version 2.0, October 16, 2007
Generic project description
(modifications will apply to different classes)
Sample persons in the arts
Finding a biography
Sample biographies and notes
To upload your biography report (to where only other students will have access--the easiest way to get this accomplished), simply go to https://vista.kent.edu/ select Kent State University, log in, go to the Aesthetics course (even if you are taking Ethics), enjoy the screencast of the steps involved in doing the upload, then go do it yourself! Thanks so much!
What human excellences, or virtues, are developed by persons engaged in the arts? How do they do it? How do they develop these qualities from childhood or later? What discoveries are made along the way? It has not yet, as far as I am aware, turned to the virtues of aesthetic appreciation, creation, and performance. Our class will probe the aesthetic frontier of virtue ethics.
Dogmas? Markers on a trail? Questions in disguise? Please study, reflect, and live so as to come up with examples that bring these thoughts to life, challenge them with objections and counterexamples, and put new thoughts into the hopper!
Toward the middle of the semester a “book report” is due, according to specifications that will undoubtedly evolve as the class goes forward. It will include a ten-to-twenty-page discussion of a few of the themes that this particular biography makes available for study, plus two appendices: the index you have created, and a typed or photocopied reproduction of some of the key passages in the book. Are there some great quotes that could inspire or instruct or particularly advance our collective inquiry? Please take the trouble to make them available.
Here are some questions indicating additional topics of interest.
1. Through what activities did the artist develop his or her virtue, excellence, or skill? The question is important here, since an adequate virtue ethics should be able to indicate to the less gifted and accomplished individual what steps might be cultivated in order to progress.
2. How does the artist, in some particular work, transform perceptions, emotions, cultural challenges, and spiritual struggles into something great?
3. Do we learn anything about the phases of artistic work—design, creation, performance, and others—that carries helpful implications for the conduct of life generally? Is there any evidence of the artist living a more artistic life?
4. How do virtues such courage and practical wisdom show up in the artistic life of the artist? Compare and contrast expression of artistic courage with the exercise of courage in other domains?
5. There are virtues pertaining to the realms of truth, beauty, and goodness. How do they integrate or fail to integrate in the life and work of the artist?
You have the ability selectively to work into this inquiry, and to keep from getting overwhelmed by the challenging dimensions of this project.
See the aesthetics practices and excellences questionnaire and the beauty in goodness exercise for a fuller grasp of the dimensions of the project.
The first thing to do is to select a person for your biographical study.
The arts? Any arts? Anyone? Well, not quite. One of the quotations that has meant a lot to me gives you some idea about the fine arts (nothing wrong with the fun arts, and the two categories are not mutually exclusive)—and “fine” means “beautiful”: “The high mission of any art is, by its illusions, to foreshadow a higher universe reality, to crystallize the emotions of time into the thought of eternity.”—Goethe
Those of you who have special knowledge in these areas can help add to this list. I know students in my aesthetics class will easily be able to add to the list of persons in the visual arts.
Theater—playwrights and actors: Bertolt Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Laurence Olivier
Architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright
Music—composers and performers: J. S. Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Jal-al din Rumi (Persian Muslim, mystic poet).
Poets and novelists: Dante Alighieri, John Donne, John Milton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Graf Tolstoy, William Blake, W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Wordsworth, Herman Melville, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Saul Bellow, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Theodore Roethke, Emily Dickinson, Denise Levertov, Maya Angelo, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Anele Rubin—see the Wick Poetry Center for resources in poetry.
Visual arts: Leonardo, da Vinci; Michaelangelo Buonarroti, Auguste Rodin, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Barbara Hepworth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Diego Rivera.
Dance: Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Fernando Bujones
Please do not choose a popular celebrity, such as Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie.
There are academic biographies and there are other kinds. Here’s a quote from a book, Joys and Sorrows by Pablo Casals “as told to Albert E. Kahn” published by Simon and Schuster—hoping for a best-seller. Some academic biographies would not include this sort of thing, but it’s more than relevant to the spirit of our project: “Each day I am reborn. Each day I must begin again,” cellist Pablo Casals said at 93. “For the past 80 y ears I have started each day in the same manner. It is not a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano, and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. It is a sort of benediction on the house. But it is also a rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being. The music is never the same for me, never. Each day it is something new, fantastic, and unbelievable. That is Bach, like nature, a miracle!” (Torn out of some ancient Readers’ Digest).
Let’s start with an academic approach.
In my experience, biographies easily run to 500 pages.
If you would like to start with the internet, please consider beginning with http://www.searchedu.com/ , since that will give you an academic perspective.
