Advanced Directing

Today was a great class! There were so many instances where I thought to myself, “I could use that in rehearsal” or “this would be great to use when working with kids! I feel like this class helped to cement my knowledge and understanding on the technique. We revisited the viewpoints work in crossing the space. This time, instead of feeling intimidated, I felt free to explore. I made a mental note that this is not a great activity for someone that is insecure or vulnerable. There must be some sense of ensemble and trust within the group for it to be successful. This time, being that we knew eachother better I feel as though the work was better.
I loved the part where we added a word to our movement. The scenes that immerged were so fun! You could literally see new worlds develop right before your eyes! What an interesting way to create a new story! It would allow the collaborators to explore new worlds with new rules! Fascinating! I also enjoyed the ritualistic nature of the whole exercise. It forced participants to honor the “sacred space” and commit fully to their actions.
Next, we brought the work into work with text. We stood in two lines across from eachother and read a small scene in unison. One line was one character and one line was the other. It felt odd. Having to speak in sync with the whole class felt very limiting. We had to think as one unit. It forced us to be in tune with the people around us. I’m not quite sure how this would work in a rehearsal process. I think it would be time consuming, to say the least.
After that, we broke off into pairs and deconstructed the text. I was paired with Pip and we turned the scene into a conversation between a chair and its owner. It was fun and playful and really helped me to understand what deconstructing a scene feels like. There were so many different versions! I love seeing how text could be played in so many different ways!
Finally we did an activity with the text that reminded me of the “shadowing” work that I did in my drama therapy class. We had one person read the text and someone else would speak the subtext. Another version was reading the text and having someone narrate the action. I really enjoyed this! This is a great exercise to bring into class to teach to young actors. It deals with trust, spontaneity, improv, subtext, cause & effect.

The Messingkauf Dialogues

This week’s reading: The Messingkauf Dialogues, “The A-effect” and “A model for mother courage and her children” in Directors on Directing both by Bertolt Brecht.
In “A model for mother courage and her children”, I like what he said about “to act old age”. I think this is an important section, especially if I plan to direct teens in my future. He talked about a young person’s first instinct to put on a “voice” and gestures as though they were old. Instead, he argued that the lines in the text are written for the role of an older person and they should emerge on their own if you isolate the text— one after the next. He claims they will “age” visually and gradually by absorbing the reality of their lines.
He had another interesting point about taking your time at the end of the play. He said is the movement is extended, a moment of irritation arises. If it is prolonged even further deeper understanding sets in. I love to use this idea in my directing pieces. I tend to enjoy creating visual bookends for my work. A strong tableau does so much for a piece…when done correctly. A picture says 1,000 words and these moments of silence allow the audience to “simmer” on their thoughts. Hopefully a clear end picture will confirm any questions they have…or even raise new ones.
I also enjoyed Brecht’s musings on small meaningful gestures. The little discoveries in the nuances of human nature. He gives the example of the woman and her change purse. I must remember to add meaningful gestures that have nothing to do with the words in the scene, but add a touch of flavor and informs the audience of the character’s personality. I think these meaningful moments enrich both the actor and the audience’s experience.
In “The A-effect” Brecht speaks of the Alienation effect. The “A-effect” is the alienation-effect needed for spectators to break out of empathy with characters and storyline. The spectator is invited out of the passive role designed for them in dramatic theatre, and take on a critical and suspicious role. It is accomplished in epic theatre by doing everything dramaturgically imaginable to keep the spectator from taking flight in the suspension of disbelief.
This Epic theatre is a whole new world for me. Being an actress who is enchanted by the naturalism approach to theatre, the little that I did know of Brecht had never really piqued my interest to investigate further. My passion for the theatre is directly connected to my ability to identify with the characters on the stage and become emotionally involved with their reality. I had thought this to be in direct contrast with Brecht’s theories. However, as a responsible future teacher of the theatre, I realized it is my duty to submerge myself in the teachings of Brechtian theatre, before I wrote it off completely. I’m glad I did! From these readings and after doing some research of my own online, I have discovered that Brecht’s epic theatre allows theatrical productions to engage an audience and forces them to think. It would surely be a mistake to create a production that neglects Brecht’s theories of challenging an audience to reevaluate their worldview! It is clear that Brecht was passionate about changing the world, using the theatre as a classroom; and that is definitely a concept that I can get on board with.

Lesson Plan: Writing Prompt

This is a lesson plan for highschool students, to be used as a writing prompt….

The Fame GaME

Many people thrive on the celebrity culture and the hopes that they can one day make it into the tabloids with fame and fortune at their beckon call. Many celebrities are even considered to be role models for young adults. Should they be? What makes a good celebrity role model? As aspiring actors, some of you might be the next generation of celebrities! How would you use your fame for good?

