.
Obviously we cannot literally float away we have gravity to keep
us on the earth, nor are we continually falling down just to get
up again, we are actually in a kind of numb physical balance. These
actions of floating and falling can be looked at as purely psychological
things which can be translated into physical understandings or in
this case physical sensations, then they become very dynamic realities
for the actor to work with. The sensations are felt by the body,
within the body they correspond to inner movements, or movement
impulses. Gymnasts and acrobats can learn to fall gracefully and
effortlessly without any panic, this is their work and we applaud
them for this ability, but any normal person who has the slightest
bit of a fall or even near fall will receive an instant and definite
panic that is experienced in the pit of the stomach. Just recall
a time when you went to sit down and judged the chair to be a certain
distance beneath you, then gave into the sitting only to discover
that you had miscalculated that distance by just a few centimeters.
The resulting sensation in the pit of your stomach is enough to
cause you to let out a cry or a gasp of fear which always results
in a little laugh once your buttocks finds the chair and your equilibrium
is restored. This fall of a few centimeters is a dynamic experience,
it is in fact a real event that can be useful to the actor. There
is also the moment of desperation when we are awakened from a dream
in which we have begun to fall. This is very primitive business,
but nonetheless very human, it all ends however once the equilibrium
So the work becomes how can I sustain a psychological fall, how
can I sustain a real panic that wants to resolve itself in balance?
Michael Chekhov’s approach always comes back to the imagination,
so to speak about a sustained fall here we must look at it as an
imaginative fall, a fall that begins in the imagination but is felt,
and doesn't end until the actor ends it. It isn’t actually
the fall that interests us but the activity of falling. When the
human body is falling there is an accompanying sensation. Chekhov
said that the door to feelings is opened through sensation. The
process is a clear one. We know as actors that we cannot appeal
to the emotions because we risk coming up with nothing but tension.
We hope for the best and trust in inspiration. It is through our
feelings that we communicate, Chekhov said the feelings are the
language of the actor.
Actors come to believe that if they think sad thoughts they will
become sad. But what is in fact happening to us as humans is that
we are thinking sad thoughts because we are sad. And that it is
our bodies and the sensation of sadness within the body that is
leading us to have sad thoughts. We fail to notice that we are sad
in our hands and shoulders and legs, that our movements are heavy,
and that we are having sensations that are downward moving. This
is always true and we can recreate these downward movements with
our imaginations. Once the sensation begins the natural flow of
events comes unimpeded, so that the sensation awakens the feeling
and the feelings lead us to the emotion which is the final outer
thing seen by the audience.
It follows then that the opposite is true of upward movements and
their accompanying sensations. In the imagination it is possible
to float up, to sustain this floating up and to experience the body
or parts of it moving in an upward direction. The sensations that
follow are ones of pleasure, joy, victory, or freedom.
The balancing sensation is a bit more elusive because we take for
granted our perpetual state of equilibrium, and only experience
the sensation of seeking the equilibrium in order to prevent a fall.
In training we bring ourselves to the point of falling whereupon
we catch ourselves almost as if we were a tightrope walker who must
use all his powers to stop himself from plunging to his death. This
is a very powerful sensation, a moment of revelation and strength.
With practice this sensation can be sustained and we can prolong
the feeling and use it as we need it. These three primary sensations
is work on the vertical line.
The horizontal line, with its directions forward and back, is equally
powerful . The sensation of fear is backward moving, a retreat or
flight mechanism that is quite easy to engage, and produces a curious
effect of doubt, timidity, apprehension, concern, etc.
The forward moving sensation is one of a very active and sure will,
confident, expectant, assured, resolute etc.
The directions of purely right and purely left are subtle in their
psychological meanings. If, however, we look at these directions
as working simultaneously, then something very interesting begins
to occur. We can experience ourselves either growing or shrinking.
This expansion and contraction is full of possibilities, and is
at the very bottom of Chekhov’s technique. It is possible
to form these principles into gestures, or to experience them as
sensations ,also as inner movements.