Another place to begin is with a person who works with the collections at one or more of the KSU libraries:
architecture: Thomas Gates, Marsha Cole
art history: Kathleen Medicus
literature: Tammy Voelker (literature)
Performing arts and head of the music library: Daniel Boomhower
philosophy: Paul Fehrman
I won’t put their e-mail addresses on line, but it’s easy to get hold of them through Flashline.
The following are notes sent in response to my questions by librarian Paul Fehrman.
Undergrads can check out books for 3 weeks, and renew them four times. The same is true for OhioLINK books.
A reference book is Index to artistic biography. Call number is Ref N40.H38 suppl.2 vol. 1 and 2. These have artist names and sources for biographical information about the artists. Those working at the Reference Desk can give help in using these to find the actual biographical information; that said, we may not have all of the sources listed in these books.
2. RE: biographies
of artists: some approaches.
- The following three resources in Reference can be used to find names of individuals. These are multi-volume sources and discovering individuals is straightforward. Biographical information would be found and possibly the title of an actual book (biography) for the artist. KentLINK can then be searched to see if we have the particular book. Items a. and c. below might be best for this assignment, as I think those might have a better chance for listing full biographies books.
a. The Dictionary of Art -Ref N31 .D5 1996
b. The Dictionary of Artists - Ref N40 .D5213 2006
c. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians - Ref ML100 .N48 2001
This is also online and you can get to it by doing a title search on KentLINK for "New Grove Dictionary Of Music And Musicians Online". After doing that search click on "Connect to database online", and you see a link for Biographies. You could see how much/if this could be helpful ?
3, The following general call number *range in the Reference Center has quite a number of reference books that have biographical information on artists. The sections of information in the reference books, again, may have the titles of books that are biographies: N31 to NK 808.
4. From our library home page (http://www.library.kent.edu/page/10000) in the blue "Research" area find and click on "Subject Guides". Then find "Art Studies". That gives a screen that includes a link to "Art Databases". You might then click on "Art Abstracts" and do a search on the term "biography" - this search gives articles that include quite a few "biographies" I think. Could be good for ideas.
5. Also, I would definitely let students know that they could or should search KentLINK using variations on the following keyword searches (without the quotes):
- "composer and biography"
- "artist and biography"
- "name-of-artist and biography" (e.g. "Matisse and biography").
In all of this, students can feel free to ask for guidance from any of the workers at the Reference Desk on first floor of the library. Also, I would be willing to meet with students one-on-one to brainstorm to help with finding sources.
The following information was sent by Tammy Voelker, a librarian specializing in literature.
Finding a biography is usually possible for most well known persons given the use of either KentLINK/OhioLINK for book length biographies (usually just a search for “name and biograph*” will bring up a selection of resources) or the database “Biography and Genealogy Master Index” for shorter, reference book style bios (which you search by any known form of the name). I am assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that you are wishing them to find lengthier biographies. In that case the trick can be to determine which bios are considered the “better” ones. Some of our research databases index book reviews and thus looking for reviews of a biography when it was first published can help the student detect the reception it received amongst other scholars in the field. Academic Search Complete (ASC) includes book reviews, as well as ABELL—Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (again my focus is more to the literary side of things, my colleagues will no doubt have spoken to other areas.) In both of these sources students can simply search for the title of the book, or in the case of ASC they can search by the person’s name and limit to book reviews.
I. An academic biography of Auguste Rodin
I picked this biography since Auguste Rodin has long been my favorite sculptor (especially The Burgers of Calais), and I thought a recent biography from Yale University Press would be a responsible introduction, which it surely was. The book seemed a bit dry for my interest, but the author she seemed to do a particularly good job in objectively presenting extensive data regarding Rodin and women.
This biography is thin for the purpose of the course, so if I were doing this in accord with the general plan for Fall 2007, my work in the second part of the course would rely more on ideas presented in class from texts and from other individuals. I would rely on the instructor’s promise to support us in this experiment, even when this part of the experiment did not turn out particularly well for the dreams of the project.
I did not read this biography and take notes in order to present it as an example within the context of this course, however, so it is possible that I could have gotten more out of it for course purposes had I started with that goal in mind. Another Rodin biographies might be more responsive to my personal interests, but the risk of this inquiry is spending a chunk of time with modest results. It is therefore helpful to pick a figure for study that one would really like to know better.
Considering this choice of a figure to study for the purposes of this course, I realize that some persons in the arts—in their lives—belong more in the category of tortured souls, while others belong more in the category of beacons of delight (it’s a matter of proportion, varying with what the person is working on or struggling with at the time).
