1. When a provincialism is heard in the middle of a tragic speech, it makes the most beautiful poetry ugly and offends the spectator’s ear. Therefore, the first and most essential task for the actor entering into training is to free himself from all faults of dialect and to seek to attain a completely pure speech.
3. Just as in music the correct, exact and pure production of every individual sound is the basis of all artistic presentation, so in dramatic art the pure and distinct enunciation of every individual word is the basis of all forms of recitation and declamation.
Recitation and Declamation
18. By recitation we mean a method of delivery that lies halfway between passionless, detached speech and speech that is highly emotional; it does not soar with feeling, yet it is not completely devoid of expression. The audience must always be aware that the actor is simply reciting a text.
Here the player uses the pedals and all modulations of sound that the instrument affords. If he uses them with taste, and appropriately, and if beforehand he has studied their possible uses and effects with understanding and diligence, then he can be sure of the most beautiful and accomplished result.
31. All rules and suggestions concerning declamation apply here as a basis as well. It is, however, particularly characteristic of speaking verse that the text requires an even more passionate intensity of delivery. Every single word must be enunciated with a certain degree of emphasis.
But the actor must be beware of stressing the meter or the end rhymes too much. Rather, he should preserve the sense of continuity, as in prose.
If he has to declaim iambic poetry he should indicate the beginning of each line by a short, scarcely perceptive pause, though it should not interfere with the flow of the declamation.
Position and Movement of the Body on Stage
35. Above all, the actor must remember that he should not only imitate nature but also present it in an idealized way. That is to say, in his presentation he must unite reality and beauty.
36. For this reason he should have control over every part of his body so that he can use every limb freely, harmoniously and gracefully, depending on the effect he wants to achieve.
37. His posture should be erect, his chest thrust out, his upper arms to the elbow held rather close to the torso, his head turned slightly toward the person he is addressing, but with three quarters of his face always turned toward the audience.
38. For the actor must always remember he is there for the sake of the spectators.
39. Therefore actors should not, from a sense of misunderstood realism, play to one another as if no third party were present. They should never act in complete profile nor with their backs to the audience. If this is done for the sake of characterization or out of necessity, let it be done with discretion and grace.
40. The actor ought also to take particular care never to speak upstage, but always toward the audience. For he must divide himself between two parties: the person to whom he is speaking and the spectators. Instead of turning his head completely, he should use his eyes expressively.
41. When two actors are engaged in dialogue, it is very important that the one speaking lean back slightly while delivering his lines, and when finished, lean forward. If the actor uses his technique prudently and practices until it becomes natural, he will achieve the best results, both in regard to the visual effect of his delivery and to its intelligibility. Actors who have become masters in this will produce gratifying results and enjoy a great advantage over those who have not.
42. When two persons are speaking, the one on the left should be very careful not to crowd the one on the right. This side is reserved for respected persons—women, older people, or those of higher social standing. Even in ordinary life we keep our distance from those we respect, and not doing so reveals a lack of breeding. The actor should appear well-bred and should therefore adhere strictly to this rule. The person on the right should insist on his privilege and not let himself be pushed towards the wings, but stand firm and, if need be, signal the offender with his left hand to move back.
43. One beautiful contemplative pose suitable for a young man is the following: the entire body erect and the chest out, feet in the forth position, head tilted slightly to one side, eyes fixed on the ground, both arms hanging loosely.
Position and Movements of Arms and Hands
44. In order to ensure free movement of hands and arms, the actor should never carry a cane.
45. The recent habit of putting one’s hand into the flap of one’s trousers should be abandoned completely.
46. It is highly incorrect to place one hand on top of the other, or to rest them on the stomach, or stick one or both into the vest.
47. The hand itself must neither be clenched in a fist nor held flat against the thigh, like a soldier standing at attention. Rather, some fingers must be half bent, the others kept straight, but they must never appear cramped.
48. The two middle fingers should always be kept together, and the thumb, index and little finger should be slightly bent. In this way, the hand is in its proper position, one suitable for all movements.
