Mistakes in Acting--& Marriage
From "The Ethics of the
Great Art of Acting," presented
at the Aesthetic
I'm going to speak about
what the art of acting says about marriage, including mistakes wives
make. The biggest mistake, Aesthetic Realism taught me, is for a
woman to give way to her desire to be scornful and superior, to have
contempt-- for her husband and the world. This takes many everyday
forms, all debilitating, all ruinous. And it's amazing that every one
of these forms has its likeness to mistakes in acting. This is what I
have the pleasure of showing technically tonight.
Bennett Cooperman & Anne
of the Aesthetic
Their Purpose Is the Same
Siegel explained, is "a means for liking the
world." It is a means for a woman and man to have, as he once
said to me, "the most accurate and romantic relation with the universe
possible." He also taught me--and this changed the whole
direction of my life--that acting has the very same purpose. Acting is
a means, through one's self, one's thoughts, speech, one's
body--of being fair to the selves of other people, characters in plays,
getting inside of them, becoming them. The art of acting,
therefore, is a making one of the opposites of self and world, point
and expansion, being affected and affecting. As Mr. Siegel said in the
lesson we just heard "[It]is a way, of being somebody else," of taking
"a trip in order to find out who you are. When you act, he said, "You
are trying to meet [a character] accurately and merge with
it." Isn't that what every wife is hoping to do?
when we marry we're looking to have our intimate, personal
self become at one, respectfully, lovingly with a man who comes from
and represents reality. A woman needs to feel: "I want to be fair
to the depths of this man, his thoughts, his hopes, his fears, his
memories, his relations. Just as an actress tries to imagine what
a character was doing before the play began, I want to see who this man
was before I came on the scene, not just as a featured player in my
a woman has contempt, when she uses her
husband, as Mr. Siegel showed me in a lesson I was in danger of doing
with the man I would marry, Sheldon Kranz, not to like the world, but
"just for myself" to serve me, and make me the most important thing in
the universe" she becomes bitter with her husband and the world, and
then asks herself "What went wrong?"
In issue 1305 of The Right Of,
Domesticity, Love," Class Chairman Ellen Reiss explains:
A wife, who now feels
her marriage is flat,...does not see that the
reason is: she has used her husband...not to know the world in its
wideness and care for it, but to make less of it. She thought,
when they married eight years ago, that romance was their ability to
kick out the world together, make a universe apart, and feel the two of
them were superior to everybody. What she saw as romance was
really contempt, the most hurtful thing in the human
And when a wife
has used her husband to kick out the world-she
inevitably wants to kick him out, too, and finds various ways of
showing her superiority. So, we come to an immemorial mistake in
marriage and acting:
Upstaging--a Bad Relation of Point and Expansion
A heinous thing in any theatrical production--and a constant danger for
a wife--is what is called "upstaging." In marriage it occurs like
this: You, the wife, out at a gathering or with friends, arrange by
various means--some subtle, some not--to have your husband in the
background, or even offstage in the wings, while you take center stage,
and all eyes are focused on the main character in this drama. The
opposites of self and world, point and expansion or circumference are
Upstaging in the
theatre occurs when, during a
dialogue between two people, you move upstage, like this: [Example, AF moves to center back on the
forcing the other actor gradually to move downstage. Now this
might not seem so bad, because you tell yourself he's closer to the
audience--but, the whole purpose is to have him turn towards you so his
back, not his expressive face and eyes, is what the audience sees,
while you remain center stage, the spotlight on you. An example,
here is a brief dialogue from Act I of An Ideal Husband
Wilde. [BC and AF go to stage
Sir Robert Chiltern, and I am Gertrude, his wife:
Robert. How beautiful you look to-night,
moves to center upstage as she speaks and BC is forced downstage,
turning towards her.] Robert, it is not
it? You are not going to lend your support to the
Argentine speculation? You couldn't!
Robert. (starting) Who told you I
intended to do so? [His back is now
to the audience.]
That woman who has just gone out, Mrs. Cheveley,
as she calls herself now. Robert, I know this woman. You
don't. We were at school together. She was untruthful,
dishonest, an evil influence....
Another form of
upstaging is for an actress to do
superfluous activities during a scene, distracting the audience, making
them pay attention to her, not the other actors or the unfolding plot.
For example, there is what is called "furniture grabbing," something I
did in one of my first acting jobs in summer stock, during a mystery
play. The audience was tense, wondering "What's going to happen
next? Who's the murderer?" [AF
And there I was, clutching
the back of the sofa, wiping the table with quiet intensity--[BC rise and start emoting]
the actor playing my husband was speaking
some of his most important lines. The director was tearing his
hair out, furious--let alone my fellow actor--this was utterly
unprofessional, and I was lucky I wasn't fired!