Ruth Butler, Rodin: The Shape of Genius (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1993).
The historical culture of his day
R’s respect for ancient and renaissance traditions 434a
Implicit references to the sculptors who influenced him 132.
The historical demands surrounding his work, the culture of his time, was looking for expressions of force, not grace. 96
Appreciated Zola’s critique of the “religious art industry” 423.1
“grandiose hymn to 19th century male genius” 306
Rilke’s view of R 460, 462; his philosophy of living from R 375.1.
Deplored violence, war 502
Beauty: 386c, 434c. Demand for harmony 431L
“search for higher truth through shared understanding of art” 482L
“Art for art’s sake” 320a
Naturalism, expressive, mystery, grander than life (Balzac) vs. the rigid canons of l’École des Beaux Arts and Sciences
Nature is the true guide 372.2
The subject and the title were of little importance 402c. The profiles became more important to Rodin than the subject he was representing. 100, 122. [This note is significant from the standpoint of aesthetics, and I would not expect the beginner to be interested in this point.]
Sculpture: greater than literature (267l);
Had models walking around his studio in poses that they would imagine and take spontaneously. (188.1, 154) The importance of the model 188.
He would do a bust of someone to show “the world enclosed within the man” 216d.
R’s technique 262d, 308.1, selective 340a, simplicity 340b, 390b; exhaustive research on Balzac before attempting to do a sculpture of him 254.
Teamwork! 261, 262.2, organized business 432.1
Organized his work into a business,
In The Gates of Hell he departed from the standard emotions that were represented in Dante and the tradition, especially re: hell. 155.
Le vaincu (“The Age of Bronze”) and the Thinker were self-portraits 158c).
Summaries of his character 262d, 265.4, 274a; tyrannical 264cf [“f” means continued on the following page]; emotional (272a); 319a; silence 370d; 374a, 435; 485c.
Sensitive: remembered every cut (insult) 490a.
Tendency toward silence 298df.
He was sure of his skill, but not of his talent. 102
A fit of selfishness 222.0
Surprising humility given his dramatic work 254L [last], 259, 250d, 247b
Heroic thinker and worker; 32f
Perfectionism 102.2; 125 d [the “.2” means second full paragraph; the “d” means fourth quarter of the page.] [This is an excess in a well-balanced and patient quest for perfection.] He learned to beware of revising his sculpture too much 290. Baudelaire, La Beauté shows the possibility of an artist becoming a slave to the unattainable 306. Emotional investment in his work to the point of illness. 150.1
Poor health 356, 291.1, 296d.
R’s general unresponsiveness to the beauties of nature 193d, 209a.
R’s intuition of when the sculpture, or some part of it was right 115d.
Apolitical 322.3-4; his nationalism 432d; 487.0
no spirit of polemic 328
the importance of suffering 372.1; suffering in his career interface with commissioners 324.3
R neglected the public situation in favor of “artistic priorities” 131, 134a.
Enjoyed the pleasures of the senses 135.
Religious and spiritual
299b, 371b cathedrals 434d 491d, 502a, b;
“paganism”? . . . “difficult to sum up” 416.2
Rodin and women
R’s feminism 271a; 284.3; 275c.
Sex: and genius (310); Tolstoy’s “Kreutzer Sonata” 315; voluptuous, decadent sensuality? 402.1 R’d defense: 437c, 483a.
Central truths of R’s career: women as rebellious, fallen, temptress, life giving, inspires, saves 342f. 346.1; 371.3 appreciation for women and for R’s relation to women 354c, 420d.
Accepted abject, extremely asymmetrical relating from countless women.
The author’s perspective
Criticism by the use of adjectives is less helpful than a factual account 398d
Personal ideas [my own, neither Rodin’s nor Butler’s] for possible development
Genius = (1) a gift, (2) the experience of the divine, (3), appropriated thanklessly as vanity/pride.
R as a synthesis of salvable interests (among others) in women: beauty, friendship, sex, mystery, creation, life, vitality, women’s sexual center, fidelity to nature; looking where we have been told not to look, where the Creator knows so well, allowing us to look a little, pausing more modestly, accepting mystery as destiny, unwilling to pursue what we should not, healing nonetheless for revealing beauty there, too. If our appreciation is contingent on an abstraction, repression, then it’s unreal. The moral reflection here is to note the continuum between the immature, the immoral, the artistically normal, and the magnificent. There is no sharp line, and a mix of interests infuse many, many activities. This makes it more important for an individual to work harder to gain moral clarity so as not to fall into the confusions and errors into which Rodin fell. It is common not to expect moral conduct of artists, but the question remains open whether their work might have been still greater had they manifested a finer integration of truth, beauty, and goodness in their lives.
