The Soul of the American Actor

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INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

BEN VEREEN

JEANINE TESORI

PSALMAYENE 24

SYLVIA MCNAIR

MICHAEL McELROY

DEIDRE KINAHAN

BOB ARI

PAUL TAZEWELL

PATRICIA ROZARIO

NANCY RHODES

MAIA DANZIGER

EARL “PEANUTT” MONTGOMERY

WILLIE RUFF

DENNIS D’AMICO

GRACE CACHOCHA

KAREN SAILLANT

JENNIFER HORNE

JEANIE THOMPSON

ROBERT PERRY

WAYNE SIDES

JAMIE LEE McMAHAN

 

SPOTLIGHT ON ARTISTS

Zana Marjanovic

Dr. Ashley William Joseph

M. Safeer

Kevin Kimani Kahuro

Ilire Vinca

Avra Sidiropoulou

Sujatha Balakrishnan

Mihaela Dragan

Farah Deen

Katy Lipson

Juan Maldonado

Odile Gakire Katese

Hartmut von Lieres

Dragan Jovičić

Sachin Gupta

Jill Navarre

 


Essays

LIFE AND ACTING: Techniques for the Actor

Let These New Plays Happen to You

Celebrating Uta Hagen Centennial at the HB Studio

Taking the Business of Acting Online

Mary Overlie: Original Dance Anarchist and Post-Modern Evangelist: A Tribute to Mary Overlie 1946-2020

The “Real” Illusion of Mime

Art is the Means by which We Make Ourselves Visible

Theater - A Celebration of All Life

To Think the Thought

Yat Malmgren and the Drama Centre, London

Directions for Directing: Theatre and Method

Writing for Life

Our Theatrical Mission

Strolling Player: The Life and Career of Albert Finney

A Great Reminder for Us All

by David Amram

H20 – Paintings of and About Water

A New Way of Professional Theater

“Let Thousand Flowers Blossom”

A Double Life: My Exciting Years in Theatre and Advertising

 

 

“To grasp the full significance of life is the actor's duty, to interpret it is his problem, and to express it his dedication.”  
– Marlon Brando

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
– Helen Keller

“The theatre should be treated with respect. The theatre is a wonderful place, a house of strange enchantment, a temple of illusion.”
– Noel Coward

“Cultivate an ever continuous power of observation...see the sunlight and everything that is to be seen.”
– John Singer Sargent

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
– T.S. Eliot

“Feel is if you are reborn each day and rediscover the world of nature which are joyfully a part.”
– Pablo Casals, at the age of 96

“The secret of all natural and human law is movement that meets with devotion”
– I Ching

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ronald Rand in Let It Be Art

 

 

 

Hirschfeld

“Each of us have a gift given us freely by the universe. And each of us with every breath gives something back.”
– Kim Stanley

“We all bear within us the potentiality for every kind of passion, every fate, every way of life. Nothing human is alien to us. If this were not so, we could not understand other people, either in life or in art.”
– Max Reinhardt

Yat Malmgren and the Drama Centre, London

Yat Malmgren

“Teachers are more essential than anything else, who can give the young the ability to judge and distinguish, who serve them as examples of the honoring of truth, obedience to the things of the spirit, respect for language.” Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

The Swedish dancer spoke quietly, gravely, but with immense authority, and his range as a dancer had been prodigious. He inspired not merely respect but above all else –love –  and on the occasion of his funeral, which was attended by so many of his former students as to make it impossible for all to be admitted to the chapel, it was this capacity for inspiring love that was seen to attest to his true greatness.

A Peopled Labyrinth – The Histrionic Sense: An Analysis of the Actor’s Craft – The Work of Yat Malmgren: An Interpretation by Christopher Fettes

It is difficult in any discussion of Yat Malmgren and his work both as a dancer and as a teacher, to avoid the use of the word ‘genius’. It was Mme. Egorova’s sincere belief that, had he started his training as a dancer at the usual age, he would have become a leading performer with the Marayinsky Ballet. This was perhaps mainly due to the resemblance of the expressive qualities of his work to that of Nijinsky; qualities that were thought to be unteachable. It was ‘the unteachable’ that he taught.

