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Challenge For The Actor [Hardcover]

Uta Hagen
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Product Description

From Library Journal

This volume completes Hagen's earlier classic, Respect for Acting (Macmillan, 1973). The beliefs, professionalism, and standards of training and performance that make Respect required reading for all actors are explored in this acting textbook that represents a lifetime of performance and teaching. Unlike the more academic texts, Hagen's study reflects exercises, insights, and techniques that have been taught and practiced in acting studios and on stages for many years. Readers should not be put off by Hagen's slightly archaic diction and habit of italicizing or boldfacing for emphasis. The heart of this book burns with commitment to an artistic ideal that, if it were a model for every actor, would improve American theater at all levels. Bravo. Recommended.
- Thomas E. Luddy, Salem State Coll., Mass.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

Publishers Weekly This fascinating and detailed book about acting is Miss Hagen's credo, the accumulated wisdom of her years spent in intimate communion with her art. It is at once the voicing of her exacting standards for herself and those she teaches, and an explanation of the means to the end. For those unable to avail themselves of her personal tutelage, her book is the best substitute.

Brooks Atkinson Uta Hagen's Respect for Acting is not only pitched on a high artistic level but also full of homely, practical information by a superb craftswoman. An illuminating discussion of the standards and techniques of enlightened stage acting.

Library Journal Hagen adds to the large corpus of titles on acting with vivid dicta drawn from experience, skill, and a sense of personal and professional worth, Her principal asset in this treatment is her truly significant imagination. Her "object exercises" display a wealth of detail with which to stimulate the student preparing a scene for presentation.

Harold Clurman Respect for Acting is a simple, lucid, and sympathetic statement of actors problems in the theatre and basic tenets for their training wrought from the personal experience of a fine actress and teacher of acting.

Fritz Weaver Uta Hagen is our greatest living actor; she is, moreover, interested and mystified by the presence of talent and its workings; her third gift is a passion to communicate the mysteries of the craft to which she has given her life. There are almost no American actors uninfluenced by her.

About the Author

Uta Hagen was born in Germany, then she moved to the United States, where her father was head of the Art History Department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Her first role was as Ophelia in Eva Le Gallienne's production of Hamlet. She then played the role of Nina in the Lunts' production of The Sea Gull. She has also appeared in Key Largo, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Country Girl, Saint Joan, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She has recently appeared on "American Playhouse" for PBS, and among her recent films is Reversal of Fortune. She was married for more than forty years to Herbert Berghof, the internationally known director, actor, and teacher. Uta Hagen lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

The Actor's World

Since the time of the ancient Greeks a democracy has depended on its philosophers and creative artists. It can only flourish by continuous probing, prodding, and questioning of the social conditions under which man exists and tries to better himself. One of the first moves of a dictatorship is to stifle the artists and thinkers who have the ability to stir up dissent from any prescribed dogma which might enslave them. Because the artist can arouse the curiosity and conscience of his community, he becomes a threat to those who have taken power. We have countless examples in recent history: Hitler's ban, not only of the contemporary artists who challenged his regime, but even of some of the works of German classicists like Schiller and Goethe who defended freedom of thought and condemned anti-Semitism. He forbade performances of Beethoven's opera Fidelio because it espoused the cause of those imprisoned for their political beliefs. Contemporary artists who have dissented from dictatorships, from racism in South Africa, from military oppression in Latin America, and from our own bout with McCarthyism are legion. They have set an example as to the power of art.

As actors we must not consider ourselves immune from the need to learn about our world, our country, and our immediate community. We must arrive at the formation of a point of view. The aftermath of the "me generation" is producing many young people with reawakened concerns about their society; but it is often accompanied by a sense of futility in the belief that individual action won't make any difference. I know that if I cast my one vote I can be sure that thousands of others are doing the same, that if I give only one dollar for famine relief, environmental protection, or civil liberties, thousands of others are giving, too. I also know that if I give or do nothing, many, many others will be as remiss.

Once we begin to learn about some of the world's problems and come to an understanding of our country's relationship to them, we can tackle the problems of our immediate surroundings. "My country, right or wrong!" is often taken out of context and used in an unpatriotic, even dangerous sense. In any country, as in the individual, there is always room for improvement. The struggle to make changes for the better, to be of service in this quest, is the obligation of responsible citizenship. It is true that a by-product of being a performer is to jump on the bandwagon of a good cause. We have an intuitive compassion for our fellow man so we give freely of our time and talent to aid the hungry, the ill, and the homeless, and to protest against nuclear proliferation, unjust wars, and oppression, once these things have been brought to our attention. However, an educated grasp of false national values and the exploitative practices in our own society is glaringly lacking. We are lax in making changes in existing conditions, even within our own profession. To plead ignorance or to play the ostrich, to assume that individual actions don't count, can only result in further enslavement.

By going back to the origins of theatre art, in briefly tracing the history of its development, I want you to discover how and why it reached high peaks and why it so often sank into a shambles, why in America it has been dubbed "The Fabulous Invalid," and why it should be viewed as an invalid at all, fabulous or otherwise.