49. The upper part of the arm should always be pressed slightly to the torso and move much less than the lower part, which should possess the greatest suppleness. For if you raise your arm only slightly when talking about everyday things, how much greater the effect will be when you raise it all the way. If you do not moderate your movements when delivering lines of less importance, you will not have any gestures strong enough for those that are more emotional, with the result that all gradations in the effect will be totally lost.
50. Furthermore, the hands should never return to a position of rest before completion of speech, and even then only gradually, similar to the way a speech comes to an end gradually.
51. The movements of the arms should always be sequential. First the hand should be raised or moved, then the elbow, and then the entire arm. The arm should never be raised all at once, otherwise the movement will be stiff and unsightly.
52. It is advisable for the beginner to force himself to keep the elbows as close to his torso as possible. In this way he will gain control over this part of his body and be able to make gestures in accordance with the above rule. He should also practice outside the theater and always keep his arms back – when he is by himself, even tied back. While strolling or during moments of leisure, he should let his arms hang loose, never press his hands together, but always keep his fingers in motion.
53. The descriptive hand gesture ought to be rarely used, though not omitted entirely.
54. In allusions to the body, the actor should never indicate with his hand the part of the body referred to. For example, when Don Manuel inThe Bride of Messina says to the Chorus:
Select a mantle also, woven of
Shimmering silk and gleaming with pale purple;
And at the shoulder clasp it with a golden
it would be highly inappropriate for the actor to touch his shoulder at the mention of the word.
55. Descriptive gestures are necessary, but they must seem unintentional. In certain cases there are exceptions here too, but the above can and should be adopted as a basic rule.
56. The descriptive gesture of pointing the hand to the breast to indicate oneself should be used as rarely as possible and only when the meaning absolutely requires it, as for example in the following passage from The Bride of Messina:
I—have brought no more hatred with me now,
I hardly know what made us quarrel so.
Here the first ‘I’ can be fittingly indicated by the descriptive gesture of raising the hand to the breast.
To make this a beautiful gesture, care should be taken that the elbow is held away from the torso as the arm is raised, but that the hand not be extended too far in being brought to the chest. The hand should not be placed flat on the chest, only the thumb and ring finger should touch it. The others must be held arched above the surface of the chest, pointing to it, as it were.
57. In gesturing the actor should try to avoid covering his face or other parts of his body with his hand.
58. If a handshake is required and the right hand is not explicitly called for, the left can be used. For on stage there is no right or left. What is important is to avoid spoiling the visual effect by assuming an unattractive position. But if it is absolutely necessary for the actor to use his right hand and he is so positioned that he would have to reach across his body, he would do better to step back a little before shaking hands so that he remains facing the audience.
59. The actor should always remember on which side of the stage he is standing and adjust his gestures accordingly.
60. If he stands on the right side, he should gesture with his left hand, and vice versa, so that his chest is covered by his arm as little as possible.
61. In emotional scenes, when he is gesturing with both hands, he must still try to follow this rule.
62. For the same purpose of keeping the chest turned to the audience, it is advisable to put one’s left foot forward when standing on the right side, and vice versa.
Gesture and Expression
To develop proper mimetic technique and be able to judge it properly, the following rules should be noted.
63. Stand before a mirror and speak the passage to be declaimed softly, or better, just think the words. The advantage of this method is that one is not carried away by declamation, but rather can easily notice any wrong movement which does not reflect what is thought, or softly spoken. The actor can then also select attractive and appropriate gestures and lend impact to the entire mimetic action through movement that is artistically analogous to the meaning of words.
64. But it must be presumed that the actor has first carefully studied the character and the situation of the person to be represented, and that he has gone over the material thoroughly in his mind. For without this preparation he will not be capable of either declaiming or moving correctly.
65. In order to gain practice in mimetic action and to make his arms mobile and flexible, it is advisable for the beginner, without any recitation, to try to make his role intelligible merely by pantomime; then he is forced to select the most suitable gestures.
Rules for Rehearsals
66. In order to learn to move the feet lightly and gracefully, one should never rehearse in boots.
67. The actor, specially the younger one who plays the lover and other roles requiring agility, should keep a pair of slippers in the theater for rehearsals. He will soon notice results.
