(Above) Dr. Lendley Black as he normally appears on campus and (below) leading students through the Michael Chekhov technique.
Provost Leads Acting Workshop
By Cheryl Anderson Brown
When you want to learn how to perform the works of Anton Chekhov, it doesn't hurt to have one of the world's foremost Michael Chekhov scholars working at your university, as students in Harrison Long's "Acting III: Performing the Plays of Anton Chekhov" class learned last week. Kennesaw State University Provost Lendley Black changed out of his workday suit into more appropriate sweats to lead the students through a physically active exploration of character development using techniques developed by Michael Chekhov, nephew of the playwright and one of the best interpreters of the Stanislavki acting method according to Stanislavski himself. It was Stanislavski who was most responsible for popularizing the works of Anton Chekhov.
Students in the class are spending this semester thoroughly exploring one Chekhovian character. In the first part of the semester, they have focused on Stanislavski's methods of "affective memory" (using personal memories and sensory experiences to discover the character's emotional truth) and "script analysis" (exploring the character's objective at each moment of the play). Michael Chekhov's method, as demonstrated by Dr. Black, employs physical work to help the actors get into their characters. Throughout the workshop, Dr. Black asked the students to use their bodies to exaggerare their characters' characteristics and to use this newly discovered physicality to portray the characters in a variety of situations from a schoolyard playground to an Oscar after-party.
"This work enables the actor to discover physical choices that fuel the inner life of the character while activating the actor's imagination," Harrison Long says. "The workshop introduced new characterization methods while building a bridge between the actor's intellectual preparation and physical life on the stage."
Long invited Dr. Black to lead the Chekhov workshop as part of yearlong Chekhov research project that Long and his students are pursuing. He says that Dr. Black's expertise as a Michael Chekhov scholar (he has written a biography on him) has been crucial in organizing workshops and making contacts with Chekhov scholars around the world. He also emphasizes that Dr. Black's work has been enormously beneficial to the acting students. "Underneath the fancy suit, Dr. Black is all teacher. Not only does he know his stuff, he intuitively knows how to communicate the material to the students."
Taking a class from the university provost can be a little intimidating, however, according to student Cory Washington. "You have to make sure you're not performing to impress him; you have to maintain your focus."
Nevertheless, Washington found the workshop very helpful. "We get caught up in conforming to our own natural movements. Dr. Black helped us understand how the character moves and discover how to bring out the character's 'inner demons' in our performance. There's an emotion connected to every movement."
That insight should prove useful for Washington and his classmates as they move toward their end-of-semester presentations and into their performance careers.