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Active Learning and Research
Active Learning and Research
Theater Arts professor Ray Munro and his students explore a set of rehearsal exercises developed by Munro to help actors "become" their characters.

Unveiling and revealing

Professor Raymond Munro's creative work
After a grueling audition, you've just found out you'll be starring in the role of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. But now the pressure is on--you have to perform, literally! How do you go about convincing an audience that YOU are Lady Macbeth, a woman so hungry for power that she commits murder and descends into madness?

Getting into character

Theater directors employ a variety of games and exercises during rehearsals to help actors "become" their characters. Professor Raymond Munro is developing a set of rehearsal exercises based on meditation practices and spiritual techniques used to connect with one's essential self. He wants his actors to be aware, not just of a character's thoughts and emotions, but also of the spiritual process that produced them. How do thoughts and emotions arise into the mind? How does one see beyond the physical gestures and spoken word to the impulses that prompted them?

Logos and Mythos

Munro's exercises draw on the spiritual and philosophical dualism of Logos and Mythos. Logos is the concept, idea or impulse behind the Mythos, a concrete verbal or physical expression. Logos is the same as the philosopher Plato's "form." For example, one "form" (or Logos) might be the concept of chair. The Mythos is the physical actualization of that form in a specific chair. Similarly the words of a script, and the actor's portrayal of a character, are the Mythos, an actualization of the Logos, the wordless impulse behind them.

Munro suggests that before an actor can completely enter into her character, she must unveil the Logos. The exercises are designed to work back from the words to the impulse that prompted them. When the actor is in touch with the Logos, she then reverses the process, moving forward to reveal the Mythos, her performance--her personification in words and gestures of the Logos.

Exercises for accessing the Logos

Munro has designed several exercises to help the actors move from the Mythos, to the Logos, and back to the Mythos. He calls them the Big Book, Dissolving and Reverse Mirror exercises. The actor begins by creating a "Big Book," a large sketchbook into which he copies, by hand, all his lines from the script. But in writing out each sentence, he structures each as a sequence of thoughts, one thought per line. This assists the actor in understanding the thought process that prompted the words. The actor identifies with a series of thoughts, not just the words expressing them. For example, the sentence from Samuel Beckett's Footfalls
A little later, when as though she had never been, it never been, she began to walk.
Might be copied out as
A little later,
when as though
she had never been,
it never been,
she began to walk.
The actor then fills out the space around the lines with his notes, impressions and associations for each thought.

In the Dissolving exercise (based on a meditation technique), the actor writes down a sentence from the script. She then re-writes it, removing one word, but retaining the meaning of the sentence. This process is repeated until only one word is left. When that word is dropped, only the essence of the sentence, the Logos, remains. Then the actor gives voice to the line, creating it afresh as she speaks it, as it was first spoken.

The Reverse Mirror exercise is an adaptation of the often-used Mirror exercise. In the Mirror exercise, two actors face each other. Each tries to reflect the posture and gestures of the person opposite. In Reverse Mirror, the two actors stand quietly, feeling the Logos between them. They move only when they sense that the awareness of the Logos is weakening, and needs to be reestablished.

 

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Raymond Munro
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