Striking quotes: [selected after noting the underlined (here bold) indications]
R: “Every masterpiece is the result of a martyrdom.” 141
Described himself as “simply a man who knows how to give form in an art dedicated to silence” 287a.
In WW I, “he thought things would be right only when the human spirit became as “simple as the sun, as calm and as fertile as that heavenly body that envelopes all” 502.
R writes to a woman who was an earnest young artist (Hoffman), “The friendship of a woman is something willed by God; after him, it is the strongest thing in the world.”
Writing to Helene von Hindenburg, “God is too great to send us direct inspiration; he takes precautions relative to our weakness and sends us earthly angels. . . . For an artist, a soft woman is his most powerful dispatch, she is holy, she rises up in our heart, in our genius, and in our force, she is a divine sower who sows love in our hearts in order that we can put it back a hundred times into our work” (371.3).
If I were going to write a paper based on this biography, I would form clusters of quotes on the topics that interested me most, including everything on the Burgers, and I would probably focus mainly on the second of the “personal ideas.” In so doing, I would present quotes and observations and quotes from Butler and R, but I would develop my own reflections along the way.
If I were going to try to bring something from here into my life as a growing individual, I might work on his passionate focus and concentration and dedication, which he took to the extreme of perfectionism—not as a virtue, but as an excess, as a lesson to work hard, but not too hard in my own chosen craft. I would work to cultivate a more complete focus on the work in hand and keep it suffused with the high purpose that motivates my career—but in balance. Rodin would on this topic be something of a negative lesson.
II. A non-academic, autobiographical book on acting by Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier, On Acting (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986). This book, by the most prominent Shakespearean actor of the mid-twentieth century, expanded my concept of what I could find in my area of interest. I knew I was looking for planning, performance, and appreciation of the arts as themes (because of their universal relevance to daily life, but this book gave me much more. With this one, I collected tons of quotes for use in writing, teaching, and reflection. After a brief introduction, chapter one begins thus:
Where do we start when we talk about the history of acting? Surely we have always acted; it is an instinct inherent in all of us. Some of us are better at it than others, but we all do it. The child plays games. The child cries when tears and the order of the day, endears himself to avoid criticism, smiles when necessary; he predicts what reactions we require. Look behind those eyes which are giving the beholder the laughter he expects, and you will see the veil of the actor. We have all, at one time or another, been performers, and many of us still are—politicians, playboys, cardinals, and kings. We wear the robes that we have designed for ourselves, and then act out other people’s fantasies. This is singular; this is the monologue; this is the one-man show. (22-23; cf. 32; childhood improvisations 28)
“The actor should be able to create the universe in the palm of his hand” 24. “The actor creates his own universe, then peoples it—a giant puppet master. The trick is to make the audience feel that they are observing reality, and this isn’t easy, because to convey the word that has been placed in your mouth to a great number of people you have to exaggerate subtly, ever so slightly highlight. Lead the audience by the nose to the thought.” 29
“Truth . . . speak the truth, though the verse will not entirely take care of itself.” 84
“I was heroic [as Henry V]—no one could have been more so—but I was truthful, I was not showing off. I played the man like a trumpet as clearly and truthfully as I knew how.” 96
“Through careful timing and delicate use of rhythm I would give the audience seconds, moments, tiny instances of recognition of the absolute truth of the situation. By spontaneous reaction I would make the audience feel illuminated, not by a new sensation, but by a half-suspected sensation of truth that they had only subconsciously been aware of before.” 153.
“It is not a game of charades, this acting world of ours; it is an everlasting search for the truth.” 192; cf. 195
“I like to think my face has always been like a blank canvas, ready to be shaped as I wished.” 30. “I like to appear as a chameleon.” 90 “I like to think of the true actor as a skeleton” 123. “I have always been an actor who molds characteristics to hide his personality. I take parts of the character into myself—not onto, or they would fall off. I do not search the character for parts that are already in me, but go out and find the real personality I feel the author created. . . . The camera will expose me if I am not true, if my imagination is askew or only at half-power; if I am doing anything unreal.” 311.
“In the speaking of Shakespeare, you do not give way entirely to the music of Shakespeare because that is too much in one direction. In the other direction, it is wronger than ever to pretend you’re speaking prose. That is very wrong. What you have to find is the truth, through the verse.” 268
The film version of Henry V “lacked a director’s personal, interpretive vision, which, if faithful, always shows the breadth and depth of Shakespeare’s vision and the immediacy of his speech and the universal power of his thoughts; always gives each member of the audience his own personal vision.” 284.
