When Acting Is an Art
TODAY WE WERE called together to hear the Director’s criticism of our performance. He said:
“Above all look for what is fine in art and try to understand it.Therefore, we shall begin by discussing the constructive elements of the test. There are only two moments worth noting; the first, when Maria threw herself down the staircase with the despairing cry of ‘Oh, help me!’ and the second, more extended in time, when Kostya
Nazvanov said ‘Blood, Iago, blood!’ In both instances, you who were playing, and we who were watching, gave ourselves up completely to what was happening on the stage. Such successful moments, by themselves, we can recognize as belonging to the art of living a part.” “And what is this art?” I asked.
“You experienced it yourself. Suppose you state what you felt.” “I neither know nor remember,” said I, embarrassed by Tortsov’s praise.
“What! You do not remember your own inner excitement? You do not remember that your hands, your eyes and your whole body tried to throw themselves forward to grasp something; you do not remember how you bit your lips and barely restrained your tears?”
“Now that you tell me about what happened, I seem to remember my actions,” I confessed. “But without me you could not have understood the ways in which your feelings found expression?”
“No, I admit I couldn’t.” “You were acting with your subconscious, intuitively?” he con- cluded.
“Perhaps. I do not know. But is that good or bad?” “Very good, if your intuition carries you along the right path, and very bad if it makes a mistake,” explained Tortsov. “During the exhibition performance it did not mislead you, and what you gave us in those few successful moments was excellent.”
“Is that really true?” I asked.
“Yes, because the very best that can happen is to have the actor completely carried away by the play. Then regardless of his own will he lives the part, not noticing how he feels, not thinking about what he does, and it all moves of its own accord, subconsciously and intuitively. Salvini said: ‘The great actor should be full of feeling, and especially he should feel the thing he is portraying.
He must feel an emotion not only once or twice while he is studying his part, but to a greater or lesser degree every time he plays it, no matter whether it is the first or the thousandth time.’ Unfortunately this is not within our control. Our subconscious is inaccessible to our consciousness. We cannot enter into that realm. If for any reason we do penetrate into it, then the subconscious becomes conscious and dies.
“The result is a predicament; we are supposed to create under inspiration; only our subconscious gives us inspiration; yet we apparently can use this subconscious only through our consciousness, which kills it.
“Fortunately there is a way out. We find the solution in an oblique instead of a direct approach. In the soul of a human being there are certain elements which are subject to consciousness and will. These accessible parts are capable in turn of acting on psychic processes that are involuntary.
“To be sure, this calls for extremely complicated creative work. It is carried on in part under the control of our consciousness, but a much more significant proportion is subconscious and involuntary. “To rouse your subconscious to creative work there is a special technique. We must leave all that is in the fullest sense subconscious to nature, and address ourselves to what is within our reach. When the subconscious, when intuition, enters into our work we must know how not to interfere.
“One cannot always create subconsciously and with inspiration. No such genius exists in the world. Therefore our art teaches us first of all to create consciously and rightly, because that will best prepare the way for the blossoming of the subconscious, which is inspiration. The more you have of conscious creative moments in your role the more chance you will have of a flow of inspiration.
“ ‘You may play well or you may play badly; the important thing is that you should play truly,’ wrote Shchepkin to his pupil Shumski. “To play truly means to be right, logical, coherent, to think, strive, feel and act in unison with your role.
“If you take all these internal processes, and adapt them to the spiritual and physical life of the person you are representing, we call that living the part. This is of supreme significance in creative work. Aside from the fact that it opens up avenues for inspiration, living the part helps the artist to carry out one of his main objectives.
His job is not to present merely the external life of his character. He must fit his own human qualities to the life of this other person, and pour into it all of his own soul. The fundamental aim of our art is the creation of this inner life of a human spirit, and its expression in an artistic form.
“That is why we begin by thinking about the inner side of a role, and how to create its spiritual life through the help of the internal process of living the part. You must live it by actually experiencing feelings that are analogous to it, each and every time you repeat the process of creating it.”
