Sunday, March 28, 2021



Acting seems futile during a pandemic even though some brave attempts have been aired on Youtube-- Zoom performances patched together into an odd mix. Editors have always been the true creators of the acting performance not only on Zoom but in films and television shows, but not for stage performances, yet that is all we have now. On stage the actors and perhaps the technical staff—the light and sound technician—the stage manager—pull together to create theatrical events.


Still I wanted to work. An actor acquaintance once told me that Uta Hagan wasn’t very good in the roles she played. I had not seen her performances so could neither agree or disagree. But reading her book, I thought her exercises were quite good. Reading them, they sounded good i as were her reasons for creating them, solo exercises filled the gap  between roles,

working on acting between roles, devising exercises that mitigated acting problems.  

 Feeling motivated, I borrowed a DVD of Uta Hagan’s acting class from the public library. It is a DVD of some of her exercises along with some scenes her students performed. It isn’t the first time I viewed the tape.  I saw it a few years ago and thought it was good. But this time I sat with an actor friend who has a much more critical eye than I. With him, I came to realize the scenes were terrible and the exercises little more than an attempt to get laughs from the audience.


The exercises, four that I can remember, were the following: waiting, creating the fourth wall, talking to yourself, and creating a period piece through costume. Waiting was straight forward. The individual waited on what seemed like a subway platform. He might have even had a soft suitcase of some type. Afterward Uta congratulated him and went up onto the studio stage, explaining to her students that nobody just stands someplace waiting, that we all do things. We look at stuff. We look in the direction of the train. We look at the other people, the advertising, the clocks, the computerized signs that tell when the next train is coming. That exercise was simple enough.


The next exercise was the actor finding something lost. But here the problem was that although the actor looked at all of the objects she brought from home, she knew where the lost object was. As my acting colleague said, somebody else should have hidden the object in a place she was likely to have misplaced her object, but a spot unknown to her so that she really searched for her item.


Other exercises were creating a fourth wall and talking to oneself, which Hagan claimed we all do. As actors performed their exercises, the audience laughed while Hagan explained that we laugh because the exercise has occurred to us in life. But in my opinion the actors were playing for laughs. They had chosen exercises that were funny and not necessarily particularly honest work, which probably wouldn’t have entertained an audience but would have been good practice for concentration and  attention to detail exercises.


In my opinion, the only authentic exercise was one in which the actor got dressed in an 1880’s costume in front of the audience. She dressed as if the clothing and the extras-- bustle, laced up corset and shoes—were something she wore everyday.


Again in my opinion, the scenes performed in the DVD were worse.  Hagan only allowed five minutes of performance because as she said, if a scene goes on longer than five minutes, the actor is directing him or herself instead of interacting. But the actors in these scenes were not interacting. They either stood in their places and yelled lines at each other or after her intervention, got caught up in business so again they weren't interacting.


In the future, I will be more scrutinizing when I read acting method books.


In my opinion, San Francisco is not a theatre town. Oh in the late 70's and early 80's and then the first decade of the new millennium,  some theatre arose. But mainly theatre in San Francisco has been spectacle, much like Uta Hagan’s DVD, broad playing that is about laughs or actors caught technical effects. But neither will persuade a younger audience to embrace theatre, and now with the Internet as the main attraction, stage actors have a large bill to fill.