Geometry of Acting

Mise-en-Scene for Actors, BioMX 2009 LUL BM for Method Actors * new Spring 2002 THR221 Intermediate Acting (focus on biomechanics) * Comedy & Biomechanics Forum *
from Formalism Page: the concept of the dominant was particularly fruitful…The dominant may be defined as the focusing component of a work of art: it rules, determines, and transforms the remaining components. It is the dominant which guarantees the integrity of the structure. (each mise-en-scene must have it as a part of the show's concept)
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This is "mise en scene" for actors; the sister page -- mise for directors.
Forum: archive!
Maybe this is the right place to say that my take on Biomechanics is of a director. But even in this capacity I am limited. I do not train actors for BM body; only on occasion, when I have actors already with some gimnastic or acrobatics skills, we can't take a step forther the spectacular presentation of Biomechanics (you probably read about "jump on the chest" and so on). We have no time training, unless an actor does it on his or her own time.

Meyerhold loved Kabuki and Chinese Opera with their life-long training in movement for actors. I am not sure that even in a repertory setting it is possible to train "Biomechanical Actors" -- and I am not sure that this is neccessary. The same I might say for the Method.

Even in class I have no time for any real training; I try to use whatever "material" an actor got already. In the "Twelfth Night" production during the auditions I looked for any sport skill and when the time of callbacks came I ask to show what they have. Karate? Show what you ALREADY can do. And I try to use it, the existing physical condition of an actor.

Mise-en-Scene page for directors is from "outside in" (arranging space-time AROUND ACTOR.

2003 * THR221 Intermediate Acting : new pages in BM+ @ *

Russian Theatre: + (webcast)

* March 2006: -- 100 years since Sam Beckett's birth *

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    Mise-en-scene Page @ :

    The acting area is the area within the theater where the action takes place.


    The main link to StageMatrix (directing class) is everywhere for a reason. Actor must know the mind of playwright, the mind of spectator -- and the mind of DIRECTOR, who is between text and public, who is the STAGE for actor.

    [ I place a lot of Meyerhold-related images in hope that later I will have some time to comment on them. ]

    2007 BM2:

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    Mise en Scene
    stagematrix > mise-en-scene
    1 a : the arrangement of actors and scenery on a stage for a theatrical production * b : stage setting * 2 a : the physical setting of an action : CONTEXT [b] : ENVIRONMENT, MILIEU

    "Context" is a very helpfull idea to understand the nature of mise-en-scene! Nothing on stage can be understood without relations to other elements. [Remember, Acting is Reacting?] For a director everything on stage is "environmental"! Director's prime responsibility is to create this "context" for actor's "texts" (role) and find the ways for actors to react to it.


    What is "mise-en-scene" (Fr.)? In short, staging. And staging is different from blocking. Better say -- "director's text"; specific arrangements of space and time on stage... to control actors, playscript and public.

    My students laugh, when I say that "blocking" means to block actors from getting to the text too soon and from moving on stage without any purpose. Yes, they need to be stopped! The movement must be choreographed in order to become a statement, message, sign! They must to be blocked from sending the movement "noise" -- from confusing the public!

    We have to learn a proper movement language!

    A Few Lessons from Film Directing Classes

    "Motion in front of the camera" we call primary motion (motion of the camera is secondary); in film theory we call it paradigmic (what we see, not how we see). Well, in theatre position of a spectator is diffirent and comparing each of us in the house with the camera is not fully correct. Nevertheless, since we are dealing with the 3D space, position upstage could be compare with the Long Shot (LS or WS -- wide shot), center stage -- MS (Medium Shot) and downstage -- CU (CloseUp). Actors know this by instinct to for the most dramatic moments move downstage [DS] (see details about "9 Squares of Stage" in "Acting Areas" and Floor Plan pages) and Lighting Designer knows it too (we focus or "frame" action).

    We also know that we read left and right differently: Stage Left is more "dramatic" (or important). Character's climatic moments most likely to be staged DS Center....

