A Summary of Rehearsal Room Process
(devised by Richard Sarell)
What follows are the basic principles explored in current Rehearsal Room workshops.
Managing the Choices
To achieve these goals the actor needs to able to efficiently manage THREE specific areas. Managing these areas entails being able to make quick choices, commit to them effectively and also be able to change them significantly from take to take.
Once acquired these skills are not difficult to manipulate. The three areas are …
There’s more detail on these concepts in “Are You Ready To Go?” http://www.rehearsalroom.com/directornotes/ardnareureadytogo.html
On some occasions a fourth element is present – the turning point. The story structure will then unfold as - beginning, middle, turning point and end.
It is also true that often the story of the scene only has a little to do with what has happened to characters in the past, or what might happen to them in the future. It is mostly about what is happening to them now.
An important part of The Rehearsal Room process is to identify the story. One important value of clearly identifying the essence of the ‘text’ is that the actor can then be clear about any choices required to manage the ‘sub-text’. Here again there is much confusion in the acting world about what the definition of sub-text and text should be.
Rehearsal Room classes constantly demonstrate that clear, simple and active labels of story consistently produce believable performances. Vague labels produce erratic performances and confusing stories.
Simple Approach to STORY
Structure of a Conversation
The first thing to consider is that most scenes are a conversation. Conversations have a number of identifiable and simple ingredients. For example, every conversation has an ‘instigator’. A conversation is always started by someone and they start it for a reason. That reason is what drives the conversation forward until they –
When one of the above points is reached then the conversation ENDS.
A simple way of thinking about how a conversation ends is that its result will either be a ‘win’, a ‘lose’ or a ‘draw’. This is an overly simplistic way of labelling endings but it is a very useful starting point.
The actor must remain open to the fact that endings can be more complicated than the above.
For example, rather than a character deciding that the outcome was ‘a draw’ they their decision might be that “they’ll leave it for now but think they can win next time.” That ending although more complicated than a simple ‘draw’ is a perfectly functional realisation that a character could easily achieve.
3 Conversations Possibilities
Over the years The Rehearsal Room has continually explored ways of illuminating the reason that drives a conversation. This exploration has evolved into a very simple formula.
It has become plain that, for the person who instigates the conversation, there are only three reasons that motivate it.
In any conversation the instigator is pursuing either a –
In initially exploring this concept at The Rehearsal Room we guessed this proposition would have about an 80% success rate. However after working with this formula for some time we now believe it is much more effective than that. We now treat that formula as 100% effective.
It is a very useful tool.
Could it be too simple?
The elegant simplicity of this idea has proved to be its strength. It is not an over simplification. It is in fact extremely versatile and can produce enormously complex outcomes. The versatility is derived once you add the extra ingredient of asking what issue the conversation process is exploring. Once the actor starts considering that the story could be –
then a vast array of options becomes available even though the path to reveal them is a simple one. This simple process empowers actors to effectively understand the real content and structure of a scene very quickly.
One thing is absolutely clear - simple story definitions produce strong performances and complex characters.
This formula emerged from a problem solving session with actor Paul Cousins. It is also enormously effective in the audition room when decisions have to be made really quickly.
BUT this is only half the formula.
If the instigator is pursuing one of the above options (test , challenge or battle for control) then there are only two options for the responding character. They will either be –
Read that again, because it looks a little more complicated on the page than it actually is.
What’s the Difference??
A ‘battle for control’ conversation' (as with a two-year-old) is sometimes plainly obvious. However, this is not always the case. Often in life we disguise that we are battling for control because that makes it easier to achieve our goal. Battles for control can be very skilful manipulations. But whenever a person wants the outcome of a conversation to go their way then they are ‘battling for control’ even though they are going about it ‘helpfully’, ‘sweetly’ or ‘seductively’. Whatever approach they choose to implement their goal it still remains a ‘battle for control’.