“Why is the subconscious so dependent on the conscious?” said I. “It seems entirely normal to me,” was the reply. “The use of steam, electricity, wind, water and other involuntary forces in nature is dependent on the intelligence of an engineer. Our subconscious power cannot function without its own engineer—our conscious
It is only when an actor feels that his inner and outer life on the stage is flowing naturally and normally, in the circumstances that surround him, that the deeper sources of his subconscious gently open, and from them come feelings we cannot always analyse. For a shorter or longer space of time they take possession of us whenever some inner instinct bids them. Since we do not understand this governing power, and cannot study it, we actors call it simply nature.
“But if you break the laws of normal organic life, and cease to function rightly, then this highly sensitive subconscious becomes alarmed, and withdraws. To avoid this, plan your role consciously at first, then play it truthfully. At this point realism and even naturalism in the inner preparation of a part is essential, because it causes your subconscious to work and induces outbursts of inspiration.” “From what you have said I gather that to study our art we must assimilate a psychological technique of living a part, and that this will help us to accomplish our main object, which is to create the life of a human spirit,” Paul Shustov said.
“That is correct but not complete,” said Tortsov. “Our aim is not only to create the life of a human spirit, but also to ‘express it in a beautiful, artistic form.’ An actor is under the obligation to live his part inwardly, and then to give to his experience an external embodiment. I ask you to note especially that the dependence of the body on the soul is particularly important in our school of art.
In order to express a most delicate and largely subconscious life it is necessary to have control of an unusually responsive, excellently prepared vocal and physical apparatus. This apparatus must be ready instantly and exactly to reproduce most delicate and all but intangible feelings with great sensitiveness and directness. That is why an actor of our type is obliged to work so much more than others, both on his inner equipment, which creates the life of the part, and also on his outer physical apparatus, which should reproduce the results of the creative work of his emotions with precision.
“Even the externalizing of a role is greatly influenced by the subconscious. In fact no artificial, theatrical technique can even compare with the marvels that nature brings forth.
“I have pointed out to you today, in general outlines, what we consider essential. Our experience has led to a firm belief that only our kind of art, soaked as it is in the living experiences of human beings, can artistically reproduce the impalpable shadings and depths of life. Only such art can completely absorb the spectator and make
both understand and also inwardly experience the happenings on the stage, enriching his inner life, and leaving impressions which will not fade with time.
“Moreover, and this is of primary importance, the organic bases of the laws of nature on which our art is founded will protect you in the future from going down the wrong path. Who knows under what directors, or in what theatres, you will work? Not everywhere, not with everyone, will you find creative work based on nature.
In the vast majority of theatres the actors and producers are constantly violating nature in the most shameless manner. But if you are sure of the limits of true art, and of the organic laws of nature, you will not go astray, you will be able to understand your mistakes and correct them. That is why a study of the foundations of our art is the beginning of the work of every student actor.”
“Yes, yes,” I exclaimed, “I am so happy that I was able to take a step, if only a small one, in that direction.”
“Not so fast,” said Tortsov, “otherwise you will suffer the bitterest disillusion. Do not mix up living your part with what you showed us on the stage.”
“Why, what did I show?”
“I have told you that in all that big scene from Othello there were only a few minutes in which you succeeded in living the part. I used them to illustrate to you, and to the other students, the foundations of our type of art. However, if we speak of the whole scene between Othello and Iago, we certainly cannot call it our type of art.”
“What is it, then?”
“That is what we call forced acting,” defined the Director.
“And what, really, is that?” said I, puzzled.
“When one acts as you did,” he explained, “there are individual moments when you suddenly and unexpectedly rise to great artistic heights and thrill your audience. In such moments you are creating according to your inspiration, improvising, as it were; but would you feel yourself capable enough, or strong enough spiritually or
physically, to play the five great acts of Othello with the same lift with which you accidentally played part of that one short scene?” “I do not know,” I said, conscientiously.
“I know, unquestionably, that such an undertaking would be far beyond the strength not only of a genius with an extraordinary temperament, but even of a very Hercules,” answered Tortsov. “For our purposes you must have, in addition to the help of nature, a well worked-out psychological technique, an enormous talent, and great physical and nervous reserves.