Writing Prompts…

Would you rather be famous for your talent or for a tabloid scandal?

How are you a celebrity in your own world? Is it “cooler” to be an individual or to model yourself after a trendy celebrity? What are celebrity trends that you just DON’T get?

How do celebrities affect your body image? Do you think they know? Do you think they care?

Has your opinion of one of your celebrity role models been changed based on their bad behavior? Think about Tiger Woods, or Lindsay Lohan. What would you say in a letter to them? No holding back!

What bad manners or behaviors do celebrities “get away with”? How would your relatives, teachers, or ‘authority figures’ react if you displayed those same behaviors?
Discuss a negative influence that a celebrity has had on your life or the lives of your friends.

Why do celebrity deaths deeply affect so many people? Think about recent celebrity deaths that might have been avoided: Michael Jackson, DJ AM, Britney Murphy, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, etc. etc. etc.

Celebrities normally get paid many times the amount that firefighters, teachers and policemen earn.  Do you think celebrities make more money than they deserve?

Use a celebrity “catch phrase” as a hook, perhaps in opposition to how the phrase was intended. For example: “Celebrity DUI’s – not hot. Using your fame to raise money for Haiti? That’s hot.”

Does Fame bring happiness?

Dear _____________ you are NOT my role model….

If I was famous…..


NYU Storytelling Seminar Reflection Paper

Truth be told – when I signed up for this seminar I picked it because it was only one credit and it rounded out my credit requirements for the semester. I thought storytelling was interesting, but I didn’t see how it applied to my educational aspirations and career goals. Boy was I wrong! I can honestly say that the seminar has overwhelmingly exceeded my expectations. Not a day has gone by in which I didn’t apply an aspect of the storytelling lessons to my everyday life.
For instance, the day after the seminar I had been hired to babysit for my neighbor. Bedtime rolled around and the outraged toddler was on the verge of throwing a massive temper tantrum.  I tried to bribe her with her favorite book, which she completely rejected and threw across the floor. Thinking about the seminar from the night before, I had a light bulb moment. I asked her, “Would you like to hear a new story about my friend Mr. Wiggle?” She exploded into a fit of giggles, stating, “That’s a silly name!” Long story short, I had her in the palm of my hand as I reenacted the tale of Mr. Wiggle. She agreed to go to sleep because Mr. Wiggle slept in the story. Crises averted. The next day her mother called to ask about this Mr. Wiggle that her daughter wouldn’t stop talking about. Weeks later, I babysat this 3 year old again and she was delighted to tell me the story of Mr. Wiggle. I was shocked that she was able to recall so many details of the story. It was a “real life” affirmation of the lessons that Regina gave. People remember details when given in story form.
The storytelling games and activities were extremely helpful to me as well. I’m a writer and I have already used several of the “story prompts” to aid me in my writing. They are perfect when I experience the dreaded “writer’s block”. I especially like the activity that we used to incorporate things we saw overnight into a story. I appreciate these types of activities and I believe they will be useful in my career when I will be working with students to write their own scenes or monologues.
I have been able to integrate storytelling into other aspects of my life as well. I am always astonished watching my boyfriend interact in professional settings and group situations. I tease him that he has a “golden tongue”. It seems like when he talks he has his audience hanging on every word. When he is talking about business proposals, new ideas and concepts, he always makes a story out of it. He is extremely animated, convincing and confident when he speaks and seems to always get his way. I’m extremely jealous of his “gift of the gab” and often find myself trying to mimic his mannerisms, to no avail. When Regina taught us some techniques about storytelling I was excited to experience an “ah ha!” moment. She had specifically told us about the importance of descriptive details when we tell our stories.  I immediately thought about my failed attempts at storytelling and public speaking. In my efforts to engage my audience with a story, I rush over the most important part. The details! I now realize that I was too self-conscious to indulge my listeners in the details on the story. Before this class, when I told stories I thought it was more important to focus on the arc of the story rather than waste time by focusing on the details. I would get frustrated when my listeners seemed to only be “half-listening” and I couldn’t figure out why! I now understand how wrong I was in my assumption.
The most important tool I have taken away from this seminar is my new found wisdom to be expressive, descriptive and detailed in my storytelling. It has helped me in every aspect of my life: talking in front of a classroom; public speaking; dinner conversations; job interviews; auditions; writing papers; playwriting…. the list goes on and on! This seminar has proven to be an invaluable gift in helping me express myself.