Chekhov technique is always striving to lead the
actor to an objective understanding of the human condition. These
things spoken of here are universally human, they belong to all
of us, and when we contact them we have an immediate affinity for
them because we recognize them. But more importantly when the audience
watches an actor engaged with physical sensations they experience
a sympathetic response. They say they were moved by the performance
because something in them was in fact moving. If they took the time
to analyze what was going on they would find that the idiom they
just used was simply true.
Objective and the Psychological Gesture
The all important contribution Stanislavsky made
to the art of acting was his idea of the objective, It is a way
to form the work and this helps the actor to sustain the performance
over time because it is a solid footing, clear and energetic. This
dramatic action allows the actor to speak his text and interact
with others in a way that is necessarily consistent with the conflict
presented. Without it the text of the author would be merely written
words spoken aloud. Knowing how we are active in the scene is a
real concern for every actor. We can define what it is with words,
verbs, strong verbs. We can have these verbs in our minds and this
will give us a guide to stay on course with the intentions of the
We can also translate these verbs into archetypal
statements of action which will lead us to gestures, and these gestures
can become our energy source, connecting us to the objective. Being
in the body these forms, Michael Chekhov called Psychological Gestures,
come to the actor directly as knowledge. They are a physical understanding
of the action. Impulses to satisfy this action surge through the
body. The actor experiences them as a real bidding to do the necessary
action, leaving the intellect out of the effort. The inner (psychological
) gesture is the spark to the fire of life on stage. When we talk
about action , we are talking about the will which is centered low
in the body. Student actors are often led to action by way of the
intellect which is centered quite high in the body. This thinking
often causes some difficulty, some faltering and floundering. Action
is not the thinking of the character, it is the will of the character
taking on a form. What am I doing is a question we inevitably come
to as actors, it leads us to the form.What I am doing must be very
specific, the more specific the better. The gesture I seek for this
action becomes alive for me when I can find what the essence of
that action is. If, for example, I determine that my action in the
scene is to seduce the other, then I must find a gesture that is
all about seduction. In seeking it I will find that the gesture
has something to do with a pulling in toward me. I am seducing so
that I can have the other come to me for whatever reason is in the
story. When this happens then I have (taken) the other and essentially
this is what is going on, this business of taking in a very special
way which is seduction. “I Take” could be called an
archetypal action because it holds the smaller actions of seducing
or spying or plundering or seizing or stealing etc.What do I want?
This is how I find the objective. This is helpful for the intellectual
pursuit of finding it. For an actor playing Richard III it might
sound something like this: ”I want to be king”. This
is okay, it has started to wake up something in the actor. In the
end it will become more important to say How do I become king. Then
it is not about wanting something ,but about doing something. Richard
becomes king by murdering, by lying, by stealing, by seducing, and
by seizing power. He is all the time taking in one form or another,
with one quality or another. If the actor finds the gesture for,
“I take”, and works with it in many ways, it will take
him far. The simplicity of the choice helps the actor to explore
its various potentials and range. The exploration is through quality.
To take slowly and sneakily is very different than to take explosively,
which is different again from taking grandly. These qualities added
to the gesture supply the specific of each moment of taking, all
the while the actor is involved with one simple gesture. The gesture
opens within the actor a steady stream of taking, literally streams
of taking are generating impulses to fulfill the action. The body
comes alive in new and unexpected ways, and the actor engages us
because he becomes fascinating. This is the real gift of the performing
artist. To sustain a condition of fascination for the audience.
We who work in the theater are always fascinated by the potential
of Shakespeare but rarely are we fascinated by the actor. Yes, it
is always our hope that we will be, but more often it is just the
play that holds us, the language, the structure, the twists and
turns of plot, the author’s form. We are often let down by
the actor because he is bogged down in text and is living in his
head and not his body.When we look at action in an archetypal way
we find that there are not so many actions. Everything begins with
wanting and then leads to something else .Yet “I Want”
is itself an archetypal statement of action. There is a lovely gesture
that clearly speaks this, a primitive gesture that wakes up in us
these streams of wanting. This Gesture is likely the very first
gesture we make. It is a gesture made by the infant who sits alone
and calls out to the mother, not with words, but with the voice
and body. It says "I want comfort, I want food, I want yo".