“The dueling—if it’s bang bang bang and you know it’s all rehearsed for the Letchworth Amateurs or something. It has to be very real, and you have to practice it a lot. And you have to be gifted towards it; you must like it. If you are afraid of hurting your opponent, you don’t like the game. You must really go for him and he must really go for you.” 296
“There are some parts—few, but some—in which you can’t wait to unleash yourself upon the audience, and this was one of them. I knew . . . and if they didn’t agree with me, to hell with them.” (128, re: Richard III)
“We actors beg to be adored, appreciated, admired . . . . Looking back, I suppose we all took ourselves rather seriously; when we let the humor and the vulnerability creep in, we get much closer to the truth.” 191.
“In the end we must decide for ourselves; but it is making the right decisions that counts, deciding and holding on to your own beliefs, for it is you, and only you, at the end of the day, who can look after yourself. No one else really cares; you don’t need glasses to see that self-preservation is on the menu. You must have the strength, the will and the determination of an ox, and you must believe in your own beliefs.” (63) “In the end, it has been myself I’ve had to turn to, believe in and listen to. When the time comes, it is you, and only you, who knows your truth.” 368.
Stindberg is veritas [=truth], perfectly straightforward, no undercurrent, no subtext, no sneaky, subconscious underneath thought that he is either unaware of or hiding from himself. Quite unlike his fellow Scandinavian Ibsen, who has a subtext of pure filth and a very strong undercurrent which can have an extremely bad effect on the actor.” 325.
Truth for Eugene O’Neill 241f
“What you must have is every character believing in himself and, therefore, contributing to the piece as a whole, placing and pushing the play in the right direction. The third spea carrier on the left should believe that the play is all about the third spear carrier on the left.” 44.
“Film is the director’s medium, television the writer’s, but the theater is the actor’s.” 369.
Hamlet: “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action” (280).
As Brecht said in one of his last poems, “You can make a fresh start with your final breath.” 91
“I talked earlier of timing and I think it is important, not just in acting but also in life itself. I have somehow always had a nose for the way fashion might go; I have always attempted to be there at the precise time the old order changeth, whether it be for the better or not. That is why, I think, I have managed to remain an accounted success for most of my life. I have continually sniffed the theatrical air searching for the winds of change.” 210
“A good actor is working on at least three levels at all times: lines, thought, and awareness of the audience.” 26
“The actor must keep an audience engaged by constant changes of inflection; he must keep them forward in their seats; he must have an acute sense of when he is boring them, when they are about to yawn or look at their watches, wondering when the interval is coming; he must know the instant he has lost their interest.” 134
“If you really want to shock or delight an audience, get them a little bored first,” said William Wyler.” 271.
Technique changes from theater to film—level of manifest energy. 339
“To me acting is a technical problem. It’s also an emotional problem. You’ve got to feel, which is a great test for the imagination. If you’re an artist, you’ve got to prove it, and I regret that there have been times when I haven’t managed to hide the technique. It should appear effortless.” 27. “Rhythm and timing are needed to create effects which must also appear to be spontaneous: it is the seeming absolute spontaneity or reaction which makes the audience feel a moment of recognition, of new understanding.” 74
“He [Garrick] brought a discipline into the theater that hand’s been there before. Where things had grown shoddy and slapdash, he insisted on neatness and concentration” 43.
Always keep something in reserve; the audience will lure you to go to your max and then, when you have done so, reject you. 157
“It’s not a director’s job to teach actors how to act. It’s his job to make the most of the talent they already have: to make actors feel relaxed and happy in their work.” 292.
“To me spontaneity meant talking as people do in everyday conversation. I hardly ever say a full sentence without at least four “ummms” and an “aah,” and I often pause for time to find the right word. That’s very much part of a nature performance for me: I would call that actual spontaneity. After I have produced my final performance by a process of selection made during my full-out rehearsals, I add spontenity: the olive in the ockttail. It is hard to achieve, so I always put it in last. In a long run y ou have to reproduce technical spontaneity over and over again and make it real every night. On film you have to keep it diamond-sharp and never go over the top. [par] Film acting taught me to have sincere eyes on stage.”317
“When I see an actor like Michael Caine, who’se never out of sorts with the camera or the world, give a performance of natural feeling and power without any apparent technique, I wonder if technique should be given any independent identity. Mind you, I’m almost as “natural” as Michael is. I’m naturally more of a show-off than he is. I’m more versatile—as yet! I have more technique!” 338
“The writer is the recorder of our times, the actor the interpreter, and it is the producer’s job to fuse them.” 212.
