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Read the selection below, then answer the questions that follow to test your reading skills.
Internal and External Action
Action is not just external activity. A cat watching a mouse hole is not moving at all, yet we recognize the drama, the sense of "significant doing" in it. This is because dramatic action is felt even before it has shown itself in external activity; it lives even in the potential for doing. At such moments, the action is literally living "inside" us, waiting to erupt into the outside world. So we experience both internal and external action.
Stanislavski called internal action spiritual action, and external action physical action:
The creation of the physical life is half the work on a role because, like us, a role has two natures, physical and spiritual a role on the stage, more than action in real life, must bring together the two lives--of external and internal action--in mutual effort to achieve a given purpose.
For Stanislavski it was the complete integration of internal and external action that produced a truthful stage performance. Accordingly, his acting system was designed to bring about this integration. In the beginning, he used psychological techniques which were designed to work from the internal to the external (from the inside out). Later in the development of his method, he began to work from the external toward the internal (from outside in). As he said, our inner condition is affected by our outer action just as much as our outer action is caused by our inner condition:
The spirit cannot but respond to the actions of the body, provided of course that these are genuine, have a purpose [In this way] a part acquires inner content [through the development of outer actions.]2
Should the actor work from the inside out, or from the outside in? Throughout the modern period, various techniques have been developed that fall on one side or the other of this question. Some of the modern approaches that work mainly from "the outside in" include that of Bertolt Brecht, who suggested that the actor avoid transformation and instead "demonstrate" the character's behavior of the audience. Polish director Jerzy Grotowski used intensive physical exercises to "eradicate blocks" between impulse and gesture to produce a "holy" actor whose deepest impulses became immediately visible without censorship. Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki also works through intensive physical exercise, featuring the actor's relationship to gravity through extreme forms of walking.
On the other hand, the Stanislavskian tradition tended to stress internals, especially as it was practiced in America. The principal American teachers included Lee Strasberg, who placed great emphasis on emotional and sensory memory; Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner, whose work was character-centered and subtextual; and Uta Hagen who stressed substitutions (which will be defined later).
In general, during the first half of the twentieth century the British acting tradition stressed the importance of externals in the acting process, working "from the outside in," whereas our American tradition stressed the importance of internals, working "from the inside out." Since the fifties, however, most training programs on both sides of the Atlantic have tried to integrate these approaches. The aim is now for a total integration of internals and externals, for both are essential, as Stanislavski pointed out:
External action acquires inner meaning and warmth from inner action, while [inner action] finds its expression only in physical terms.
Each approach has its own vocabulary, techniques, and exercises, and if you work with directors or other actors from one of these schools of thought you will have to devote some attention to developing your own understanding of their approach.
If your action consists only of external movement and speech unconnected to an inner energy, it will seem hollow and lifeless. If your action lives only as inner intensity, without skillful outer expression, it will seem vague and self-indulgent. The most useful approach, then, is to avoid thinking of "inner" and "outer" action as being in any way separate. Imagine instead a single flow of action that has both an inner phase and an outer phase. Something happens to which you respond, causing your aroused inner energy to flow outward and to become external action. When this happens naturally, you experience the inner and outer aspects of the flow as a single state.
From R. Benedetti, The Actor in You. Copyright © 1999 by Allyn & Bacon (http://www.abacon.com/). Reprinted by permission. Use of this material without written permission from the publisher is prohibited.