EXPRESSIONISTIC REALISM

"Developing and Teaching a Performance Technique"

Expressionistic Realism is an original performance style that provides a stylized, ritualistic expression of reality as we know it. As a style of acting, it uses gesture, mask and movement to physically express emotions and thoughts. This performance style has been my signature style as a director and as a performer for more than twenty years.

"Expressionistic" refers to thoughts and emotions exposed in a specific way by articulation of the different body parts. "Expressionistic realism" builds on the techniques of realistic acting, but then takes that reality and pushes it with emotion and physicality past naturalism and into an expressionistic style, enabling the actors to reveal the true character they play. It's the physicality of the performance that leads you to the soul of the character because it demands the body to exploit and destroy the boundaries of natural observation of life, and the audience gets to live an act of purification, a cleansing "artaudian"-like performance in which cleansing takes place through a ritualistic and exalted performance. Expressionistic Realism allows a "Nietzschean" approach to theatre. Nietzsche created a distinction between the Apollonian principle: reasoned, restrained, self-controlled, and the Dionysian principle: primal, passionate, and frenzied. Expressionistic re-appropriates and reclaims the power of one's own body to translate and transcends immediate dramatic reality onto the stage

I was a guest artist at UCLA, in the Department of Theatre in the 1997-1998 academic years. During the winter quarter (1998) I conducted a ten weeks of workshops and rehearsals that culminated in a production of The Cenci by Antonin Artaud. It is during that period that I devised a point by point framework on the technique of "expressionistic realism". I divided the period of training into five key elements:

1. The Face is the Mask

We work intensely on the expressions of the facial mask by articulation and separation of the facial muscles and features: eyes, eyebrows, mouth. The emphasis is on the eyes as the energy projection point, much like the Indian Classical Dance forms, and to rediscover on the face the silent film type of expression reminiscent of the German Expressionistic Era. Each actor builds with precision the emotional, psychological and social aspects of the character by exploring and finding the particular character's facial "center" that expresses with clarity the psychological and emotional makeup of the character.

2. The Body is the Expression of Behavior

Through exercises, the articulation of the different parts of the body is examined in order to create the precise form of the character that will be put into action. In this type of research, no gesture is accidental. The actor uses the body as a total mask using tension and relaxation at the same time. There the entire frame of the body is deconstructed, in order to give life and expression to each element of the body. Every movement is there to create and define, with extreme precision, all the subtleties and nuances which are intrinsic to the character's situation in relation to other character. The actor reaches levels of expression suggestive of dance or pantomime of any particular moment of any particular situation which the character is involved with or dramatically caught into. Then the actor learns how to use expression in movement and and stillness, in what I call a Frame by Frame Movement Technique. The actor learns 'blocking' and renders it in a stylized and pictorial manner.

3. The Intensity of Emotion and the Lyricism of the Movement

After having trained through the two precedent exercises, the actor involves movement through the space. With support of music as an external tool, and breathing as an internal tool, the physical language becomes more lyrical, approaching the feeling of a ritual dance. The actors learn the inner rhythm of the character and the outer surrounding rhythm. In order to discover lyricism, the actor must tune in with the "musical" aspect of the character. Each character has its own set of harmonies and rhythm which sustain its dramatic experience.

4. The Elements and the Human Behavior

Each "trance movement" will be directed into creating the image of an element (Fire, Water, Air, Earth), and then directed toward the representation of human behavior. These exercises will give the actor the ability to find the body movement of a character through pure physical experience rather than psychological analysis.

5. The Physical Expression of the Words

In these exercises, the actors learn that to speak the text is to reveal images and visions. A text is not said or psychologically rendered; a text is the tool necessary to reveal the hidden images which it holds: hearing a text is seeing. Exercises include work on tonality, rhythm, cadence, and flow.

 

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