On the 28th of March in 1916 in Gåvle, Yat Malmgren was born in a small but singularly handsome town north of Stockholm that boasts a theater of remarkable beauty. He was one of three handsome children. Even as a schoolboy, he gave evidence of exceptional qualities, he early embraced the primacy of the Bible on the one hand, and classical literature on the other.

He soon decided that his vocation was for the Church, a proposal given short shrift by his father, a handsome man from a working-class background, known throughout Sweden as a brilliant marksman. The initial feeling for the Church, the repository of so many of the best stories, eventually gave way to the determination to leave home and go to Stockholm to train as an actor.

Christopher Fettes at a Book Launch for A People Labyrinth
(photo: Lindsay Richardson, Deputy Director)

To this end he became a pupil of Julia Håkanson of the Svenska Teater, an actress of outstanding repute who had created many of Ibsen’s leading roles for the Swedish stage, and who had been a close friend of August Strindberg.

It was to this association that the young artist owed his grounding, if not in the work of Stanislavski, then in the conventions of the Naturalistic Stage, involving an insistence on the motivation of character rather than action in itself.

Nevertheless, it soon became evident that the young man possessed a singular aptitude for ‘dance’, and despite his age, that he train as a dancer, and enrolled with the ballet master of the Royal Opera, Sven Trop, but he quickly set his sights on Berlin, which still enjoyed the reputation that it had accrued during the days of the Weimar Republic, despite the advent of the Nazis.

The legacy of his training as an actor was responsible for his interest in ‘character’ dance, and in Expressionism, but he soon gravitated towards the studio of Eugenia Edwardowa, a former character dancer with Pavlova’s company; later to Trude Engelhardt, a former member of the Mary Wigman Company, and Rosalie Chladek.

He soon exhibited an exceptional precocity, giving solo recitals of his own compositions in the Concours International de la Danse in Brussels. He was by then a pupil of Mme. Preobrajenska in Paris.

The material of these early compositions was exceptionally varied. Many reflected contemporary life, such as “The Rebels,” “The Victims,” “The Witnesses” and “The Fanatics.” Others were devoted to the Etudes of Chopin, the Mazurkas, and a series dedicated to the Archangels – such as he who, despite his own inclinations, is compelled to drive Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and the Angel of the Annunciation, who comes with the glad tidings to Mary, knowing full well the history of bloodshed that will ensue.

Giles Foreman Centre for Acting, London

The psychological complexity of these compositions derives from the portrayal of actions that reveal a powerful inner resistance. Dance without question, but Dance that had its roots in the theater of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg.

It was by then obvious that war was inevitable and the young man, with understandable reluctance, accepted an invitation from Kurt Jooss to audition for his company on the stage of The Old Vic Theatre in London. This led to his becoming the first artist to join the company without having been trained by the Ballet Master, Sigurd Leeder, for whom he quickly developed a distaste. To be fair to both men, it must be conceded that at no period of his life was Yat Malmgren an advocate of ‘group’ theater.

It was while rehearsing with the company for its projected tours of the British Isles, Ireland and, subsequently, North and South America, that he became aware of an insubstantial figure, drifting through the corridors of Dartington Hall, from one studio to another. Enquiry elicited the fact that this was Rudolf Laban, and it was Laban who asked the young Swedish dancer if he might watch him rehearsing his own compositions in a private studio.

It was later, that members of the company, such as Ulla Söderbaum, mainly in the corridors of trains, crossing and re-crossing the continent of North America, explained something of the older man’s theoretical work, his theories as to the expressive quality of gesture. This knowledge, though fragmentary, exerted a powerful influence on the young Swede, who was to abandon the company on their arrival in Rio de Janeiro, where he remained until the conclusion of the Second World War. Such were the initial stages of a career of singular diversity.

Reduced to penury, the young dancer quickly obtained a command of the native dances of the Brazilian people that astounded the critics. He was employed in the casino of Ipanema, as a dancer and choreographer, and his recitals gained acceptance and eventually, universal respect.