68. Even during rehearsals nothing should be allowed that is not acceptable in performance.
69. Actresses should not carry their handbags.
70. No actor should rehearse in cloak, but should have his hands and arms free, as he will during performance. For the cloak not only hamper him in making proper gestures, but also forces him to adopt inappropriate one, which he will then unwittingly repeat in performance.
71. The actor, even in rehearsal, should make no movement that is out of character.
72. Whoever sticks his hand in his bosom during the rehearsal of a tragic role runs the risk of groping for an opening in his armor during performance.
Bad Habits to be Avoided
73. Among the most flagrant blunders to be avoided is that of the seated actor who in order to move his chair forward reaches between his thighs, grasps the chair, raises himself a little, and in that position pulls it forward. This is an offence not only against esthetic sensibilities, but even more against decorum.
74. The actor should never display his handkerchief on stage, still less blow his nose, still less spit. It is terrible to be reminded of these natural functions in the context of art. He should keep one of those currently fashionable small handkerchiefs handy for an emergency.
75. The actor should remember that even in everyday life he is on public display.
76. For this reason he should guard against acquiring mannerisms of gesture, pose, position of the arms, and carriage. For if he must focus on avoiding such mannerisms during a play, he will tend to neglect what is most important.
77. It is therefore absolutely necessary that an actor be free of any mannerisms, so that during a performance he can identify completely with his role and his mind can focus on his adopted personality.
78. On the other hand, it is an important rule for the actor that he make an effort to carry his training over into everyday life—in the use of his body, in his behavior and all his daily activities—as if he were engaged in a constant rehearsal. All aspects of his art will thereby benefit greatly.
79. The actor specializing in dramatic roles will improve immensely by seeking to retain a certain accuracy in regard to both emphasis and enunciation whenever he speaks and a certain lofty style in all his gestures. Of course he must not exaggerate, or he will make himself an object of amusement to others, but in general they will recognize behind such practices the artist developing his art. His conduct will by no means reflect poorly on him. On the contrary, people will gladly tolerate his peculiar behavior offstage, if they have the opportunity to admire him on stage as a great artist.
80. Because everything on stage must be presented not only realistically but also esthetically, and because the eye of the spectator demands pleasant groupings and poses, the actor should strive for these even offstage. He should always imagine himself in front of an audience.
81. While he is committing a part to memory, he should always pretend to be facing an audience. Even when by himself or in company at the dinner table, he should always try to create a tableau, pick up and put down objects with a certain grace as if he were on stage. And so he should be mimetic in everything he does.
Positions and Groupings on Stage
82. Stage and auditorium, actors and audience—only together do they form a whole.
83. The stage should be seen as a bare tableau in which the actor supplies the living figure.
84. Therefore he should never play too close to the wings.
85. Nor should he step out onto the proscenium. This would be the gravest error, for it would mean that the actor leaves the space within which, together with the painted scenery and the other actors, he helps form a whole.
86. When the actor stands alone on stage, he should bear in mind that he too is only part of a whole, all the more since attention is concentrated on him alone.
87. Just as soothsayers divide the sky into various sections with their staffs. The actor can divide the stage in his mind into various areas which can be sketched on paper as rhomboids. The stage floor then becomes a kind of checkerboard, and the actor can determine which squares he will enter. He can jot down his moves in advance, and is then certain not to rush about aimlessly during this emotional speeches, but rather combine beauty and significance in his positionings.
88. Whoever enters the stage for a monologue from an upstage wing, does well to move in a diagonal line towards the opposite side of the proscenium. In general, diagonal movements are very attractive.
89. Whoever enters from the rear wing to join another actor already on-stage should not move parallell to the wings but slightly toward the prompter.
90. All these rules pertaining to technique and language should be adopted where applicable as general guidelines and practiced until they become habit. There should be no trace of stiffness, and the rule must become the imperceptible basis of living action.
91. It is obvious that these rules must be especially observed in portraying noble, dignified characters. On the other hand, there are characters who are to be portrayed as the opposite of dignified, such as peasants, boors, etc. The actor will be able to play these roles even better if, artistically and consciously, he does the reverse of what decorum requires, always remembering, however, that his performance should be idealized and not merely a realistic imitation.