I’m here in Mexico supporting a former Strasberg Student, Alberto Sosa, who has put on an arts festival, and “Concentrar” is a Spanish word I have used more in the past the past two days than in my entire life prior.
Our challenge has never been to find talented actors – there are lots of them – but rather to train, convince, cajole those actors to really focus.
In the comments section of the prior post I said that concentration is THE tool for the actor. OK, most people would agree. It is a good and necessary thing, but it begs the question, “what do I concentrate on?”
This is where my father, inspired by the work of Stanislavsky, made a great contribution. If you teach acting, you will notice that most actors think a lot about their scene and what is going on. The idea of given circumstances is fairly widespread at this point. But that is where most actors stop and settle for mediocre or uneven work.
You need to do more. To be more specific and more detailed (especifico y con mas detalles, for those scoring at home). I train actors to concentrate on one small aspect of their circumstances. Don’t worry about the argument that is about to happen – you only know it will happen because you read the script. That is not part of the circumstances. Don’t worry about what you think you should be feeling. That is territory for discovery rather than decision. What you DO need to do is to focus on the small details of LIFE. Pay great attention to the little things that make up the act of living.
Richard Boleslavsky [see the recommended books] described the way in which a human being struggles for everything. You wash your face – you struggle with the cloth, the water, the soap. These challenges are much smaller than, but essential to, the greater struggles and conflicts of a story. It is here that an actor must do his work. The writer may work with grand ideals and concepts, but the actor must supply the essential ingredient of life. And life is made up of all of these minor struggles.
So this is where you must concentrate. Don’t just go and randomly take action. Put your attention, your full focus on something as you work. Where are you? Where are you coming from? Where are you going? What are you doing there? If the other actor did not enter or never started the scene, what would you be doing? These are the small realities of life that unlock your humanity.
My father said, ‘you don’t need to give me the whole ocean, just a few grains of sand.” Take it to heart. Don’t give the whole story. Don’t give me the scene, and don’t show me what it all means. You just find those few grains of sand that you can experience and you are on the road to great acting. 90% of a movie is all about that. Only in very few moments do we need a heightened intensity (the waves crashing on he shore, to continue the metaphor).
As an added benefit, if you are directing yourself as most actors do for auditions and scene work, this concentration often leads to behavior and activity that will block much of the scene for you.
By the way, if you want proof, just go and watch the Godfather films (either of them). These are well-trained actors across the board, and you will notice the scenes are quite simple. My father greets Pacino while they are watching a game and eating lunch, or cutting a cake at a birthday party, or brothers eating around a table, or guys cooking or playing cards. The entire movie is made up of these small moments – each one of them a minute struggle for an actor – that all add up to some of the richest and most captivating stories ever put to film.