Trance Acting And Hands

By Ira Seidenstein

August 4, 2017

One of the biggest breakthroughs in the teaching of contemporary acting came from Vahktangov when he directed the Jewish troupe Habima in Russia in “The Dybbuk”. He discovered (observed, understood, was inspired by) the way the Jewish actors naturally went into trance and how they used their hands. Vahktangov made other developments in acting including impovising on the themes of a play to develop a sense of play and to find the organic (trance) depth of character needs and expression. He was part of a cluster of Stanislavsky, Sulerzhitzky, Meyerhold who were fervent in their research, creations, and dialogic discoveries of which we are all recipients. Even Tadashi Suzuki has acknowledged “still Stanislavsky’s are the best books on acting”. Scholar Mel Gordon has written about Vahktangov’s major breakthrough about hands in acting occured during the time he was directing The Dybbuk and he took sick and was in the hospital next to an old Jewish man. When visitors came to see the old man, Vahktangov saw how animated the old man’s hands were when he spoke with visitors. So what Vakhtagov had thought was amateur acting by the Jewish players was in fact a deep state of communication as well as their cultural way. Thus instead of trying to control the actors he let them be. Another result was that the production was a breakthrough on many levels. Gordon notes some of this in his book on Stanislavsky The Russian Years. But I also attended his lecture on The Dybbuk many years ago. He had interviewed all of the then living actors who had been in the original Dybbuk production. Vahktangov’s lesson about authentic acting is true for each culture be it Australian Indigenous people, or Black Americans, or Italians etc. As Dario Fo noted in his book “Tricks of the Trade” he was highly critical of Lecoq method as it neutered everyone’s culture so they all acted like cultureless clones even if they came from Europe or Asia or South America. Their natural expression was reduced to a cold aesthetic. In the profession one has to learn to balance ‘natural’ with ‘professional’. Vahktangov mastered that via the Jewish players. Here is a very rare glimpse into the authentic Jewish culture as two great Rabbi’s born in Russia and meeting in USA are discussing matters important to them and their culture. Although the title uses the word ‘arguing’ as in the Italian sense as taught to me by my teacher Carlo Mazzone-Clementi ‘argumento’ implies and means discussion in Italian. In Jewish and Tibetan cultures also the rabbis and monks are taught to discuss with their whole heart, mind, body, soul with great fervency. Those who know my method The Four Articulations have techniques and creative exercises to learn how the hands work in relation to creativity, acting, trance, the body, and self expression.

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