    Sometimes I say to student-directors that I understand "blocking" (American common understanding of mise-en-scene) is simply a way to block (stop) actors from unrestricted movement on stage in order to form movement sentences. We "frame" (cinema term) the reality in order to make a statement. In short, we chroreograph the movement on stage in order to direct the attention of public. If we indeed believe that play is pre-text, the performance is the text (formated not in words anymore, but in stage languages). [Post-Text is the "action" in the mind of the audience, when Actor's Chronotope becomes Spectator's Chronotope (Subjective Time and Dramatic Space). Mise-en-scene could be seen as "translation" of the pre-text drama (script); in acting classes we use the terms "physicalisation," "vocalization," -- "visualization" (SHOW or Spectactle).

    In general, actors do not care much about mise-en-scene, they other means to express themselves, but for directors this is the main medium (objective 4D world, 3D space and time dimenssion). "Blocking" actors doesn't produce "Subjective Time and Dramatic Space" -- but only with actors (and their reactions to new space-time arrangements)! In other words, it's a combination of two forces: stage and house. In The Book of Spectator I talk about the phemonemon of Gaze (Public makes "The Empty Space" dramatic) -- and in interaction of the two the dymanics of new time and space are born.

    I always say that director is the first and the best spectator. I do nothing but prearranging (formating) the chronotope of spectator. I function as the Public Representative and only because of it I have my powers on stage over all the elements. Director is a professional spectator -- and I leave when the machine of the show is in place....

    [ acting for the camera in class ]

    Mise-en-Scene (semio)

    "The performance text is `all that is made visible or audible on stage' but is not perceived as a system of meaning or a system of signifying stage systems. It is a text that has not yet been 'read', that has not yet been engaged with by the spectator in a process of meaning-making. It is like the signifier without anyone to read it (me in that lecture theatre babbling on to myself)

    The mise en scene is a more complex term, and is created by both production and reception. The term mise en scene is of course a French term, literally meaning 'the putting into the scene', or 'on stage'. It comes from Latin words missus in scaenam meaning 'the placement or sending onto the stage'. Patrice Pavis has described the mise en scene as "the utterance of the dramatic text in performance" [Pavis, 1992, 25] and the creation of context for this utterance. Of course he is talking here about theatre that has a 'dramatic text'.

    The mise en scene is the performance text perceived as a system of signs working together to produce meaning. In other words, it involves the same three elements that any sign involves: signifier (the complex performance text), the signified (the open ended denotative and connotative meanings that are generated by the performance text) and the perceiver of the sign (the audience member).

    While the performance exists as an object - even if a constantly shifting and tenuous one - the mise en scene only exists as it is received and reconstructed by the individual spectator. It is like electricity - it only exists when it is switched on. There can therefore be as many mises en scene as there are spectators.

    The mise en scene is a network of relationships between different stage materials and is created by the artistic team - dramatist, director, designer, actor, musicians, technicians, and the relationship between all of this and the spectator through the process of reception.

    Pavis makes the crucial statement that

    "The utterance is always intended for an audience, with the result that mise en scene can no longer ignore the spectators and must even include them as the receptive pole in the circuit comprising the mise en sc¨¨ne produced by the artists and the mise en scene produced by the spectators" (Pavis p.38-9)

    Pavis's use of the phrase the mise en scene produced by the artists is potentially confusing, in that it calls attention to a more common use of the term mise en scene, meaning 'the staging and scenography' of the production, or even 'the performance text'. But his emphasis on dual agency (artists and audience) elucidates the essential role of the audience in the 'meaning creation' loop that is the mise en scene, which Pavis defines as "the bringing together or confrontation, in a given space and time, of different signifying systems, for an audience".

    The 'fitting' of the act of reception and the production of the performance text creates the mise en scene.

    It is for this reason that one cannot speak of the mise en scene as something solely produced by the artists. Similarly, in "The Death of the Author", Barthes emphatically asserts the role of the 'reader' in the 'unity' of 'text':

    "a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader and not 'the author' a text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination"

    The transitory and elusive nature of the theatrical 'text' ('performance text') could be called its 'hazardous nature', for which "there is no other time than that of the enunciation". Researching performance is, as Pearson and Shanks argue, an archaeological project, because theatrical performance is 'the always already gone by'. The mise en scene is held together momentarily by acts of production and reception. At the end of that moment, the relationship falls back into nothing. The lights go out, the electricity is turned off, so to speak, and we go home.