Constantine Stanislavski

NYU Research Paper: Drama in Education
October 26, 2009

Influential Theatre Practitioner of Drama in Education: Constantine Stanislavski
Written and Researched by Andrea Bertola

“Create your own method. Don’t depend slavishly on mine. Make up something that will work for you! But keep breaking traditions, I beg you.”
– Constantine Stanislavski

When the topic of “method acting”, “acting systems” or “acting techniques” arises you can be sure that a passionate debate is soon to follow. This was evidenced in one of my classes here in the Educational Theatre Department when the question came up, “Should we teach acting techniques in academic classrooms?”  I was astonished to find that only a handful of students seemed to share my opinion that, YES, it should be taught; despite any controversy surrounding acting methods. My argument being: as instructors of drama and theatre it is our responsibility to introduce students to the foundations of these acting techniques and let them decide if it is something that works for them. My classmates seemed to feel as though these acting methods are too advanced for young students in classroom settings and we shouldn’t be teaching them as though they are going to be professional actors. Quite frankly, that notion made my blood boil— just a little bit.

Chemistry teachers teach advanced formulas and chemical mixing, even though their students aren’t growing up to have a career as a chemist.  Calculus teachers teach complicated equations, even though their students aren’t growing up to have a career as a mathematician.  Why is there a bias against Drama in the classroom? Hearing this argument coming from the mouths of my fellow classmates was truly disheartening. What was even more upsetting to me was that because I hadn’t explored this topic in-depth; I lacked confidence in defending my stance. Of course I know the general fundamentals of acting methods, I had even work at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute; but when it comes to key contributions, influences, history and foundations— I am eager to learn more about the man who was a pioneer in this field. This has inspired me to choose Constantine Stanislavski for the purposes of this research paper and explore the many ways he has been an influential practitioner of Theatre.

Stanislavski’s Key Contributions
to the Field of Educational Drama and Theatre
Constantine Stanislavski is often called, “The Father of the Acting System.” It would perhaps be less of an undertaking to explain where he hasn’t contributed to the field of Educational Drama and Theatre.  He dedicated his life to creating a system, that would help in organizing and strengthening the creative process known as acting. This system is a result of his efforts to determine how a human being can control in performance the most intangible and uncontrollable aspects of human behavior, such as emotions and artistic inspiration. In essence, his constant goal in life was to formulate some codified, systematic approach that might impart to any given actor with some grip on his ‘instrument’, that is, himself (Benedetti).  What Stanislavski had undertaken is not to discover a truth, but to bring the truth in usable form within the reach of those actors and producers who are fairly well equipped by nature and who are willing to undergo the necessary discipline (Hapgood 2). And that is exactly what he did. His contribution to modern acting and drama technique is still at the core of mainstream western performance training for much of the last century.

Stanislavski’s teachings of the realist method can be broken down into two main theories. His early teachings were based mainly on the concept of “Emotional Memory/ Affective Memory Technique” and later his development of his “Method of Physical Actions”. Within those broader concepts are some of his following theories and techniques: Active Analysis, Action, Adaptation, Cognitive Analysis, Communication, Concentration of Attention, Etude, Experiencing, Given Circumstances, Imagination, Indicating, Inner Contact, Inner Monologue, Intention, Justification,  Lure,  Objective, Super Objective, The Questions, Relaxation , Representation, Sense Memory,  Subtext ,  Substitution,  Through-line of Action, and Turning Point (Hapgood 1989).

 His contributions span even further when you look at his contributions to the field of psychotherapy and the influences he has had on the development of drama therapy/theatrotherapy and therapeutic theatre, which will be discussed later in this paper.

Theoretical Framework Situated within the Field      
Within the field of educational theatre Stanislavski’s contribution can be most recognized when looking at the teaching method of Process Drama where both the students and teacher are working in and out of role. I found a really insightful article entitled, Emotional Involvement or Critical Endangerment?, which discussed The Schools Council Report of 1977. This report pointed out the strong connection between educational process drama and theatre when it noted that “both essentially rest on the ability to adopt and develop roles and characters within ‘as if’ situations” (Wooster 15). I can’t help but notice the blatant parallels between this statement and Stanislavski’s “magic if” which he uses to suspend reality and unlock creative empathy. The article also addressed the needs of teachers in using drama or theatre within the National Curriculum and demonstrated how good drama actually facilitates a fusion of ‘critical detachment’ from Brecht and ‘emotional involvement’ from Stanislavski (Wooster 14). The philosophies of these two practitioners are often viewed as contrasting, but the article claims the two approaches actually come together, in using drama and theatre in education as an empathetic rather than as a performance discipline.

Influences on other Drama Practitioners
It is clear that almost every significant method of acting & theatre training in America was derived from the work of Stanislavski. His influences on Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen, Stanford Meisner and Stella Adler are obvious. Beyond training for actors, contemporary drama theorists also employ his philosophies.  Good drama education technique has been derived from various schools of theatre which are all dependent upon the human ability to play and think creatively and empathetically (Wooster 16). Being that Stanislavski’s influence is so vast, I am going to briefly touch on one practitioner from several different categories to speak of Stanislavski’s contributions in the following areas: Drama in Education; Drama Therapy; Process Drama; Improvisational Theatre; and Method Acting.

