The Process Of Acting Essay, Research Paper
“The Process” of Acting
Drama is an art. Its artists are actors. Just like any other art form, proper training in theater is essential to gain mastery in the skill of acting. There are many approaches to teaching acting. Gordon Phillips, a seasoned professional in the field, has developed a very interesting method. In his book, Take it Personally, he describes his system as “the most honest, natural, and practical . The closest to the way nature itself works” (26). Phillips’s pedagogical technique revolves around the idea that the actor must learn to use a set of “tools” with which he can handle any role given to him. Through his approach, Gordon Phillips hopes to give all aspiring actors a set of instruments with which to conquer any character. “The Process,” as he calls it, states that the tools in the “actor’s toolbox” do not entail acting in and of themselves, but instead give the actor a way to master the art of acting.
The main component to Phillips’s “toolbox” of acting involves neutralization and actualization of the self, the script, and the acting environment represented in the script. In order to comprehend this, we must first realize the definition that Phillips is referring to when speaking of neutralization and actualization. By neutralization, Phillips means to say that before beginning to tackle any given character, one must open himself up to the new character; free himself of judgments and preconceptions of the character. After this has been accomplished, the actor can move on to actualize, or “humanize” the character.
An understanding of what Phillips means by these two complex ideas now allows us to explore the specifics–sensory, physical, and emotional neutralization and actualization. Sensory and physical neutralization have to do with neutralizing the self. The actor must not allow himself to be hindered by previous learning of the character. He must expose his entire self to the character he is working with. Actualization involves, when referring to the senses and the physical body, heightened knowledge of sensory impulses and muscle movement. This, in turn, will lead to a more sensitive person and a very finely tuned actor.
The emotional aspect of neutralization and actualization is much more complex. It has little to do with the changing or freeing of the actor’s inner self, but of the script and the setting of the play. In neutralizing the script, one must represent a character with “full openness, as if you’re discovering what you’re doing for the first time” (60). The basis of neutralizing the script is seeing it in divergent ways. One must not be confined to only one way of performing a scene.
Again, after neutralization comes actualization. This has to do with the recognition of the fundamental experience the actor feels amid, about, and beneath the character’s script. Phillips writes about the screenplay that “the lines [are] a technical component for the actor. The words represent the artistry of the playwright. For the actors, it’s what they do with the lines through their own full being, that makes them artistic collaborators with the playwright” (64). He describes the process of feeling what the character feels as emotionally reliving. Phillips goes on to talk about understanding one’s acting space. In order for one to actualize it, the actor must make the space “real” for himself. He must imagine it differently in order to retain the emotion that he must convey to the audience. This is because the setting does not have the same meaning to the actor as it does to the character in the play.
Other tools Phillips introduces are more basic areas of acting. One such basic instrument he introduces is the “Three ‘R’s’ of Acting.” It involves the idea that acting is not only a preparatory process, but it is also a process on stage. An actor must not remain unaffected by speech of other characters on stage, he cannot just say his lines and continue on with the play, but instead, there should be interaction between the actors, even though they already know what the other is going to say. Acting is a process of receiving, reacting, and responding.
A second basic acting concept that Phillips goes over is “The Big Three,” needs, obstacles, and strategy. This tool is about the actor recognizing his objective, the barriers that lie in the way, and how he will go about conquering those obstructions to achieve his goal. Phillips explains that this is an essential process in every play. It gives the actor a sense of direction. The actor is inspired, just like a real person to achieve his goal. These goals are not always very significant in real life. For example, one character’s goal might be to receive a smile from another character. The actor can recognize his specific objectives during the play by breaking down every situation into these three things.
Gordon Phillips concludes his study in acting with a description of the “magnetic personality.” He writes that magnetic people “usually believe in themselves; they are positive and feel powerful. They have enthusiasm and confidence. They smile a great deal and are dynamic” (174). Phillips asserts that a powerful actor stems from a forceful personality. One has to “feel” the role; he must work with reality to obtain information, and use this information to make the imaginary world of theater real for his audience.
*All quotes taken from:
Phillips, Gordon. Take it Personally: On the Art and Process of Personal Acting.
Applause Books: New York, NY. 2000.