This has its humor,
but it's ugly and anti-art; it
arises from unkind competition with a husband and the world.
Women try to upstage their husbands in all kinds of ways; as a means of
showing that she's the center of the universe, superior to everyone and
everything--and it makes her mean.
I'll give a few
examples, using my own experiences
as a wife: Upstaging occurs when your husband calls to tell you
something that happened he's excited by, and you're hurt--why didn't he
ask you about your day and all the unpleasant things you had to deal
with? And if, at a party, he's having a good time talking with
people, you either wangle the conversation around to something you
simply must express--as we say in the theatre "pad your part"--or sulk
alone in a corner, getting everyone to worry about you. And at
home, when he's concentrated on work he is doing, you bustle around,
vacuuming loudly, doing the dishes noisily, or as I'm sorry to say I
did, try to engage him in discussion about the urgent matter of what
you should prepare for dinner, or his opinion of the skirt you just
"Can your desire
to control Sheldon be inordinate?" Mr.
Siegel once asked me. Yes, it was. And if a husband has a
concern, a wife pleasantly but dutifully asks him a few questions--and
then moves on to the more important character in this play: herself.
For example, in a consultation, Emily
Fairfield, Connecticut told us that her husband, Ryan, was so worried
about losing his job, his stomach was in knots and he was morose and
ill-natured. But as she said this, she sounded peevish, offended, as if
she were the hurt person.
We asked her: "Are you
interested in knowing what your husband feels, what he's worried about,
how you can honestly encourage him; or do you take it as an insult that
you have to think about him at all?" After all wasn't she the
star of this show?
was thoughtful. She told us that
as a young woman, "I felt I should just get praise and devotion from a
man I was dating, and that I needed to be the center of attention at
all times. If he talked to someone else or had anything to do
with other people, I became angry and aloof."
In a lesson, Mr.
Siegel once asked me at a time I was displeased because my husband was
giving his thought to something important "What is your biggest desire,
to have Sheldon honor you or be sincere with himself?"
also a question that can be asked of an actress--Do I want my fellow
performers to make me shine, or be as good as they can
How Well Do We Listen; or, Affecting and Being
In an Aesthetic Realism lesson,
Mr. Siegel said to me: "Anything, including listening, can have the
word art before it. There's an art of skipping rope, and an art
of listening." I want to say that Mr. Siegel himself had that art
Onstage there are
various technical showings of
faulty listening. There is what is called "Stepping on another's
lines," which means you interrupt a person before he's finished his
sentence--and it's seen as reprehensible and unprofessional. Wives are
notorious for this--and what it comes from in both instances is
contempt, the false importance we get from diminishing
Here is an example. In
Act I of
Sheridan's The School for Scandal
husband, Sir Peter Teazle and Lady
Teazle are quarreling about the way she spends money; a frequent
subject of marital fights.
The scene begins, "Enter Sir Peter and
Lady Teazle"--and first, we'll read it straight:
Lady Teazle, Lady Teazle, I'll
not bear it!
Sir Peter, Sir Peter, you may bear it or not,as
you please; but I ought to have my own way in everything,
and what's more, I will, too. What! Though I was educated
in the country, I know very well that women of fashion in London are
accountable to nobody after they are married.
Very well, ma'am, very well;--so a
husband is to have no influence, no authority?
Authority! No, to be
wanted authority over me, you should have adopted me, and
not married me: I am sure you were old enough.
Now, here is what would
happen if, because I haven't really been
listening to him, I step on Sir Peter's lines: [Example of stepping on lines,
interrupting--BC and AF do scene.]
mishap as to
listening is coming in late on cue, or forgetting
your lines altogether. How often has a wife "dropped her cue," as
her husband tries to tell her something, or asks a question. She'll
take a long pause, be distracted, her mind on something else?
This is what it would sound like:
[Example of coming in late on cue, long pauses. BC begins on "Very
example of how important listening
is in the theatre, I quote from an article of 1916 by the critic Arthur
Johnson, titled "Sarah Bernhardt Here Again," on the occasion of the
great actress's second visit to the U.S. He
As the audience
dispersing, an actor exclaimed,... "Heaven's, what
a wonderful feeder!" "Feeding," as it is technically called, is another
name for the difficult art of listening, or paying the
closest sort of
attention to the actors with whom the scene is played....Bernhardt is
never above listening--with rapt attention--to whatever is said to her
by the actors on the stage. And it is this quality, more than
anything else, that has made her a permanent favorite with American
Here is the
-- [on left,
Sarah Bernhardt in Racine's Phedre
been seen as so dazzling--[on right, Bernhardt as the Queen in Victor
Hugo's Ruy Blas
critic says what makes her great, is
well she put
affecting and being affected; how well she listened to her fellow
actors, which made the audience listen keenly, too. Every wife can
learn from this.