Dorothy Heathcote (Drama in Education)
Stanislavski’s theory of ‘emotional memory’ is evident when examining Dorothy Heathcoat’s philosophy on drama education. Her method is based upon the desire to assist in the development of her students by encouraging social and emotional growth. She uses the idea of affective memory technique that actors would identify as coming from Stanislavski. She wants a ‘feeling’ response from her students so that a child will ‘think from within a dilemma instead of talking about a dilemma’ (Heathcote 200). Much of her approach is based on authenticity, attention to detail and respect for what is true (Bolton 244). This seems to be reflective of Stanislavski’s method for achieving the truthful pursuit of a character’s objective.

Robert Landy (Drama Therapy: Role Theory)
Landy’s ‘role theory’ is supported by theatrical influences over and above his sociological sources (Landy 101). Much of Stanislavski’s approach was influenced by Freud. Looking at his affective memory method in psychological terms, the raw emotional experience of the id was to be mediated by the ego, grounded firmly in reality. It’s easy to see how this theory can be linked to Landy’s development of “role”, “counter role” and “guide”.

Cecily O’ Neill (Process Drama)
Process Drama is a method of teaching and learning where both the students and teacher are working in and out of role. Cecily O’Neill describes process drama being used to explore a problem, situation, theme or series of related ideas or themes through the use of the artistic medium of unscripted drama. Structure and Spontaneity talks about Cecily O’Neill’s belief that actions and gestures need to be layered in to a process drama. She has examined the theories of Stanislavski among others and how their notions of improvised activity and organic episodic structure can yield fertile discoveries (Taylor 116). 

Viola Spolin (Improvisational Theatre)
Improvisational Theatre is a form of theatre in which the actors use improvisational acting techniques to perform spontaneously. Stanislavski’s actor training relied heavily on improvisation in actor training and rehearsals.  His theories and method are reflected in Viola Spolin’s method that was greatly influenced by Stanislavski.  Spolin is considered by many to be the “American Grandmother of Improvisational Theatre”. She adapted the techniques of Stanislavski to devise a series of over 200 acting games and exercises (Taylor 32).

Lee Strasberg (Method Acting)
Lee Strasberg founded the first American acting company to put Stanislavski’s “emotional recall” theories into practice. Modern day controversy surrounding Stanislavski’s system or “method” perhaps comes from being confused with Lee Strasberg’s “method acting”. In Stanislavski’s system, actors deeply analyze the motivations and emotions of their characters in order to personify them with psychological realism and emotional authenticity. Using Strasberg’s Method, an actor recalls emotions or sensations from his or her own life and uses them to identify with the character being portrayed (Strasberg 42).

Connections: Stanislavski’s work as it connects to my own practice
I haven’t yet decided which path I am going to follow when it comes to my life in the theatre. Working at the Lee Strasberg Institute has inspired me to possibly go the entrepreneur route and open my own school for acting one day. If I pursue this option, no matter which technique I choose to teach, I know that it will be influenced by Stanislavski’s method.  As an acting teacher no matter who I teach, whether it is young children in their first play or professional actors on the verge of getting their big break, my goal will be to get them to play their role as truthfully as possible. Stanislavski treated theatre-making as a serious endeavor, requiring dedication, discipline and integrity, and the work of the actor as an artistic undertaking. When I think of my teaching philosophy, these are the very same words that come to my mind. In that way, Stanislavski will be influencing my work on a daily basis, no matter which career path I choose in the world of educational theatre.


Works Cited
  1. Benedetti, Jean. Stanislavski and the Actor. London: Methuen, 1998
  2. Bolton, Gavin. Acting in Classroom Drama. Portland, ME: Calendar Islands Publishers, 1999.
  3. Hapgood, Elizabeth Reynolds & Stanislavski, Constantine. An Actor Prepares. New York, NY: Routledge Theatre arts Books, 1989.
  4. Heathcote, Dorothy. Drama as a process for Change in Drain. Twentieth Century Theatre. London: Routledge, 1995.
  5. Landy, Robert. The Couch and the Stage. United Kingdom: Jason Aronson, 2008.
  6. Strasberg, Lee. A Dream of Passion. New York, NY: Penguin, 1987.
  7. Taylor, P. and C. Warner.  Structure and Spontaneity:  The Process Drama of Cecily O’Neill.  London: Trentham Books, 2006.
  8. Wooster, Roger. Emotional Involvement or Critical Endangerment? Drama Magazine. Summer: 2004.