Bo Allander of the Correio da Manila wrote: “Yat Malmgren exhibits the impeccable technique of the classical school – but has something more to offer the true connoisseur. His ambition – and one that is realized with notable success – is to make each dance a scene, in which he himself interprets an extraordinary range of different types and physical sentiment”

“And to express all this, he chose to employ only the most economical of means, characteristic of great art, and to employ, from a rich palette, only those colors to make of them masterpieces of originality and symbolic expression. Music and choreography are invariably subordinate to the psychological idea”

Such were the distinguishing characteristics of the Expressionist School. As had been the case with Nijinsky, Malmgren demonstrated an exceptional capacity for ‘transformation,’ and attracted the attention of the ‘shamans,’ and invitations to participate in the Macumba - the summoning of the spirits induced by a trance state. This exceptional gift turned him eventually to Plato, Nietzsche, Buddha and the Bible, and to his return to classical ballet.

In 1947, he returned to Europe, appearing opposite the renowned Danish ballerina Nini Theilade in Copenhagen. This was followed by long tours across Sweden and Finland, both devastated by the war. The tour culminates with a performance at the Concert House in Stockholm and a recital in the beautiful theatre in his native town.

Invited to join The International Ballet, to partner the prima-ballerina Mona Ingolsby, he returned to London to study classical ballet with the Sergueffs and with Anna Northcote, before returning to Paris to renew contract with Mme. Egorova, whom he considered to be the greatest of his teachers.

He joined the company, on tour in Europe and the British Isles, appearing in the standard classics, but perhaps to most telling effect as The Baron in Massine’s “Gaité Parisienne,” in a cast that included the great Russian choreographer.

Indeed, it was Massine himself who, every morning, was first to take his place at the bar. Soon after this. he sustained a very serious injury whilst on stage that compelled him to retire, while still at the height of his powers.

The School of the International Ballet in Brewer Street could provide their former leading dancer with only two classes a week. A providential encounter led to an introduction to an actor of widespread repute, Harold Lang. Lang was widely reviled for his impassioned advocacy of the Stanislavski System, of which he was a self-taught exponent of no mean accomplishment.

Lang was an intellectual, a friend of Kenneth Tynan and certainly one of the few actors on the London stage who retained memories of the work of Kurt Jooss and the Modern European Dance. Hugely impressed by the originality and professionalism of the former dancer’s work, he telephoned virtually every member of the theatrical profession known to him personally, insisting that they study with Yat Malmgren. And this they did... in droves.

They were headed by Diane Cilento and her subsequent husband, Sean Connery, who spent a year with Malmgren as a private pupil, before embarking on a season at the Oxford Playhouse, then headed by Frank Hauser and Minos Volonakis, in a distinguished repertoire that included O’Neill’s “Anna Christie,”and a profoundly disturbing performance as Pentheus in Euripedes’ “The Bacchae.’ This was soon followed by Connery’s film debut in the role of James Bond.

Other students included Patricia Neal, Natasha Parry, Elizabeth Sellars, Fenella Fielding and, at a later date, Anthony Hopkins; and the directors, Tony Richardson, Bill Gaskill, Seth Holt and Alexander MacKendrick.

This success led to invitations to join the staff of The English Stage Company and The National Theatre, under Lawrence Olivier, although both of his appointments to RADA and the Central School soon ended. Idolized by his students, who rightly believed his subject was acting, however at that time, movement teachers were not supposed to teach acting, and Malmgren’s subject was indeed the ‘histrionic sense.’ 

In 1963, in conjunction with John Blatchley, Harold Lang and Christopher Fettes, he created a new school for professional actors and directors – the Drama Centre, London – which a year later enlisted the services of Doreen Cannon, a former assistant to Herbert Bergof and Uta Hagen at the HB Studio in New York.

This made the Drama Centre the first wholly unabashed exponent of ‘The Method’ in Great Britain. The introduction to the work of Hagen, an actress whom he had long greatly admired, provided Malmgren with a new stimulus.

Despite a glittering Council of Management that included Glen Byam Shaw, George Devine, Peter Hall, Peter Brook and Kenneth Tynan, under the chairmanship of the Earl of Harewood, the school narrowly avoided closure at the end of the first year, since many of the students could not afford the very modest fees. Somehow, it survived, thanks largely to a production of Euripedes’ “Medea,” choreographed with astonishing invention, tact and economy by the Swedish master craftsman.