You have not all these things, any more than do the personality actors who do not admit technique. They, as you did, rely entirely on inspiration. If this inspiration does not turn up then neither you nor they have anything with which to fill in the blank spaces. You have long stretches of nervous letdown in playing your part, complete artistic impotence, and a naı¨veamateurish sort of acting. At such times your playing is lifeless, stilted. Consequently high moments alternate with overacting.”
Today we heard some more from Tortsov about our acting. When he came to the classroom he turned to Paul and said to him: “You too gave us some interesting moments, but they were rather typical of the ‘art of representation’.
“Now since you successfully demonstrated this other way of acting, Paul, why not recall for us how you created the role of Iago?” suggested the Director.
“I went right at the role for its inner content, and studied that for a long time,” said Paul. “At home it seemed to me that I really did live the part, and at some of the rehearsals there were certain places in the role that I seemed to feel. Therefore I do not know what the art of ‘representation’ has to do with it.”
“In it the actor also lives his part,” said Tortsov. “This partial identity with our method is what makes it possible to consider this other type also true art.
“Yet his objective is different. He lives his part as a preparation for perfecting an external form. Once that is determined to his satisfaction he reproduces that form through the aid of mechanically trained muscles. Therefore, in this other school, living your role is not the chief moment of creation as it is with us, but one of the preparatory stages for further artistic work.”
“But Paul did use his own feelings at the exhibition performance!” I maintained.
Someone else agreed with me, and insisted that in Paul’s acting, just as in mine, there had been a few scattered moments of truly living the part, mixed with a lot of incorrect acting.
“No,” insisted Tortsov, “in our art you must live the part every moment that you are playing it, and every time. Each time it is recreated it must be lived afresh and incarnated afresh. This describes the few successful moments in Kostya’s acting. But I did not notice freshness in improvisation, or in feeling his part, in Paul’s playing.
On the contrary, I was astonished in a number of places by the accuracy and artistic finish of a form and method of acting which is permanently fixed, and which is produced with a certain inner coldness. However, I did feel in those moments that the original, of which this was only the artificial copy, had been good and true. This echo
of a former process of living the part made his acting, in certain moments, a true example of the art of representation.”
“How could I have got hold of the art of mere reproduction?” Paul could not understand.
“Let us find out by your telling us more about how you prepared your Iago,” suggested the Director.
“To be sure that my feelings were externally reflected I used a mirror.”
“That is dangerous,” remarked Tortsov. “You must be very careful in the use of a mirror. It teaches an actor to watch the outside rather than the inside of his soul, both in himself and in his part.”
“Nevertheless, it did help me to see how my exterior reflected my sensations,” Paul insisted.
“Your own sensations, or the sensations prepared for your part?”
“My own, but applicable to Iago,” explained Paul.
“Consequently, while you were working with the mirror, what interested you was not so much your exterior, your general appearance, your gestures, but principally the way in which you externalized your inner sensations,” probed Tortsov.
“Exactly!” exclaimed Paul.
“That is also typical,” remarked the Director.
“I remember how pleased I was when I saw the correct reflection of what I felt,” Paul continued to reminisce.
“You mean that you fixed these methods of expressing your feelings in a permanent form?” Tortsov asked.
“They became fixed by themselves through frequent repetition.”
“Then in the end you worked out a definite external form for the interpretation of certain successful parts in your role, and you were able to achieve their external expression through technique?” asked Tortsov with interest.
“Evidently yes,” admitted Paul.
“And you made use of this form each time that you repeated the role?” examined the Director.
“Evidently I did.”
“Now tell me this: did this established form come to you each time through an inner process, or after it was once born did you repeat it mechanically, without the participation of any emotions?”
“It seemed to me that I lived it each time,” declared Paul.
“No, that was not the impression that came to the spectators,” said Tortsov. “Actors of the school we are discussing do what you did. At first they feel the part, but when once they have done so they do not go on feeling it anew, they merely remember and repeat the external movements, intonations, and expressions they worked on at first, making this repetition without emotion.