Overacting; or "Tearing a Passion to Tatters"
In Hamlet's famous Speech
to the Players, Act III,
Scene 2, he advises them not to overact, saying: "But if you mouth it,
as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines.
Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all
Hamlet, Mr. Siegel explained in The
asking for aesthetics. And in a class, he looked at these lines,
and said: "When you mouth something, there is more energy than is
necessary--and also you are louder than you have to be. And a [certain
kind] of gesture [sawing the air with your hand] is also
excessive." How many wives, in
kitchens and bedrooms, use their
energy this way--as a weapon, to defeat a husband, make him cower,
subdue him? Hamlet tells the Players not to "tear a passion to
tatters....Pray you avoid it."
Overacting in the
theatre has always
been seen as
reprehensible; made fun of--and the reason is audiences feel, rightly,
it's insincere, fake stuff. "The test of sincerity," Mr. Siegel
explained, "is whether there is a right involvement with the depths of
yourself, the self as individual and the world as such, let alone
things." When an actress over-emphasizes, "rants and
raves," her purpose is to have a big effect, to show how passionate she
is--usually to cover the fact that she has so little real
feeling--there is not that "right involvement with the depths of
herself and the world as such."
a wife says,
melodramatically: "What do you
want from me!" or, "I asked you to bring lemons, not limes, you idiot!"
"You're killing me!"--she is insincere and ungraceful Her purpose
is unaesthetic and mean; she doesn't give a damn about her effect on
her husband; in fact, with all her seeming agony, she's contemptuously
calm inside, and is having a terrific triumph wiping the floor with
him, all to prove the world is against her. Then, she feels awful.
I learned about this
danger in a
lesson early in my
marriage. When Sheldon told of my getting intense about a
domestic situation, and later berating myself, Mr. Siegel explained:
"You use yourself dramatically. Your mistake is to use intensity for
despair. At a certain point it is intelligent to mute the drama and let
it speak for itself. You don't know how to be prosaic."
This was the very problem I had as an actress!
A frequent criticism I heard was that my acting was too intense,
overblown, but not deep enough--and I had a tendency to turn each
scene--be it a comedy or straight drama--into very high tragedy.
"How are you on the
Siegel asked me in one lesson. "Do you welcome all possibilities of
acting, or do you prefer the defiant or the despairing?" "I do,"
I said, and he showed me the danger, saying: "These two moods have to
be added to, or in real life you're going to do one or the other--the
smelling salts or stamping your foot." And he said:
The main problem a
person has, married or unmarried, is the problem of
opulent sincerity. In marrying Sheldon, you're using his problems to
understand your own. Do you think you're up to that? One aspect of
sincerity is an undiminished, untiring desire to find out what you feel.
I love him for these words,
and see them as useful to every wife. They
also point to another constant danger in marriage and acting.
Sheldon Kranz and
What Happened to Romance; or, the Feeling of the First Time
In TRO 1305, under the heading "Familiarity and Wonder in Marriage,"
Ellen Reiss answers that question as she writes about what wives all
over America feel:
The man whom they
once saw as Mr. Romance, who
brought to the tedium of life a something that made their hearts leap,
is now a husband; and instead of offsetting the tedium, he now seems to
be part of it, to add to it.
And she explains:
Meaning, wonder, real
romance, real thrill are the feeling that the world itself is close to
us through another thing or person. That is so in art.
When I read these
sentences, I thought about what
called in the theatre "the feeling of the first time." which
Stanislavsky, the great Russian director and theoretician went for very
much. It has to do with freshness, seeing new meaning, wonder in
lines you may have said many times, and saying them with such sincerity
and naturalness that they seem to come from you, at that very moment.
When this occurs on the stage, it's very exciting.
A wife needs
to see a husband with that true wonder; not succumb to the contempt
that says: "I know my husband like a book." She needs to see the man
she's close to the way Miranda does in Shakespeare's The Tempest,
she says, looking at persons for the first time:
many goodly creatures are there here!
beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
has such people in't!
Said Mr. Siegel in his great lecture on the play: "[Miranda] has her
sense of wonder, she has the artist's unstained eye, and unpolluted
perception, and unblemished heart." This is good will; it is what
every wife and every performer needs--and Aesthetic Realism can
teach us to have that beautiful purpose.
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