The Acting Corps Playing Technique
by Eugene Buica

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What is acting technique and why do you need it? Why can’t you just say the lines “sadly” or “cheerfully” and get on with it? Why can’t you just do the scene over and over and when it feels right cement it and do it the same way at the audition or on the set?

Because it’s not that simple. All good acting comes as a surprise to the audience, and in order for the audience to be surprised, the actor must be surprised. So when the actor duplicates how he felt the last time he did the scene, even if that feeling is genuine, the audience(or the camera) will see an actor knowing what comes next and cleverly attempting to manipulate us into feeling what he’s feeling. We don’t like this, as an audience or as individuals. Resentful at being told how to feel we soon abandon our tacit agreement that we’re going to go with this story and return to our daily lives, a little less hopeful that the movies or the theater have anything to offer.

Enter acting technique. Traditionally and historically, there have been a number of approaches over the years, all of them offering an exclusive path to great acting, creating along the way unquestioning disciples who love, honor, and obey their chosen technique , dutifully forsaking all other acting techniques. But this kind of actor training dissolves into idol worship and that’s largely a thing of the past – the new media, new audiences, and new actors demand a living, current approach.

What do we suggest? Very simply that you learn practical and useful tools that allow you to “bring it” into an audition, on a set, or on a stage. How, you ask? After training hundreds and hundreds of 21st century actors, we have formulated some opinions on what works today. Our approach is by no means a static or frozen system of training, nor is it a patented technique. It is just our own way of freeing you, the actor, and allowing you to do what you already know how to do, which is to play the way you did when you were three; recklessly, and with mad abandon. This is an important point, without the freedom and imagination we had when we were children, we would be creating nothing more than clichéd line readings and self indulgent emotions. Actors used to be called “players”, and to act a part is to “play” a part, also that thing we act in? It is called a play, the old joke has it, not a root canal…To this end our approach serves as a constant reminder of the importance of playing – hence The Acting Corps Playing Technique.

Here’s how it works. In Boot Camp I, we start off with repetition – it is an old Stanislavski exercise, made popular by Sanford Meisner, adapted by The Atlantic Theater, and used by many schools in many variations. The way we approach repetition at The Acting Corps is by putting our focus on the other person entirely; NEVER worrying about what we’re feeling, and making sure we are strongly connected to our partners. A word of advice when you get frustrated with this exercise (you will) – it is JUST AN EXERCISE. No director will ever ask you to do this exercise perfectly when you audition; no casting director will call you in to do repetition with you, it is just an exercise. So make sure you focus on the simple and quick benefits of the exercise rather than perfecting the exercise.

As you learn to listen and answer to the other actor, you will be asked to apply this simple tool to your scene work. Here it will serve you to let go of your preconceived ideas of the text, of how you should say it, and simply focus on the other actor and respond to her. Don’t worry about being interesting or emotional or anything. The moment has its own truth so learn to trust it. If you have difficulty here, if you CANNOT let go of saying it a certain premeditated way, the worst thing you can do is to TRY to be truthful or “in the moment.” Just keep putting your attention on your partner, abandon the idea of appearing interesting, and speak before you think. Invent nothing, deny nothing, and the rest will take care of itself.

Afterwards, in Boot Camp II, with your moment to moment work coming along, you will work on tasks, or activities. The purpose of activities is for you to learn to release your sub-conscious impulses through the reality of physically doing something as you fully embrace the value of putting your attention on something OUTSIDE of yourself. An activity needs to be meaningful, urgent, and difficult and there are NO EMOTIONAL REQUIREMENTS. You don’t need to feel anything – if feelings occur, that’s fine; they are just a byproduct of your being fully invested in your task or in your partner. And while we’re on the topic of self generated emotion in an actor, remember that the good actor affects his audience (that’s why they paid their $11) while the amateur actor affects only himself (that’s why they don’t pay their $11).

At this point of Boot Camp II, when you are ready to work on full, multi dimensional actions, we introduce the Psychological Gesture (PG). Perfected by Michael Chekhov, it is the surest and fastest way of putting a strong, living objective (or action) in your body so that your entire being is alive with the need to satisfy your chosen objective. The PG connects your body with your psyche (psycho-physical acting) in a way that does NOT pre-suppose any emotion on your part, you are just asked to show up to the moment and allow the PG to affect you. As effective as the PG is, you must work this tool on a daily basis for it to be useful in the long term. You must also surrender to it when doing a scene; trying to SHOW the gesture or its intended results will only lead to frustration.

In the Advanced Program and the Master Class your technique classes will contain elements of what you learned in Boot Camp I and II, but also elements of Uta Hagen, Declan Donnellan, Lecoq, Grotowski, and even improvisation. As you work on specific genres here, i.e., film, sitcoms, episodic TV, commercials, theater, and comedy, your instructors will use WHATEVER works for that genre, given their professional experience. Some techniques work better than others, given the specific medium, but the goal here is to suit the appropriate technique to the appropriate medium.

In conclusion, The Acting Corps Playing Technique is by nature an approach that is open to change, if only because acting is always changing and evolving. We would be foolish to pretend that what we learned when we were new actors years ago applies to what you need to know now. We ourselves are still exploring this most challenging of all the arts (we hope to always do so) and relish the opportunity of sharing our discoveries with you. If in ten years, or even five, we are teaching exactly what we teach today, then we would be saying that acting and all the arts are a fixed and exact science, much like basic arithmetic.

But we know better and we have a responsibility to you which we do not take lightly; it is our duty to nurture in you the spirit of the artist and suffuse you with the courage to serve that spirit. It is this spirit of playing as if our lives depend on the freedom expressed by our playing, it is this spirit that we honor in you and place above ANY acting technique, including our own. So welcome aboard, we stand together on the shoulders of the great masters who came before us, their creative courage and iconoclastic innovations demanding that we follow their example by forging our own paths towards complete artistic expression and unbounded generosity of spirit.

Eugene Buica

Founder and Artistic Director
The Acting Corps


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