These options can be grouped together in a great variety of ways. For example,
NOTE: Any scene can have these options applied to them. The actor is ultimately in total control of the element that’s driving the scene/conversation.
IMPORTANT DOUBLE CHECK:
Once the instigator has made a choice it is important to look at the script to see whether this ‘story definition’ is merely describing what is being spoken about in the scene. Actors don’t need to identify the content of the dialogue. The dialogue is always going to be plainly heard by the audience. When defining the reason for the conversation actors must be labeling “what’s unfolding between the actors in the scene while they are saying the dialogue”. That is the element that is really driving the conversation. It is therefore important to check that the instigator’s ‘purpose for the conversation’ is DIFFERENT FROM the content of the dialogue.
Some actor’s first response is that this approach to identifying the reason and structure of a conversation seems to be too technical; OR on occasions actors will argue “that it can’t be of any use because it is not like life”. My response to both these views is to say – “Go out into the world and watch conversations. When you find one that isn’t structured this way bring it back to me and we’ll discuss it.” Such a discovery would build the next step in further developing The Rehearsal Room process. So far, no-one has returned with a functioning conversation that deviates from this formula. The consensus is that this is the way conversations function in life.
NOW HAVE A LOOK AND SEE THE OUTCOME OF APPLYING THIS PROCESS. OBSERVE HOW CLEARLY AND SIMPLY THE ACTORS ARE LISTENING AND RESPONDING. THAT’S BECAUSE THEY UNDERSTAND THE REAL REASON FOR THE CONVERSATION. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE CLIP
This scene was written by Louise Le Nay.
Doing two things at once is tricky. The general outcome of such an activity is that we tend to concentrate on one element more than another. The result is that the one we are concentrating on appears to be the character’s conscious thought processes and the less active one appears to be the character’s unconscious thought processes. It is the actor’s ability to ‘appear’ to be functioning on both a conscious and an unconscious level simultaneously that makes the character look real. That is the fundamental trick for creating ‘realism’ in performance.
Once the text has been clearly identified it is then possible to put in place a sub-text. This will bring a layered complexity to the character.
This is also a significant tool for determining and managing the nature of the person who is having the conversation.
Psychological Desire ('Need')
Other elements such as good levels of relaxation can help create a performance outcome that looks realistic but such devices all have attendant risks. If the actor isn’t relaxed how do they generate believability? What if they are relaxed but the believability isn’t complex enough? What process do they use then?
There are of course a number of options. Directors generally have quite a large number of tricks up their sleeves to assist with these issues. But the creation of a psychological desire or unconscious need for the character is the most functional and reliable approach I know to generate and manage a character’s complexity. It is a major element in producing and controlling a complex and real character. (FOR MORE ON BEING REAL CLICK HERE)
The creation of a psychological desire or unconscious mind for the character is a major element in producing and controlling a complex and real character.
If the story provides the text for the scene the character’s unconscious desire provides the sub-text.
Steps in the Process
It is important that the sub-text and text are different. If they are the same then the actor won’t be doing two things at once. If the actor isn’t doing two things at once the chances of being believable DROP DRAMATICALLY.
THE SOLUTION – always have a ‘need’ in place. MAKE IT A HABIT.
Choosing an appropriate and functional method of labeling this ‘need’ is also an important part of The Rehearsal Room process. The most functional labels are the ones that connect most directly to the actor’s own unconscious perceptions. They are the ones that will produce the greatest unconscious responses in the actor.
The ‘need’ must be active - there is no point in picking one if it is inactive, as it won’t do anything.
(There is a list of active verbs on The Rehearsal Room website. It is recommended that actors stick to that list as they are highly active and function easily in an unconscious/sub-conscious way. CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF ACTIVE LABELS)
If the “need” is ….
This is the fundamental tool that enables quick and effective choice of sub-text. It is a uniquely simple identification of all the essential ingredients of Stanislavski process.