We all know this gesture , we have all made it. And if you make
this gesture now you can still feel the streams of wanting moving
through your body. It bids you into action.. As we develop and become
more sophisticated we wrestle with words, concepts, and ideas. We
easily confuse one thing with another, so many things have names
now and we must remember them all. But when we look to the archetypal
then things become simpler, yet no less profound.. Our primitive
needs and wishes do not disappear from us, they stay within the
body and we are in a direct yet unconscious contact with them. This
work has enthralled me for sometime and I have looked long and hard
at it. What I have discovered is this: There are six statements
of action which could be called archetypal, and all other actions
or objectives we would want to play as actors are based in I Want---I
Reject, I Give---I Take, I Hold My Ground---I Yield. These will
suffice. Because they are archetypal they hold so many things within
them. Qualities are infinite, and the quality we use in doing the
gesture will always change the archetypal to the specific. Kissing
and punching which seem to be opposite actions are truly both giving.
One of them is tender and soft, the other is violent and hard. The
specific gestures themselves may differ as well, but giving is essentially
something which is coming from me and going to you.It is best to
be as specific as one can be. It will not do to simply say “I
Give” if what I intend to do is to cheer you up. This specific
choice needs to be settled first. The next question is HOW can this
happen? If I begin to talk about this out loud and really determine
how this can be done, and while I am talking about it I use my hands
to help me, I will find that I unconsciously begin to make gestures
with my hands which are very much about giving. Now I know that
this is how it is done, and I can find the Psychological Gesture
of “I Give” with its light quality and upward direction
which will satisfy the action of cheering you up. My mind is satisfied,
so I no longer have to think about it . But better than that this
gesture of Giving begins to wake up impulses in the body which help
me to lift you out of your doldrums or cheer you up.
We work with five gestures as archetypes, and for
training purposes these five are rich. Gestures of Pushing, Pulling,
Lifting, Throwing, and Tearing are a means of realizing the six
statements of action. There are six directions to exercise them
in: forward, backward, up, down ,left, and right, and there is different
information from each of these directions. As stated above there
are an infinite number of qualities to work with. Qualities are
merely adverbs., Of course, this can become tricky business. In
the beginning students are cautioned to work with qualities that
that can easily be imagined as a way to move. Qualities like tenderly,
slowly, quickly, lightly, heavily, quietly, carefully, carelessly,
sneakily, explosively, sluggishly etc.
Emotional words like angrily are less affective
because actors can fool themselves into believing they are moving
violently, when in fact they have become violent and start moving.
The former is full of artistic potential while the latter can become
a hazard for the other actors on stage.
These essays are excerpted from a book entitled The Michael Chekhov Handbook; For the Actor, published by Routledge Press on the practical application of Michael Chekhov’s
Acting Technique by Lenard Petit. Look for it in bookstores in. Mr. Petit is the Artistic Director
of the Michael Chekhov Acting Studio in New York City.
Books by Michael Chekhov
TO THE ACTOR : On the Technique of Acting
By Michael Chekhov Revised : Routledge
LESSONS FOR THE PROFESSIONAL ACTOR
By Michael Chekhov, Edited by Deirdre Hurst du Prey
Performing Arts Journal Publication Books, NY
ON THE TECHNIQUE OF ACTING
By Michael Chekhov, Edited by Mel Gordon
Preface and Afterward by Mala Powers
Harper Collins, New York ISBN: 0062730371
ON THEATER AND THE ART OF ACTING (AUDIO)
Recorded by Michael Chekhov
Edited, and with a 48 page course guide, by Mala Powers
Applause Theater Books, New York. 4 CDs
Books about the Chekhov Technique
THE MICHAEL CHEKHOV HANDBOOK:
For the Actor
By Lenard Petit
Routledge 2010. ISBN: 0415496721
An Actor Friendly Guide
By Joanna Merlin
BODY VOICE IMAGINATION: Imagework Training and the Chekhov Technique, 2nd Edition
by David Zinder
DRAMA REVIEW-MICHAEL CHEKHOV EDITION
Volume 27, number 3 (t99) Fall 1983
The MIT Press, Journals Dept.
28 Carleton St., Cambridge MA 02142
back to top