“One of the glories of working in the theater or in films is the teamwork, the trust; the cool trust needed to overcome the otherwise superhuman task of realizing the imagination.” 316.
Flow/in the zone
“I think one of the best performances I was involved in was probably at Elsinore in Denmark. Pouring, drenching rain meant that we could not open outside as we had intended to, and consequently, after a hurried discussion, it was decided that we would perform in the ballroom, which meant a rapid restaging. Tony (Tyrone) Guthrie, our director, was busy organizing things for the real opening, and something had to be arranged about seating for future performances, so he was heavily involved in administration. He left it to me to set it up and rehearse the new moves around the strange area that was now to accommodate us. As he went off, he said, “Fix it for me, Larry. Just place it all as you think best.” So I did. All the movements had to be changed, so all the lovely invention was left to me. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to do it and, of course, enjoyed myself wildly.
"There is nothing better than a group of actors being presented with a problem of this kind and having to improvise. When time is drifting away and the performance is getting closer, somehow the release of adrenaline creates an excitement that runs through everyone, from the leading actor/actress to the maker of the tea. The entire company pulls together with the one object in mind. It is at such times that you can ask for the impossible, and get it. “I’m afraid the only way you can play this scene is by hanging from the chandelier, dear boy.” Without a moment’s hesitation, the reply would come back, “Of course—no problem.”
Great God! there is something amazing about them, the band of players. There is a comradeship that I have experienced only once elsewhere, but no so happily, in the Services. [par] Somehow every performance seems to be enhanced in times of unexpected difficulties; there is an edge, a fine edge that hoists the players, even the least inspired, onto another level. All the actors’ motors have to be running, but in a low gear for greater acceleration. Nobody dares get a moment wrong. Whereas laziness, even boredom, may have crept in before—and this is very understandable when you think in terms of standing night after night on the end of a spear with somebody else delivering the dialogue that you feel you could do better—that boredom, for a moment, is forgotten and the contribution becomes genuine, energetic, and electric. Everyone becomes a Thoroughbred, muscles alive and alert. The vibrations are high, and this will affect the audience as well. What they witness will be a night that they will always remember. “Were you there that night at Elsinore? I was.” . . . .
Whether or not what the audience sees is good we will never know, but the energy that is directed toward them will engulf them in its euphoric state. In Elsinore 87/88 that night, the actors were heroes, every man Jack of them. I know—I was right in the middle of it. A dignity and excitement was achieved, an atmosphere in which no one falls on his arse unless it is intended. Everyone thrills with a sense of achievement and importance—and quite rightly. The “one for all” society syndrome. Above all, the performance was spontaneous.” (86-88)
“When the actor and audience communicate well, the sense of freedom is unbelievable.” 268
Attitude toward problems and other peak experiences
“When it worked it was an amazing feeling—being in complete control of body and mind, the whole machinery meshing perfectly.” 100
“Problems have always spurred me to find a solution; I welcome them.” 118 “Flash upon flash came the problems. Flash upon—no, perhaps a little longer—came the solutions. How I loved the problems! 269. Directing the filming of Henry IV during WW II: “There we were, a band of artists and technicians, humble in our souls because Hitler was killing our countrymen, imbued with a sense of history, gallantry overcoming wartime shortages and problems. . . . How we loved our problems and reveled in our resourcefulness! We were inspired by the warmth, humanity, wisdom and Britishness just beneath the surface of Shakespeare’s brilliant jingoism.” (274) “I had a mission . . . . The war cleared the head, but it was love of the medium—my band of brothers’, mine, Shakespeare’s Wyler’s, the modern audience’s0—which summoned most of the blood.” 275. “Now we had to find out how to create a Shakespearean battle sequence, free from the fetters of the wooden O and made up of short scenes, full of his drama, reality and humanity. I was particularly anxious to maintain purity of intention in the way the scenes were handled.” 275 “I felt myself to be an agent of his [S’] imagination. I looked at the old masters like Eisenstein and D. W. Griffith for inspiration, but saw that only Shakespeare’s spirit and the spirit of his drama and characters (from the comics to the heroic King himself) could conjure up the stirring images and the unique pattern, rhythm and movement of the screen’s first Shakespearean battle: a battle which encompasses typical Shakespearean twists of high seriousness and low comedy.” 276. “I feel Shakespeare and God disposed the day well. They got us over a stylistic anachronism which grieved only the pedantic and mean-spirited. We had faith in what was practicable. If it comes off, it’s good. If it’s practicable, it can be exciting—given the spirit and the faith.” 278. “I enjoyed being the director; I enjoyed being the leading actor. The responsibility is a major challenge, and one’s grown up to like challenges. But I didn’t enjoy the act of acting a great part on film.” 283.