Actors should be able to check the list quickly. An actor who can’t check out these fundamental elements in 5 seconds or less will tend not to use this checklist. Failing to use the checklist enormously increases the chance of making an ineffective choice. It is therefore essential to learn this and practice using it. This is only a very small effort to significantly increase the chances of a very useful rehearsal or successful performance.
We all desire to be good at what we do and this breeds a pursuit of perfection. Experience at The Rehearsal Room and in life constantly demonstrates that chasing perfection is a destructive waste of time. (Look at the journey NATALIE PORTMAN created for Nina Sayer in “The Black Swan”.) Being able to consistently do the job is a much more worthwhile goal. An actor who can be consistently good (i.e. do the job) will sometimes be brilliant. The actor who constantly strives for brilliance will be terrible more often than they will be good.
So, let’s forget about perfection and make COMPETENCE our goal.
Guarantee of Success??
“ownership” and “trust”
are important concepts for an actor to understand.
The second step is to select a “NEED” for the character to carry while they experience and deal with the events and difficulties generated by the story.
The third step is to make sure that the circumstances and the relationship are clearly understood.
This means that “need” won't function while the surprise is happening. A new “need” may result from experiencing a major surprise.
Stanislavski says that surprises have four phases –
If a surprise doesn’t have four phases it won’t be real.
Surprises are of GREAT VALUE for the story. They are also moments of great trust for the actor and moments of great reward for the audience.
Surprises are generated by unexpected difficulties. Difficulty is the most active ingredient that drives story forward. The more surprises in a scene the more difficulties and therefore the more drama.
Any time you are excited by a good dramatic scene it will mostly have a surprise a line for the characters.
Surprises also come out of the character’s conscious expectations being interrupted. Everything we do, whether it is action or conversation based has an expectation attached to it – otherwise we wouldn’t do it. When that expectation isn’t met in someway we are surprised. We are also surprised when our expectations are met.
The options are endless. But whatever way we choose to go about it the task itself doesn’t change. The fundamental core issue remains the same. We can go about a conversation in a vast variety of ways but the reason behind the conversation stays the same.
When we change ‘the way we go about’ our conscious thought processes then inevitably at the same time change the way we are pursuing our unconscious processes. But, again the core unconscious ‘need’ will stay the same. It is merely the way we are going about achieving it that has changed.
Colour is the way we go about pursuing anything or any ‘stuff’ we do.
We often use colour to disguise our real processes whether they are unconscious or conscious. We don’t show our unconscious ‘need’ but we DO show colours or we might think about it as ‘wearing them’. They are the conscious way we want to be perceived by the world. Thus they are conscious choices and therefore they are often referred to in text. The writer may have indicated that your character is angry or happy and so you can go about your ‘conversation goal’ or disguise your ‘need’ angrily or happily.
The choice to apply colours is a conscious one. Each morning you get up and choose the clothes you wish to wear for the day. In choosing your clothes you decide how you want the world to see you on this day. The colours we wear are a deliberate choice to control the way the world will perceive us.
Because the choice of colour is a very CONSCIOUS process for the character these decisions are mostly ‘story’ related. For example, a conscious ‘Battle for Control’ could be pursued ‘warmly’ or ‘pleasantly’.
On occasions colour is also a way of disguising our unconscious ‘need’. We could be going about a ‘need to dominate’ helpfully – it’s the ‘helpfully’ that is the conscious way we want to be seen while our ‘to dominate need’ sits in the background (at an unconscious level).
The element I am calling ‘colour’ is much the same, as the Stanislavski purist will call ‘actions’. In their vocabulary actions are the way you go about getting your intention or your objective. In The Rehearsal Room vocabulary it’s the way you pursue or go about getting anything.
The Stanislavski purists label ‘actions’ as verbs. This is highly impractical. As the conscious thought processes are already labeled with a verb its ridiculous to label the way we go about pursuing that verb with another verb. Our brains are simply not trained to work that way. Many many actors have said to me that they could not do this – that it never made sense to them.