Often they are extremely skilful in technique, and are able to get through a part with technique only, and no expenditure of nervous force. In fact, they often think it unwise to feel, after they have once decided on the pattern to follow. They think they are surer to give the right
performance if they merely recall how they did it when they first got it right. This is applicable in some degree to the places we picked out in your playing of Iago. Try to remember what happened as you went on with your work.”
Paul said that he was not satisfied with his work in other parts of the role, or with the appearance of Iago in his mirror, and he finally tried to copy an acquaintance whose appearance seemed to suggest a good example of wickedness and cunning.
“So you thought you could adapt him to your own uses?” Tortsov queried.
“Yes,” Paul confessed.
“Well, then, what were you going to do with your own qualities?”
“To tell the truth, I was simply going to take on the external mannerisms of my acquaintance,” admitted Paul frankly.
“That was a great mistake,” Tortsov replied. “At that point you went over to sheer imitation, which has nothing to do with creativeness.”
“What should I do?” asked Paul.
“You should first of all assimilate the model. This is complicated.You study it from the point of view of the epoch, the time, the country, condition of life, background, literature, psychology, the soul, way of living, social position, and external appearance; moreover, you study character, such as custom, manner, movements, voice, speech, intonations. All this work on your material will help you to permeate it with your own feelings. Without all this you will have no art.
“When, from this material, a living image of the role emerges, the artist of the school of representation transfers it to himself. This work is concretely described by one of the best representatives of this school, the famous French actor, Coquelin the elder. . . .
“The actor creates his model in his imagination, and then, just as does the painter, he takes every feature of it and transfers it, not on to canvas, but on to himself.” . . . He sees Tartuffe’s costume and puts it on himself; he notices his gait and imitates it; he sees his physiognomy and adapts it to himself; he adapts his own face to it.
He speaks with the same voice that he has heard Tartuffe use; he mustmake this person he has put together move, walk, gesticulate, listen and think like Tartuffe, in other words, hand over his soul to him. The portrait ready, it needs only to be framed; that is, put on the stage, and then the public will say either, ‘That is Tartuffe,’ or, ‘The actor has not done a good job.’ . . .”
“But all that is frightfully difficult and complicated,” said I with feeling.
“Yes, Coquelin himself admits it. He says: ‘The actor does not live, he plays. He remains cold toward the object of his acting but his art must be perfection.’ . . . And to be sure,” added Tortsov, “the art of representation demands perfection if it is to remain an art.
“The confident answer by the school of representation is that ‘art is not real life, not is it even its reflection. Art is in itself a creator, it creates its own life, beautiful in its abstraction, beyond the limits of time, and space.’ Of course we cannot agree to such a presumptuous defiance of that unique, perfect and unattainable artist, our creative nature.
Artists of the Coquelin school reason this way: The theatre is a convention, and the stage is too poor in resources to create the illusion of real life; therefore the theatre should not avoid conventions. . . . This type of art is less profound than beautiful, it is more immediately effective than truly powerful, in it the form is more interesting than its content. It acts more on your sense of sound and sight than on your soul. Consequently it is more likely to delight than to move you.
“You can receive great impressions through this art. But they will neither warm your soul nor penetrate deeply into it. Their effect is sharp but not lasting. Your astonishment rather than your faith is aroused. Only what can be accomplished through surprising theatrical beauty, or picturesque pathos, lies within the bounds of this art. But delicate and deep human feelings are not subject to such technique. They call for natural emotions at the very moment in which they appear before you in the flesh. They call for the direct co-operation of nature itself. Nevertheless, ‘representing’ the part, since it follows our process in part, must be acknowledged to be creative art.”
At our lesson today, Grisha Govorkov said that he always feels very deeply what he does on the stage.
To this Tortsov replied:
“Everyone at every minute of his life must feel something. Only the dead have no sensations. It is important to know what you are feeling on the stage, because it often happens that even the most experienced actors work out at home and carry on to the stage something which is neither important nor essential for their parts. This happened to all of you. Some of the students showed off their voices, effective intonations, techniques of acting; others made the spectators laugh by their lively activity, ballet jumps, desperate over-acting; and preened themselves with beautiful gestures and poses; in short, what they brought to the stage was not what was neededfor the roles they were portraying.