    In reality it is most difficult to distinguish between text and reader, or between the performance text and the mise en scene, precisely because in order to ascertain what constitutes the performance text one has engage in a reading of it in some way. Perhaps this is why Pavis' use of the terms 'performance', 'performance text' and mise en scene seem somewhat confused at times." [ mise-en-scene ]

    * Mise-en-Scene Page

    It was written for my directing students, not actors.

    Mise-en-scene is a core of directing. How much of it should a "normal" actor understand?

    Do you want to understand the mind of director? Do you know how to "read" blocking? Did you develop your "acting areas"?

    In space chapter we discussed how to break your monologue into this spacial breakdown, your OWN actor's text.

    We can translate the French word "mise-en-scene" as "staging" -- how much of it is done by actors themselves (self-directing)?

    Well, the great set maps the great mise-en-scenes, but even in the empty space a single actor is capable creating a great mise-en-scene. How?

    You populate the space with imaginary subjects and objects, you position them by reacting and your audience will follow your game.

    biomechanics-set Meyerhold's set (costructivism): in addition to the 3 level of depth (upstage, center, downstage) and 3 levels (stage-right to stage-left), we must consider the 3 vertical level (stage floor - body height -- above).

    Even in a classroom I ask for those three vertical levels (floor, seating, standing) -- the vertical must be explored. The higher we get, the stonger the statement. Now -- we have use the entire combination of "9 Squares" (2D of the floor) X 3 vertical level! In short, 3D space gives us 27 basic positions!

    Of course, this matter is more of concern for directors and designers.

    Directing: "Between the Actor and the Text"

    If you remember Meyerhold's formula -- Actor = Artist + Medium -- you understand that the first is the director in you! Put him to work!

    [ see monologue pages ]

    * Where is the focus of drama? Draw two straight lines from corner to corner. What do you have?


    Do you see the directions of tention? (Center)

    .... now back to the floor plan (9 squares).

    Look at the picture from above:

    UL UC UR

    CL C CR

    DR DC DL

    + 3 vertical levels... Important for actor to remember that ALL acting areas will be fixed with the light and color (lighting design is based on the emotional logic of "actor-in-space-time"). In fact, the potential combination of lingvistic combinations is endless.

    Can we translate the vertical visual composition into potential movement on the floor? The painting is potent with the movement (good painting). Visual composition is nothing short of the expressed dramatic composition.



    Now look at the "directions" -- remember, axis and vector?

    First, you have Christ in the middle and Judas on his left, Peter on the right. In addition all three heads are on the same diagonal (three levels). Watch the hands for action-reaction expression (the scene is a denial that "One of you will betray me"). Velasques arranged the composition for the action-as-process.

    But the secret is the table, the stabilizing element for the action!

    Draw vertical and horizontal lines from the center... Do you see the cemetry? Do you see that the center is not on the Christ's face? but the chest! Heart! Now I understand why his eyes are down, not to take away my attention from the inner process.

    And the right hand in the air?


    And how about the lighting? Good designer! (Caravaggio "Supper at Emmaus" c. 1600-01; Oil on canvas, 54 3/4 x 76 3/4 in; National Gallery, London. Also, on my pages you can see: Vel§Òzquez (or Velasquez), Diego (1599-1660) and El Greco -- somehow all are from the Spanish Golden Age. No, of course, more; Edouard Manet -- Olympia (1863): "Pauses" and other impressionists).

    [ "The Inspiration of Saint Matthew" 1602; Oil on canvas, 9' 8 1/2" x 6' 2 1/2"; Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome -- in ]

    VOICE. Oh, no, no and no! You can't talk about this way about mise-en-scene! No way! It's "mise-en-scene" - for Christ' sake! The most important thing in directing! The main stage language, where everything comes together! What is that? You should ten times more! Hundrend pages, thousands!

    He hits me on the head! This is too much, you know! Master or no Master, this is the abuse!...

    - Leave me alone! I cried.

    MASTER (very agitated). Shut up! I'm an not "Teacher" -- understand? I am the Artist! Master! Creator! Silence! I don't care, I'm not American...