If we label our ‘need’ as a verb it seems entirely logical to label the way we go about pursuing it as an adverb or a colour. Adverbs are words that end in the letters ‘ly’.
A Practical Label
Using adverbs (that’s the word that describes how we go about a verb) is very practical as our brain is already trained to understand how the adverb and the verb relate. You can also choose to label them as colours. Some actors like the idea of issuing an ‘orange’ challenge or a ‘bright red’ challenge. But a challenge could just as easily be ‘blue’ or ‘golden’.
Whether you label them with a colour or an adverb you MUST ALLOW THEM TO CHANGE during the scene. The change of hue will result from your listening and the SURPRISES that result. Colours should be changing constantly depending on the interaction. Thus you can choose to put one in place at the start of a scene but you can’t predict the hue it will be by the end of the scene because that will depend on the interaction. It’s your listening to the impulses in the scene that will determine the way you go about your next choice and the colours that result.
A Technical Tool
Sometimes if our ‘need’ is fairly close to the text we may pick a really diverse colour to bring back the complexity.
My standard example is the argument scene that is resulting from a father challenging his son. If the father’s ‘need’ to dominate has always driven this relationship then it should stay set. But because the father’s ‘need’ is close to the ‘challenge story’ then the outcome won’t be very complex. This may not be a problem. Characters don’t always have to be hugely complex – sometimes in a heated argument people aren’t very complex. But if you don’t want the outcome to be so confined, picking a diverse colour such as ‘charmingly’ or ‘intelligently’ or ‘playfully’ will bring the complexity back to the performance. So, the father’s nature or character stays the same (‘need’ - to dominate and unconscious) while he gets on with his conversation goal (challenge - story and conscious), yet does so in a charmingly (colour – the conscious way he is going about the conversation) complex way.
This is traditionally called ‘playing against it’.
We now have story, ‘need’ and colours to deal with in our acting process. And we are always open to moments of surprise determining how the character will make the next decision.
WHAT THE CHARACTER KNOWS
Every decision we make in life is informed and moderated by all the decisions we have previously made to this point. These are the lessons life has taught us. Understanding the things the character knows (that are relevant to the scene) is a hugely important tool for the actor. By changing what the character knows you can change significantly how the character makes the next choice. A character who knows much about the likely positive outcomes of a choice will go about making a decision entirely differently to a character who fears serious negative outcomes.
The way an actor manages these areas has much to do with the way they explore the character’s existing circumstances and relationships. CIRCUMSTANCES and RELATIONSHIP have a HUGE impact on performance choices. The conversation with a lover will be entirely different to exactly the same conversation with a mother in the home or a supervisor in the workplace. Circumstance and relationship need careful monitoring because of the major contribution they make to any decision.
The actor’s task is to maintain a balance between the character’s nature, their reason for the conversation and what the character knows.
AND THE INSTRUMENT THAT DRIVES IT ALL IS - LISTENING. That's the crucial skill that allows characters to freely interact in a believable and spontaneous way.
As soon as the audience detects any elements of ‘acting’, believability evaporates. Perhaps the label of ‘actor’ is misleading in itself. Maybe we should think of the task as ‘inter-acting’ instead.
Rehearsal Room process is targeted at producing actors who –
THE ABOVE COULD BE EXPLAINED IN EVEN MORE DETAIL AND THERE ARE OF COURSE OTHER IMPORTANT INGREDIENTS. OBVIOUSLY THE CHARACTER’S LIFE EXPERIENCE WILL HAVE A HUGE EFFECT ON ANY CHOICES THE CHARACTER WILL MAKE. SO, CREATING AN ACTIVE PRE-HISTORY FOR A CHARACTER IS A VERY IMPORTANT GOAL.
Finally – relax, trust and enjoy.
Understanding breeds confidence – confidence breeds trust – trust breeds ownership – ownership allows the intuitive impulses to work freely.
First published May 2003; updated January 07, April 09, November 10 and this version was added in September 2011.
Copyright © The Rehearsal Room 2003.
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