“If the shooting has been successful, editing a film is the pinnacle of a director’s joy; if not he must make it so, with no regrets about what exists or does not exist on film, because it’s only his joy which will transform the lengths of film and sound track into the realization of his imagination. No human mind is big enough to forestall all problems, strong enough to quell the insistence of a last-minute inspiration, but problems in the editing room are usually part of the joy because that’s where the medium of film really comes into its own, solving all the difficulties within itself.” 292
“You must be prepared to sacrifice in order to succeed. You must set your goals high and go for them with the pugnacity of a terrier. But remember, to fall into dissipation is easy, for it is a glamorous profession, full of glorious temptations. Place a foot on the first run and the serpents will appear beckoning with their silky tongues, flattering you and begging you to bite the apple. . . . Above all, do not despair when the hand of criticism plunges into your body and claws at your soul: you must endure it, accept it and smile. It is your life and your choice.” 362. “The good [critics] are essayists and of immense value to our work. . . . Sometimes I think that more critics should be encouraged to sit in on rehearsals so that they could see the amount of work concentration, belief and love that goes into the construction of a piece, before they take their inky swords to it.” 363.
“It would appear that when David Garrick burst upon the scene, the theater had been lulled to sleep by sweet tones: beautiful voices, lyricism; romantic, hollow, sweet cadences signifying little. Garrick arrived on the scene and things began to change. No longer the sameness of tone: now there were sudden starts and ominous pauses—dare we say a hint of reality?” 40 . . .
“I had been well known for my inflections over the years, the changing of pace, the sudden surges of power . . . .”175.
“When I went to Hollywood in 1930, aged twenty-three, I was very snooty about moveing pictures. I went for the money—it was the Depression—and the chance of fame: to have a go at something different, rewarding or not.” 215 “The music hall, variety, vaudeville-whatever you will—has always been close to my form of theater: the “legitimate” theater, as it is called. What a ridiculously stupid expression. “Legitimate,” “straight”—does this mean that variety is “illegitimate” and “bent”? Surely we are all one, we are all entertainers, from Henry Irving to George Robey.” 216.
“We still feel that at any moment the laughter will stop and the rain of tomatoes will begin.” 33
“Memory is one thing, but action is for the immediate man. I still feel immediate.” 85; 211
“It was only later, when I came to play the part again [Lear], that I realized such excess wasn’t necessary. Age teaches you that. Age gives you the authority anyway. Something well worth remembering when tackling the part: you do not quake and quaver and nod like a toy dog in the back of a car with age. Age is something else. Age has a dignity, almost a serenity, and when anger comes from age it does not have to be shouted. It explodes with authority. A look, a smile can be just as chilling. Of course Lear has to rage, I ‘m not denying that, but it’s well worth looking at how much vocal anger is necessary. The austere command of years can be conveyed just as powerfully, perhaps even more so, if played with steely calm” 138.
“If you haven’t the vitality, don’t act. If you can’t do it, don’t do it. An actor must be constantly vigilant about his energy, even when’ he’s young and he things his body can take every abuse.” 327.
Stage fright 180ff. 233
“The uninitiated would think that one of the most difficult things for me to attain was Archie’s mediocrity. Sorry to disappoint you, but I can find plenty of that in myself.” 223.
Failure 252ff; 322.
“I understood the venom in [Richard III’s] mind. I felt its mood. Should I say there’s a streak of venom in my own nature? 298/302 No more than in the next man’s. No more than in Shakespeare’s, who by all accounts led an exemplary life apart from a few default summonses, a writ of libel and some minor disputes over land, which should makes us feel even warmer towards him.”
“Ideas which worked because I had the confidence to enact them boldly.” 304
“All actors are egotistical and competitive—that’s where we get our energy. It’s our love of the art of acting (and its camaraderie) which makes us artists.” 343.
When he got up his own theater, they did plays from “the complete spectrum of modern writers from the right to the political left.” 357
“Sometimes the audience gives such a feeling of friendly expectancy that they lift you to give a performance of tremendous verse: it’s as if they were daring you not to fail, loving you to succeed.” 125.
“Members of the audience should be respected; they must never be underestimated. It’s very easy to sneer behind your handkerchief and wink at your fellows in the wings, but among that sea of faces beyond the footlights some will know. It is the same wherever you go, in all forms of entertainment: you respect them, they may respect you. They can be manipulated, of course, but that’s something else. This they enjoy, this is why there are here; but they must not be handled clumsily or obviously.”