“As for you, Govorkov, you did not approach your role from its inner content, you neither lived it nor represented it, but did something entirely different.”
What was it?” Grisha hastened to ask.
“Mechanical acting. To be sure, not bad of its kind, having rather elaborately worked out methods of presenting the role with conventional illustrations.”
I shall omit the long discussion raised by Grisha, and jump directly to the explanation by Tortsov of the boundaries which divide true art from mechanical acting.
“There can be no true art without living. It begins where feeling comes into its own.”
“And mechanical acting?” asked Grisha.
“That begins where creative art ends. In mechanical acting there is no call for a living process, and it appears only accidentally.
“You will understand this better when you come to recognize the origins and methods of mechanical acting, which we characterize as ‘rubber stamps.’ To reproduce feelings you must be able to identify them out of your own experience. But as mechanical actors do not experience feelings they cannot reproduce their external results.
“With the aid of his face, mimicry, voice and gestures, the mechanical actor offers the public nothing but the dead mask of non-existent feeling. For this there has been worked out a large assortment of picturesque effects which pretend to portray all sorts of feelings through external means.
“Some of these established cliche´s have become traditional, and are passed down from generation to generation; as for instance
spreading your hand over your heart to express love, or opening your mouth wide to give the idea of death. Others are taken readymade, from talented contemporaries (such as rubbing the brow with the back of the hand, as Vera Komissarzhevskaya used to do in moments of tragedy). Still others are invented by actors for them selves,
“There are special ways of reciting a role, methods of diction and speech. (For instance, exaggeratedly high or low tones at critical moments in the role, done with specifically theatrical ‘tremolo,’ or with special declamatory vocal embellishments.) There are also methods of physical movement (mechanical actors do not walk, they
‘progress’ on the stage), for gestures and action, for plastic motion.
There are methods for expressing all human feelings and passions (showing your teeth and rolling the whites of your eyes when you are jealous, or covering up the eyes and face with the hands instead of weeping; tearing your hair when in despair). There are ways of imitating all kinds of types of people, various classes in society (peasants spit on the floor, wipe their noses with the skirts of their coats, military men click their spurs, aristocrats play with their lorgnettes). Certain others characterize epochs (operatic gestures for the Middle Ages, mincing steps for the eighteenth century). These ready-made mechanical methods are easily acquired through constant exercise, so that they become second nature.
“Time and constant habit make even deformed and senseless things near and dear. As for instance, the time-honoured shouldershrugging of Ope´ra Comique, old ladies trying to look young, the doors that open and close by themselves as the hero of the play comes in or goes out. The ballet, opera, and especially the pseudoclassic tragedies, are full of these conventions. By means of these forever-unchanging methods they expect to reproduce the most complicated and elevated experiences of heroes. For example: tearing one’s heart out of one’s bosom in moments of despair, shaking one’s fists in revenge, or raising one’s hands to heaven in prayer.
“According to the mechanical actor the object of theatrical speech and plastic movements—as exaggerated sweetness in lyric moments,
dull monotone in reading epic poetry, hissing sounds to express hatred, false tears in the voice to represent grief—is to enhance voice, diction and movements, to make actors more beautiful and give more power to their theatrical effectiveness.
“Unfortunately, there is far more bad taste in the world than good. In the place of nobility a sort of showiness has been created, prettiness in place of beauty, theatrical effect in the place of expressiveness. “The very worst fact is that cliche´s will fill up every empty spot in a role, which is not already solid with living feeling. Moreover, they often rush in ahead of feeling, and bar the road; that is why an actor must protect himself most conscientiously against such devices. And this is true even of gifted actors, capable of true creativeness.
“No matter how skilful an actor may be in his choice of stage conventions, because of their inherent mechanical quality he cannot move the spectators by them. He must have some supplementary means of arousing them, so he takes refuge in what we call theatrical emotions. These are a sort of artificial imitation of the periphery of physical feelings.
