Saturday, December 4, 2010

Now. Now. Now. Now. Now.

Francois Delsarte
This will be the second post in a series of three on my November 20 interview with Professor Leslie Reidel. In the first post, I talked about Leslie's abiding interest in science and its relationship to drama, or rather the drama that is within us at a biological level.  In this post, I'm going to delve into the influence of Francois Delsarte on Leslie's work and how Delsarte's work can help create an authentic performance.

Leslie had mentioned Delsarte to me several years ago, and although the book is sometimes difficult (in part because pieces are missing from my facsimile and in part because it is just so so dense), it is an absolute treasure trove. For a long while Delsarte's work has been considered out-dated, artificial and "stodgy." (If you check out the wikipedia link above, the article describes how Delsarte's work was misapplied and how Stanislavsky's work came in response to this misapplication.) So during our interview, Leslie broke down Delsarte into some basics. Our bodies are made up of three expressive centers -- head, heart, and loins. Think, feel, do. Cognitive, emotional, vital. And Delsarte actually then breaks down the specific parts of the body that correspond to these centers -- for example, the back of your hand is "vital." The inside of your hand is "emotional." The tips are your fingers are "cognitive." Leslie demonstrated this: If you were going to hit someone with the back of your hand, it would be absolutely brutal, right?  Backhanding someone. It comes from your gut, right? But if you slap someone, with the palm of your hand -- your emotions are really engaged. This comes from anger, from your heart. Now imagine picking up a grape with the tips of your fingers and really examine it -- even the word examine indicates that now we're in a mental or cognitive state.

By spending a great deal of time with a given text, we can see which of our centers are being engaged for a character at different points in the play. So Delsarte's contribution to an authentic performance really comes from actively engaging these discrete energy centers in our bodies. Actively engaging. Every moment. The actor must be present and active in every moment of the performance.

More on presence -- noun and verb in my next post!

Here is a link to Delsarte's System of Oratory on Google Books.

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