“Breathing in the thick, warm air, feeling the expectancy of the house as it waits for your next moment. Timing a pause for perfection. Fefeling the lungs bellow in and bellow out as the voice hits the heights of its power. Never giving too much; always making them want more. Making a gesture and holding it, knowing that all eyes have moved with you. Hearing laughter as it moves through the teater like a giant wave, aware that it has been caused by you. Knowing that tears are there for the asking. Controlling every eye in the house, making your thoughts theirs. Taking them on the journey with you, 369/70 lending their ears to your mind. Frightening them, exciting them,, loving them, holding them in the palm of your hand, Lilliputians and
Gulliver. Cuddling them, cajoling them, caressing them. Without them you do not exist. Without them you are a man alone in a room with memories and a mirror. Without them you are nothing. An actor without an audience is a painter without a brush. Of courser you can always perform in your head, but where’s the satisfaction? [par] As I’ve said before, it starts at the very beginning by the family fireside, where the child demands attention: “Look at me . . . look at me. . . .” Once attention has been achieved, it’s the keeping of it that’s important. It is then that the talent to amuse, entertain, provoke shines through: you can soon see who are going to be actors and who stage managers. It is then that you can see the future. [par] never underestimate the audience, never patronize them. Because if you do, they will know. Thay are far more intelligent than you may think. They pay your bills and fill your stomach. Without them you are in an empty room again with a bare cupboard. You must always treat them with respect, be they one or a thousand. If the house is small, never give a small performance. Never cheapen yourself or your profession. It is one of the oldest and best. Remember the court jester: he didn’t dare perform badly; he was always on the high wire.”
“That’s an actor’s life. Complete freedom and versatility. Everything changes, as I have said. But then again, nothing changes. All we need is an old cigar box and someone to take notice.” 371.
“If you love your art and your medium, what can be added to Tony Guthrie’s “Love the character you play”?” 346. [When director Tyrone Guthrie voiced his suspicion that Olivier did not love the character he was playing, he replied,] “Are you out of your mind? How can you love a ridiculous fool of a man like that? [par] At which he observed, “Well, of course, if you can’t love him, you never be any good as him, will you.” 121
“My will was granite. I was determined to be the greatest actor of all time.” 141 “[Edmund] Kean’s greatest asset was his dedication—something all actors must have. They cannot just turn on and turn off whenever they fancy. They must have dedication and determination, blinkered and concerned with nothing but the self that wants to get up there and act. They must be totally egocentric and prepared to climb, clamber, elbow, jostle and scythe their way through to the top.” 45
“We have seen [Kean] with three or four persons round him, all taller than he, but himself so graceful, so tranquil, so superior, so nobly self-possessed in the midst, that the mind of the spectator rose above them by this means, and so gave him a moral stature that confounded itself with the personal.” (The Tatler, 1831) (49)
“Not everyone can join those giants who straddle the theatrical world, grinning down at the Lilliputians, but we can try. We must try. Above all we must be good. That is all we can be, good. It is for other people to daub that statue with that they will: genius, greatness, or whatever. But for this brief moment we are here, treading the mill that has been trod before, getting our ankles wet and hoping that the horn will not be too green for too long. Lead me by the nose, Richard, David, Edmund, Henry; lead me by the nose and then release me. Let me make the judges think that I am the best bull in the ring.” 64-65
“In the theater there is much more equality; in a way, you are only as good as your last job.” 174.
“Not like Romeo, for instance, with whom you spend the whole evening searching for sympathy. But then, anyone who lets an erection rule his life doesn’t deserve much sympathy, does he?” 137
“Oh, how I prayed to God—or to the Willies, Shakespeare and Wyler—that I would have the courage to be absolute true to that vision: not fudge it.” 273.
Study and preparation 134
The learning process 352ff.
“Rhythms. Observe the speech patterns; keep them in your head, in your magic box.” 29
“To create a character, I first visualize a painting; the manner, movement, gestures, walk all follow.” 153. “I began to study the piece and became more and more aware of what a part if was [Richard III]. It began to grow inside me. I had to find the character, and slowly he began to come to me.. I had a picture of him in my head, a painting, an oil painting of what he ought to be like. I went around for some time with this visual image of him.” 116; cf. 118-19, 153; 218. “As we moved nearer the first night, 26 September, the voice and the character fused. Richard went with me everywhere.” 122.
First get the words, then the accent. 229
Rehearsal, 151, 156, 158-59.
Extreme self-appearance change 176
Work hard learning American accents 336
Preparing for a performance, toning up the voice 361.