“If you clench your fists and stiffen the muscles of your body, or breathe spasmodically, you can bring yourself to a state of great physical intensity. This is often thought by the public to be an expression of a powerful temperament aroused by passion. “Actors of a more nervous type can arouse theatrical emotions by artificially screwing up their nerves; this produces theatrical hysteria, an unhealthy ecstasy, which is usually just as lacking in inner content as is the artificial physical excitement.”
At our lesson today the Director continued the discussion of our exhibition performance. Poor Vanya Vyuntsov came in for the worst of it. Tortsov did not recognize his acting as even mechanical.
“What was it, then?” said I.
“The most repulsive kind of over-acting,” answered the Director.
“I at least did not have any of that?” I hazarded.
“You certainly did!” retorted Tortsov.
“When?” I exclaimed. “You yourself said that I played——!”
“I explained that your acting was made up of moments of true creativeness, taking turns with moments——”
“Of mechanical acting?” The question burst out of me.
“That can be developed only by long work, as in the case of Grisha, and you could never have had the time to create it. That is why you gave an exaggerated imitation of a savage, by means of the most amateurish kind of rubber stamps, in which there was no trace of technique. Even mechanical acting cannot do without technique.”
“But where did I get those rubber stamps, since this is the first time I have even been on the boards?” said I.
“Read My Life in Art. There is a story about two little girls who had never seen a theatre, or a performance, or even a rehearsal, and yet they played a tragedy with the most vicious and trivial cliche´s. Even you have many of them, fortunately.” “Why fortunately?” I asked.
“Because they are easier to fight than strongly rooted mechanical acting,” said the Director.
“Beginners like you, if you have talent, can accidentally, and for a short space of time, fill a role very well, but you cannot reproduce it in a sustained artistic form, and therefore you always have recourse to exhibitionism. At first it is harmless enough, but you must never forget that it has in it the seeds of great danger. You must struggle
with it from the very first moment so that it may not develop habits which will cripple you as an actor and side-track your native gifts.
“Take your own example. You are an intelligent person, yet why, at the exhibition performance, were you, with the exception of a few moments, absurd? Can you really believe that the Moors, who in their day were renowned for culture, were like wild animals, pacing up and down a cage? The savage that you portrayed, even
in the quiet conversation with his ancient, roared at him, showed his teeth, and rolled his eyes. Where did you get any such approach to the role?”
I then gave a detailed account of nearly everything that I had written in my diary about my work on my role at home. For better visualization I put some chairs around according to their place in my room. At parts of my demonstration Tortsov laughed heartily.
“There, that shows you how the very worst kind of acting starts,” said he, when I had finished. “When you were preparing for the exhibition performance you approached your role from the point of view of impressing the spectators. With what? With true organic feelings, that corresponded to those of the person you were portraying? You did not have any. You did not even have a whole living image, which you could have, if only externally, copied.
What was there left for you to do? To grab the first trait that happened to flash into your mind. Your mind is stored full of such things, ready for any occasion in life. Every impression, in some form or another, remains in our memories, and can be used when needed. In such hurried or general descriptions we care very little whether what we transmit corresponds to reality. We are satisfied with any general characteristic or illusion. To bring images to life, daily practice has produced for us stencils or external descriptive signs, which, thanks to long usage, have become intelligible to everyone.
“That is what happened to you. You were tempted by the external appearance of a black man in general, and you hastily reproduced him without ever thinking about what Shakespeare wrote. You reached for an external characterization which seemed to you effective, vivid and easy to reproduce. That is what always happens when an actor does not have at his disposal a wealth of live material taken from life.
You could say to any one of us, ‘Play for me immediately, without any preparation, a savage in general.’ I am willing to wager that the majority would do just what you did; because tearing around, roaring, showing your teeth, rolling the whites of your eyes, has from time immemorial been intertwined in your imagination with a false idea of a savage. All these methods of portraying feelings in general exist in every one of us. And they are used without any relation to the why, wherefore or circumstances in which a person has experienced them.
“Whereas mechanical acting makes use of worked-out stencils to replace real feelings, over-acting takes the first general human conventions that come along and uses them without even sharpening or preparing them for the stage. What happened to you is understandable and excusable in a beginner. But be careful in the future, because amateurish overacting grows into the worst kind of mechanical acting.
