At CYS, our approach to performing Shakespeare begins with a set of artistic goals or values that provide a framework for our training and help guide our young actors through the creative process from start to finish. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Use yourself (e.g., speak in your own voice, draw on your experiences, and activate your imagination)
- Make the words sound like what they mean
- Include the audience in the conversation
- Be impulsive (yes, you read that correctly, and Honor those impulses (i.e., respond to what's actually happening in the room)
- Make your scene partner(s) look good
- Live in the uncomfortable space
- Don’t play the emotion, feel the emotion
- Be generous (i.e., "Serve the whole play, not just your bit" - a phrase stolen with permission from our friends at The Back Room Shakespeare Project)
- Jump in the deep end (A.K.A. Go before you're ready.)
Our training for young actors, much like the composition of individuals in our rehearsal room, encompasses a diverse range of ideas and methods. They include traditional (and less traditional) approaches to decoding and scanning Shakespeare's texts, a generous variety of ensemble-building games, and a deep dive (or crash course) into what we call "The Big 3": Meisner Technique, Suzuki Method, and The Viewpoints:
Sanford Meisner described acting as “the reality of doing” and “the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances”. We couldn't agree more! Meisner’s Basic Repetition exercise challenges the actor to do 3 (seemingly) simple things: 1. Observe. 2. Listen. 3. Repeat. Practicing Basic Repetition forces the actor to focus all of their attention on their scene partner, allowing them to truly hear the words and react honestly in the moment.
Meisner Preparation focuses on igniting the actor's imagination so they can enter the scene emotionally full or “charged” - instead of empty. CYS students use Meisner Prep to unpack their character's "unanswered questions" (things that the text hints at, but doesn’t elaborate on in detail), and then fill in those questions with specific answers.
Suzuki is a movement-based technique developed by Tadashi Suzuki that helps the actor build a deeper connection to the emotional life of the character through a series of exercises that strengthen physical awareness, endurance, concentration, and control.
"There can be no words spoken that are not intimately connected to bodily sensations and rhythms. An actor uses his words and gestures to try to convince his audience of something profoundly true." (Tadashi Suzuki)
The Viewpoints is a movement-based technique developed for actors by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau that incorporates individual impulse with ensemble aesthetics. Guided by the nine Viewpoints - Tempo, Duration, Kinesthetic Response, Repetition Shape, Gesture, Architecture, Spatial Relationship and Topography - actors discover how to honor their impulses while being generous to and respectful of what else is happening in the space.
Add to that mix a host of visiting guest artists and collaborators, and there you have the skeleton of CYS training. The "meat" of course, changes with each play or project, and is ultimately driven by the unique collection of individuals in the room.
Learning to be reactive and responsive and to live the scene in the moment has been so amazing. This is something I couldn’t do months ago. Now in my acting I can go to this place of truth instead of faking it. It feels so much better! - CYSE Youth Artist
Sources Cited: Sanford Meisner On Acting by Sanford Meisner and Dennis Longwell, 1987; The Way of Acting by Tadashi Suzuki, 1986