Yesterday, I began blogging about the Actor and the Spontaneous Impulse. Today is the second part of that blog. We spoke about why repetition exercise is important for the actor; what impulses are; and why we shouldn’t ignore them.
If the actor is to allow themselves to follow their impulses without blockages, then the self-editing, self-criticism and self-abuse of self-consciousness must be sidestepped. The actor must respond freely within the truth of the moment. The truth of the moment is that you are in a situation with another person and you have something to achieve and set of words provided for you by someone else with which to do it.
Sanford Meisner, the inventor of the Repetition Exercise believed that the way to get truthful, impulsive acting was through focusing on the ‘other fella’ – the other people in your scene. If you have to connect with a real person, you will do so in a truthful way. Responses have to be personal, you can’t fake a response, it will seem out of place to another human being. Repetition helps us to loosen the stays of our self-consciousness and our natural human barriers, our inhibitions. By using the Repetition Exercise, you become more open, more available, more vulnerable and more observant. You can also affect and be affected without the editing process kicking in.
The Repetition Exercise has been discussed at length in this article on Repetition.
However, it’s always worth explaining something in different ways, so here we go. Meisner came up with an exercise called Repetition. Two actors face each other and repeat a phrase that is based on the situation they see their partner in with them. ‘You’re anxious’, ‘I’m anxious’, ‘You’re anxious’ etc is batted back and forth, being slowly influenced and changed – not by the actor- but by what’s going on between those two actors that are sharing the moment. The words become an entirely flexible tool, capable of massive changes in meaning and become a truly spontaneous part of the actor’s performance. This is quite different from the traditional actor bleating out the lines in the same old tired way they did the time before, and the time before that, and the time before that.
In Repetition, the actor never needs to think about what to say. If they do, they’re stuck in their head. They only have to pay attention to their partner and pass ‘the ball’ back and forth between them. The game forces the actor to allow their own spontaneous impulses to guide their acting. When you don’t impede your urges and impulses, you begin to tap into the massive creative power of your improvisational acting capacity. Words become vehicles, not restricted to simple initial recitation, freeing them from literal meaning and allowing the actor to lose themselves in the moment and find ways that they never dreamed they would say the line.
As the game progresses, the phrase changes based on truthful changes that the actor sees in their fellow repetition partner. From here you can grow an entire scene, beginning work with simply repeating the first line of a scene over and over to bring the actors to a point of communication and show them where they can go with just one line.
The actor has massively untapped creative power just behind their self-protection system called ‘inhibitions’. To access this, we follow a simple set of rules offered as the best advice to the actor by David Mamet:
“Invent Nothing, Deny Nothing”.
Don’t try to create. Simply free yourself from your restraints and see what happens. When something happens, don’t ignore it.