Drama Centre, London aroused great interest, notably in the Department of Education, but, in addition, a certain opprobrium, for it was, to say the least, un-English. The work of Yat Malmgren eventually achieved acclaim, particularly with agents and casting directors, thanks to a series of programs entitled, “Solo,” that he devised yearly. These were the product of a Composition Class which required of the student – as once it had of the young dancer himself – that they create their own texts and that these texts were grounded in actual experience.

There were those who responded to startling effect, such as Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth. It should be remembered that many of his students had left school at sixteen.

Giles Foreman

Other notable acting students in more recent years have included: Simon Callow, Penelope Wilton, Francis de la Tour, Geraldine James, Helen McCrory, Paul Bettany, Tara Fitzgerald, Michael Fassbender, Russell Brand, Tom Hardy, Anne-Marie Duff, John Simm, and the acting teacher, Giles Foreman.

As year followed upon year, the reputation of the work spread: to Spain, Portugal, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Peru, the United States, even fleetingly Iran - and in particular to Sweden. The training then supplied by the State School of Drama in Gothenberg was, advisedly a virtual replica of the Drama Centre,London, thanks to the advocacy of its principal, a conductor and the son of a distinguished educationalist, Ola Nilsson.

This relationship continued for many years, eventually under the direction of Frantisek Veres, a mime artist of rare distinction from Bratislava, trained for the purpose at the Drama Centre in London. Eventually the work spread, not merely to Stockholm, but very notably to the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco – and was on the point of leading to Malmgren’s appointment to the staff of Juilliard in New York City, a suggestion that had to be declined since the commitments to the school in London rendered it impractical.

In due course, thanks largely to the promptings of Veres, his remarkable achievement was acknowledged with the award of a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Gothenburg. It must be supposed that the failure of Great Britain to acknowledge so exceptional and so generous a contribution to art on the one hand, education on the other, was perhaps due to his insistence on retaining his own nationality. •2019 Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Christopher Fettes is one of the most renowned theatre and actor pedagogues of the UK, and world theatre. He began as an actor, working with the East London Theatre Company – Theatre Workshop under Joan Littlewood. He went on to join the ensemble at the Royal Court Theatre in London during its heyday in the 1950’s with George Devine and Tony Richardson. After meeting Yat Malmgren, Mr. Fettes developed a career as an educator, and as a theatre director of some renown. He directed a number of productions – notably his seminal interpretation of Marlowe’s “Dr Faustus” and Schniztler’s “The Lonely Road,” with two of his acting students, Anthony Hopkins and Colin Firth – introducing the work of Calderon de la Barca to the British stage – and created a fascination with the work of Thomas Bernhard. Mr. Fettes’ contribution came with his joint founding with Yat Malmgren in 1963 of the Drama Centre London, an acting conservatoire that is considered to have changed the face of training in the UK. Mr. Fettes’ innovation was to combine the American developments of Stanislavski with the European Classical tradition, and the Laban Jungian system of‘ Character Analysis’ as developed by Yat Malmgren. Important British actors were trained under Yat Malmgren and Christopher Fettes, including Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Michael Fassbender, Paul Bettany, Tom Hardy, Anne Marie Duff, Geraldine James, Frances de la Tour, Tara Fitzgerald, Helen McCrory, John Simm, Gwendoline Christie, and Emilia Clarke. To honor and preserve the work of Yat Malmgren, Mr. Fettes wrote a defining book about character analysis/movement psychology – A Peopled Labyrinth. For info about Yat Malmgren, the Laban/Malmgren system of Movement Psychology, and Character Analysis, Giles Foreman regularly teaches in the United States and online, and with Janice Orlandi at the GFCA New York (Giles Foreman Centre for Acting), www.gilesforeman.com.

 


"It is a law of life that man cannot live for himself alone. Extreme individualism is insanity. The world's problems are also our personal problems. Health is achieved through maintaining our personal truth in a balanced relation of love to the rest of the world. No expression is more emblematic of this relation than the creative act which we call art. No art by its very constitution typifies the social nature of that creative act more than the theatre. The theatre, to be fully understood and appreciated, must be seen as a manifestation of this process of interchange between society and the individual. It must be judged as a continuous development of groups of individuals within society, a development which becomes richer, acquires greater force and value as it grows with the society in which it originates. Only in this way can the theatre nourish us.  - Harold Clurman

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