An abiding memory from Once-upon-a-drama-school, long, long ago, is of a fellow student’s comic impressions of the school’s principal. Into these otherwise spontaneously improvised monologues, she would always insert the catch-phrase: ‘Acting is re-acting, da-h-lings!’ - delivered with mock theatricality, in heightened, non-rhotic RP.
Though we came to expect the punchline, we never knew quite where it would be placed, and it never failed to surprise and delight whenever it was delivered. Whether the principal herself had ever uttered the words remains uncertain; nevertheless, they hinted at an approach to truthful performance, upon which subsequent experience would build. The next step was to discover what it was to which the actor should react: Meisner’s emphasis on close attention to scene partner, pointed towards an answer.
In his book True and False, Mamet counsels actors to ‘… deny nothing’; in other words, whatever happens - happens! Any attempt at denial and we can suddenly find ourselves in a version of ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’.
Authentic, exciting performances result when actors really pay attention, when they really ‘deny nothing’ and when they really re-act: such actors, however, are seldom, if ever, ‘da-h-lings!’
Shakespeare’s contemporary actors would find their scripts contained just their own lines, with a few cue words to prompt each of their speeches. This practice of playing from cues compels the actor to pay attention, and the reactions thus generated are actually real.
In addition, within the texts of his plays, Shakespeare places clues, directing the actor how a part is to be played. We can attune ourselves to recognise these.
Zoom on down to Shake-scene’s online Acting from Cues workshops, and find out more.