    - You shut up! I screamed - Stanislavky never did it to me!

    MASTER. Stanislavsky! What does he know about mise-en-scene? Did you see his "3 Sisters"? I was in -- that wass an insult to the art of mise-en-scene!

    biomechanics-popova [ "Plastic" by Lubov' Popova, Meyerhold's costume and set designer, 1920s ]


    Comedy Monologues in class: focus on comedy and physicality, as usual, but now you have to think in term of space.

    Did you use all 9 squares? Right, left, upstage, downstage? Draw the floor plan and your numbered positions, correcsponding to the text = Actor's Text.

    * Performance (acting) is "directing" from inside out, director (directing) does the same for you, my friends, -- from outside in. Both have to become one (organic), when "blocking" doesn't apply to one only, but to both (actor + director).
    NB. When I say "director," I speak for all designers behind him.


    Use the basic geometric figures for your movement design (monologue): triangle, square, circle. Deside the vectors (directions) of movement. Mark your monologue (text). Explain your choices. Examine all the figures!!


    Did you see it? The two exlaimation marks? This is emotional and psychological abuse, but cat report the madman... he is dead. And I am really sorry about it. I'm sorry that he never staged Hamlet, being shot at the age of 57, but thinking that he is not ready for Hamlet. I'm sorry that I don't give you his message how inportant is the "mise-en-scene"....


    Macro-blocking -- director, micro-blocking -- actor!

    [in class: biomechanics + prop]

    Read Mise and Metrics pages in "Directing for Actors."

    @2000-2004 contents *

    2007 --

    TOPICS: drama + comedy + postmodern + time + space + theory + BioMethod + objectives & obctacles + film + students + theatre w/anatoly +

    [ in class -- exer. after a film segment ] the functions of mise-en-scene:

    1. The possibilities for selection and control offered by setting, including:
    how a filmmaker can control and/or construct a setting.
    how the design of a setting can shape how we understand story action.
    the role of color in setting.
    the use of props.

    2. The possibilities for selection and control offered by costume and make-up, including:
    the potential motivic and causal roles of costuming in a film.
    how costuming and setting can coordinate and contribute to a film’s overall narrative progression.
    the range of possibilities for the use of make-up

    3. The possibilities for selection and control offered by lighting, including:
    the types of shadows that lighting can create, and how this affects our sense of the shape and texture of depicted objects.
    aspects of lighting quality.
    effects created by different directions of lighting.
    how the source of lighting can affect an image.
    how the three-point lighting system operates, and how it can be manipulated.
    how lighting can be used as a motif across a film.

    4. The possibilities for selection and control offered by staging, including:
    the nature of figure and object movement.
    the components of an actor’s performance.
    the importance of considering the functions and motivation of acting in a particular film, rather than broad standards of realism.
    how acting cooperates with other techniques.

    mise-en-scene Another visual way to present "9 squares" as "9 dots" -- dramatic field in which should be included the off stage areas.

    With 3 dots in the house space?

    This is the "secret" of exits and entrances. Another 12 directions.

    9 + 12

    [ to finish ]




    [ Sorry, folks, I do not know when I can come with the notes to my pages. I do not even remember the places where I put the fine art masterpieces, like "View of Toledo" c. 1597 (180 Kb); Oil on canvas, 121.3 x 108.6 cm (47 3/4 x 42 3/4 in); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York -- El Greco: excellent example of the vertical composition. I know that I have "Christ on the Cross Adored by Donors" 1585-90 (80 Kb); Canvas; Louvre and "The Repentant Peter" c. 1600 (180 Kb); Oil on canvas, 93.6 x 75.2 cm (36 7/8 x 29 5/8 in); The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. -- all of them are placed on my pages to help actors and directors to SEE! ]

    [ Meyerhold shows archives ]

    An online course supplement * 2005-2006 Theatre UAF Season: Four Farces + One Funeral & Godot'06
    Film-North * Anatoly Antohin * eCitations *

    Acting amazon

    biomechanics home: 0 * 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * appendix * links * references * notes * faq * archives * biblio * popup * list * 2007 * notebook * * my shared page * lul teatr