A vast amount of blood, sweat and tears is produced when a writer creates a good script. Every word on the page or even lack of them, are there for a reason. It’s the actor’s job to read, absorb and analyse the scenes written. Then to formulate ideas, observations and decisions on how to act upon that information.
In Practical Aesthetics, scene analysis follows simple, flexible and effective steps. You are encouraged to define:
What the character is literally doing
This is as simple as it sounds – identify what the character is actually doing in the scene, without judgement or metaphor. This might be as plain as having a job interview with a prospective employer, buying some flowers from a shopkeeper or a couple talking about troubles in their relationship. Knowing this gives you the anchor for the scene, and requires no clever interpretation – it’s the base level of what the audience sees.
Having established what the character is literally doing, you then move on to defining what they actually want over the period of the scene. However, it’s important for “the want” to be based on the other person in the scene. And so, it becomes about wanting something from the other. Using the last of the above literal situations, an example might be the girlfriend wants the boyfriend to swallow his pride.
The Essential Action
From there, the actor takes that information and formulates it into what Practical Aesthetics describes as an “essential action”. Again, as was mentioned earlier, the actor is focusing on what they do to the other person. Therefore, encapsulating the entirety of the scene, the essential action should be expressed in the form of “getting something from someone”. If we use the couple again, her essential action might be to “get a loved one to take a chance”.
The choice of essential actions can be vast, but the Practical Aesthetics approach dictates that an essential action is only valid when it meets all of nine criteria set out below:
1) It must be in line with the playwright’s intentions
2) It must not be an errand
3) It must have a cap
4) It mustn’t be emotionally or physically manipulative
5) It mustn’t predetermine an emotional state
6) It must have its test in the other person
7) It must be specific
8) It must be physically capable of being done
9) It must be fun
It’s not important to explain these here, but it is important to know that this checklist forces the actors to get to the crux of what they want to achieve, and gives them focus and a sense of purpose in the scene.
The beauty of Practical Aesthetics is that none of these guidelines prescribe a method of achieving your essential action. Yet it does help you formulate a huge array of potential tactics you might use to get there. This brings up the following questions:
Q. Which tactics do you use in the scene?
A. Whichever one seems to work.
Q. How do you know if your tactics work?
A. Look for the evidence in the other actor!
Q. What if the other person in the scene is creating obstacles and refusing to bend?
A. Use a different one and try again – make it impossible for them not to be affected.
Remember, your scene partner has identified their wants and essential actions and potential tactics to affect you too. Thus, the game is on; let the playing begin.
In rehearsal, the Practical Aesthetics Actor will take the essential action and personalise it to mean something to them. So if the essential action is to “get a loved one to take a chance”, they might say it’s “as if I was convincing my brother to get over his ex, and ask out the girl next door”. The key is, it must mean something important to you, and it must be plausible enough for you to invest your energy in it.
This gives the actor the basis for trying out different tactics with a scene partner using improvisation, without initially concerning themselves with the actual text of the play.
The object of this exercise is for the different tactics to become habitual, and the actual text of the scene can be introduced later, now those tactical muscles have been flexed.
A good actor is an intrepid explorer of scenes, and a Practical Aesthetics Acting Class gives you the map and the compass. The beauty of it is how you interpret them, and how you choose to get to your treasure, is up to you and there’s never only one journey.
With all the above preparation, analysis and practice put in, the Practical Aesthetics actor can embark on any given performance with the confidence of knowing what they are setting out to achieve, and the freedom and flexibility to act, and react to, what is actually happening in that specific and unique moment in time, with whoever is on stage with them.
Practical Aesthetics avoids the trap of the Method Actor: self absorption and self analysis. By taking the attention away from you and onto the other, you truly become liberated to act and live in the moment. You’re no longer trapped inside your head, no two performances will ever be identical, and the magic of storytelling casts its spell on the audience.
That’s what makes Practical Aesthetics so wonderful an approach. Like an athlete you have done everything you need to prepare for the race, and are skilled enough to let your instincts take over once the starting gun has fired.
Like an athlete though, the Practical Aesthetics actor has to work and train hard. The approach is not complex, it’s not mystical, and it doesn’t require psychological introspection. Its capacity to help you grow as an actor is limited only by your courage of determination, commitment and application.
As any good Practical Aesthetics teacher will tell you, great acting skills are about hard work and application – it’s not a question of simply “talent” or being “gifted”. A Practical Aesthetics Acting Class will give the student the tools and techniques required to gather information from the script, apply some key criteria that means something to them, and carry out specific actions in a scene with a free-flowing, unrehearsed manner.
In summary, Practical Aesthetics Acting Classes equip the actor with practicable tools designed to give the actor freedom of choice over what “to do” rather than worrying about how “to be”.