The ancient theatre of the Greeks, with its enormous arenas providing intellectual enlightenment as well as an emotional catharsis for the populace, spread to the Romans, where, under dictatorship and in its increasing attempts merely to entertain, it gradually declined into a state of soulless spectacle. It died out and the arenas fell into ruin. (How many such spectacles fill our arenas today -- sometimes on roller skates? How many of our theatres have been allowed to fall to ruin or demolition?) Centuries later, in the Dark Ages, as people reached for light, the theatre reemerged in the form of religious "miracle" and "passion" plays. Finally, it spilled into the streets and marketplaces as troupes of strolling players mocked and mimed and improvised their views of local political problems as well as the eternally fascinating problems of love and sex and family life. (How many churches, garages, or basements are we occupying today in our search for an audience, in our attempts to be heard?)

A flowering rebirth of the theatre began with the Elizabethans and continued in the epochs that followed with the great poet-dramatists of Germany and France. The recognition by heads of state that fine theatre reflected glory on their communities led them to increase their patronage and support. Abroad this support is still traditional, even though many of the theatres are grappling with the invasion of bureaucratic merchandising that threatens genuine artistic contribution to a nation. Throughout Europe we have examples of theatres subsidized by both the state and the municipality. (In Germany theatre is additionally subsidized by industry and labor.) Through continuous and affordable offerings, the audiences have also developed a tradition of theatregoing. It has become a part of their lives. (While standing in line for tickets at Vienna's Burgtheater, I overheard a young woman chatting with a friend about her problems as a salesgirl. Then, casually, she asked her opinion about a recent film. "I haven't seen it. Why should I go to a movie when I can see a play?" was the reply.) These subsidized playhouses, which are the backbone of the countries' theatres, exist happily side by side with commercial playhouses, experimental theatres, and political cabarets. They provide enormous variety, not just for the public but also for actors deciding what kind of theatre they long to be a part of. (In Germany and Austria, in the state theatres, the actors are employed for life with paid vacations and retirement pensions equaling their salaries.)

In stressing the importance of subsidized theatre, I don't mean to imply that it is necessarily ideal for solving the artists' problems, but rather to emphasize that when this kind of support is given, it is an acknowledgment of the cultural benefits, the value that theatre can have for its community, on a par with its orchestras, operas, dance companies, museums, and libraries. It implies respect for the theatre artists. In the United States we have yet to earn this respect and support. We will need to do so if we are to get out of the swamp of commercialization in which we seem to be stuck at the present. How did we get into this predicament?

Whenever I despair about the condition of the present American theatre, I remind myself how very young our country is, and I take courage in the awareness of its speed of growth from wilderness to civilization. Our first hundred years left little time for anything but clearing the wilds, breaking ground to provide shelter and arable land, gradually providing schoolrooms, churches, and town halls. The creation of a viable government, communication between settlements, a pursuit of higher education, and the arts had to wait their turn.

When we began to establish ourselves economically through the mining of our natural resources, through trading in furs, lumber, and cotton, we were deemed worthy of exploitation. There was renewed oppression from the colonial bosses abroad, which made revolt almost inevitable. Our Founding Fathers, making use of Greek philosophers, promised liberty and justice for all, even the right to a pursuit of happiness. The fight to fulfill these promises has not been won. It took us a long time to accept the very idea of what justice and liberty "for all" means, and that meaning is being sorely tested in the present. I believe that the right of the individual to pursue happiness is continually bent and perverted into something sought at the expense of others. "Free enterprise" has come to mean the right to exercise control over others, even to undo them. Corporate mergers are made, not to be of service to others, but for personal enrichment and self-aggrandizement. Our theatre is an integral part of this society.

The theatre's evolution is not only fascinating but totally relevant to our present dilemma. From the Puritans we inherited the notion that all forms of theatre were immoral, that all performers were vagabonds, harlots, and charlatans (as indeed some of them were and some still are). As settlement of the colonies grew, laws forbidding any kind of performance were enforced in all but Maryland and Virginia. These laws were only lifted about 150 years after the Revolution, although laws forbidding actors burial in consecrated ground were not officially rescinded until the twentieth century. (In the late nineteenth century, New York's "Little Church Around the Corner" became the first to sanction burials, as well as church weddings, for actors -- which is why I selected it for my first marriage!) Nevertheless, there were always actors willing to buck these obstacles, ready to slake the people's thirst for entertainment, ready to provide solace for their troubled lives, even if only on a primitive level.

Although French and Spanish settlers founded a few acting companies, it was the British immigrant actors who made a lasting impact. At first they performed on makeshift platforms in town halls and taverns, calling their performances lectures or "moral dialogues" in order to circumvent the law. The number of companies increased, and in 1752 the first real playhouse was built by merchants in Williamsburg, Virginia, for the troupe of Walter Murray and Thomas Kean. These companies were often family affairs in which man, wife, and children performed with the help of other actors. They all shared in the proceeds, scrounging for a living as most actors still do today. They played their English repertoires of Shakespeare and playwrights of the Restoration, and translations of German and French morality plays, usually in very abridged versions fo...
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