“First try to avoid all incorrect approaches to your work, and to that end study the basis of our school of acting; which is the basis of living your part. Second, do not repeat the senseless sort of work that you have just illustrated to us and which I have just criticized. Third, never allow yourself externally to portray anything that you have not inwardly experienced and which is not even interesting to you.
“An artistic truth is hard to draw out, but it never palls. It becomes more pleasing, penetrates more deeply, all the time, until it embraces the whole being of an artist, and of his spectators as well. A role which is built of truth will grow, whereas one built on stereotype will shrivel.
“The conventions that you found soon wore out. They were not able to continue to excite you, as they had the first time, when you mistook them for inspiration.
“Then add to all this: the conditions of our theatre activities, the publicity attendant on the actors” performances, our dependence
for success on the public, and the desire, that arises from those conditions, to use any means to make an impression. These professional stimuli very often take hold of an actor even when he is playing a well established role. They do not improve the quality of his acting, but on the contrary their influence is toward exhibitionism and the
strengthening of stereotyped methods.
“In Grisha’s case, he had really worked on his rubber stamps, with the result that they were more or less good; but yours were bad because you had not worked them up. That is why I called his work rather decent mechanical acting, and the unsuccessful part of your playing I considered amateurish overacting.”
“Consequently, my acting was a mixture of the best and the worst there is in our profession?”
“No, not the very worst,” said Tortsov. “What the others did was even worse. Your amateurishness is curable, but the mistakes of the others show a conscious principle which is far from easy to change or to root out of the artist.”
“What is that?”
“The exploitation of art.”
“What does that consist of?” asked one of the students.
“In what Sonya Veliaminova did.”“I!” The poor girl jumped out of her seat in surprise. “What did I do?”
“You showed us your little hands, your little feet, your whole person, because it could be seen better on the stage,” answered the Director.
“How awful! And I never knew it!”
“That is what always happens with habits that are ingrained.”
“Why did you praise me?”
“Because you had pretty hands and feet.”
“Then what was bad about it?”
“The bad part was that you flirted with the audience and did not play Katherine. You see Shakespeare did not write the Taming of the Shrew in order that a student by the name of Sonya Veliaminova could show the audience her little foot from the stage or could flirt with her admirers. Shakespeare had a different end in view, one
which remained foreign to you, and therefore unknown to us. Unfortunately, our art is frequently exploited for personal ends. You do it to show your beauty. Others do it to gain popularity or external success or to make a career. In our profession these are common phenomena and I hasten to restrain you from them.
“Now remember firmly what I am going to tell you: the theatre, on account of its publicity and spectacular side, attracts many people who merely want to capitalize their beauty or make careers. They take advantage of the ignorance of the public, its perverted taste, favouritism, intrigues, false success, and many other means which have no relation to creative art.
These exploiters are the deadliest enemies of art. We have to use the sternest measures with them, and if they cannot be reformed they must be removed from the boards. Therefore,” here he turned to Sonya again, “you must make up your mind, once and for all, did you come here to serve art, and to make sacrifices for its sake, or to exploit your own personal ends?
“However,” Tortsov continued, turning to the rest of us, “it is only in theory that we can divide art into categories. Practically, all schools of acting are mixed together. It is unfortunately true that we frequently see great artists, because of human weakness, lowering themselves to mechanical acting, and mechanical actors rising for moments to heights of true art.
“Side by side we see moments of living a part, representing the part, mechanical acting and exploitation. That is why it is so necessary for actors to recognize the boundaries of art.”
It was quite clear to me, after listening to Tortsov’s explanation, that the exhibition performance had done us more harm than good.
“No,” he protested, when I told him my opinion. “The performance showed you what you must never do on the stage.”
At the end of the discussion the Director announced that tomorrow,in addition to ourworkwith him,we are to begin regular activities that have the purpose of developing our voices and bodies,—lessons in singing, gymnastics, dancing and fencing. These classes will be held daily, because the development of the muscles of the human body requires systematic and thorough exercise, and a long time.