Liberation of Acting

EDWARD GORDON CRAIG

Edward Gordon Craig was one of the giants of 20th century theatre and his ideas were a great inspiration for Peter and Barbara. They visited Craig in France and corresponded with him over several years. Listen to an interview with Peter about meeting Craig, and have a look at the letters the great man wrote to him.

Archive Interview Peter Bridgmont by Adrian Cairns with kind permission of the Theatre Archives, University of Bristol.

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From an article

"Edward Gordon Craig and the Spectator" by Harvey Grossmann in: Documenta, tijdschrift voor theater XX, no 3

Craig quotes Blake: "Man is led to believe a lie, when he sees with — not through — the eye." Vision - when Craig speaks about it — often makes us think of something seen, not of us seeing. He speaks least of all about the spectator in any case. I have heard it said that he did not care — either way — about the spectator. If we agreed with that, we would be seeing with the eye. Like Man in Blake's poem, we have got to see through the eye there where the spectator weighs — and weighs heavily — in this art of the theatre. Gordon Craig and William Blake have been called visionaries. We can define a visionary as 'one who sees', and a spectator also — as 'one who sees'. The difference is that the visionary sees something not yet there, whereas the spectator sees something already there.

I believe that inherent in Craig as he sets forth to discover this uncharted art, is the idea that the visionary capacity is not an attribute of the few, but our common legacy; that the Theatre of the Future - the Art of the Theatre — will base itself on this latent faculty of ours. If I am right, and Craig thinks this, then he will have a fight on his hands. Because the existing theatre, like the society it reflects, counts — for its public — on spectators who come only to see what is there. It does not ask for visionaries.

Excerpt from
On the Art of the Theatre, by Edward Gordon Craig.

Here then is the thing which I promised at the beginning to bring to you. Having passed through your apprenticeship without having been merged in the trade, you are fitted to receive this. Without having done so you would not even be able to see it. I have no fear that what I throw to you now will be caught by other hands, because it is visible and tangible only to those who have passed though such an apprenticeship. In the beginning with you it was Impersonation; you passed on to Representation and now you advance into Revelation. When impersonating and representing, you made use of those materials which had always been made use of; that is to say, the human figure as exemplified in the poet through the actor, the visible world as shown by means of Scene. You now will reveal by means of movement the invisible things, those seen through the eye and not with the eye, by the wonderful and divine power of movement.

There is a thing which man has not yet learnt to master, a thing which man dreamed not was waiting for him to approach with love; it was invisible and yet ever present with him. Superb in its attraction and swift to retreat, a thing waiting but for the approach of the right men, prepared to soar with them through all the circles beyond the earth — it is Movement.

"Meeting Edward Gordon Craig" by Peter Bridgmont

While pacing my cell at the Ambassadors Theatre, as Richard Attenborough's understudy in The Mousetrap, an actor in the same Company by name of John Paul gave me for Christmas a book by Janet Leaper, introducing the work and times of Edward Gordon Craig. This small booklet had such an affect on me that, although having played for Attenborough with a certain measure of success, I handed in my notice and shunned the play and particularly the Set. An action which was never forgiven by the management.

Now having time on my hands, I wrote to John Gielgud and he kindly sent me Craig's address in Vence. So began a correspondence with the great man whom more out of kindness than artistic stimulation answered my letters with thoughtful encouragement. I also spent a great time making masks and having completed twenty of them, felt the necessity of finding work. This led to an audition with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in East 15. I believe I was the first professional actor they employed. Joan Littlewood felt I was mad enough to fit in. There I met their star Barbara Brown and have recently celebrated with her forty-five years of marriage. Craig sent us one of his woodcuts for a wedding present, through his old friend Richard Ainley, Henry Ainley's son. Today, the 20th of June 2002, I have brought out again into the open the letters that Craig kindly wrote to me and have decided to file them neatly into a folder with a typed copy of each letter, (something I should have done years ago) for those who may find them of interest.

From an article by Wolfgang Ernst, Greek scholar and speech Teacher.

Originally, Drama and Music were parts of one art. Then the Drama became independent and later Music, as we know it, broke away; at the same time Prose came into existence. This separation however, was only an apparent one; in reality, prose lends itself to dramatisation and the art of poetry is easily transposed into song and opera.

The traditional way of recitation was preserved until the 19th century; and as long as it endured, the great classical dramatists could still retain a grip on the public but when the tradition finally lost its inspiration it became hollow and false.

Stanislavski started a school where "the simple way of speaking" was taught. To speak "naturally, as in real life" was the ideal and to this day the world is full of schools and theatres employing "Stanislavski's methods" apparently quite unaware of the fact, that at the end of his life he was faced by a great problem. This is what he writes about it in his book "My Life in Art".

"As I look back I realise that many of my acting methods or shortcomings ... are due to the fact that I have not mastered speech, which alone can give me what I need and which alone can express what is going on within me. When I realised inwardly that beautiful and lofty speech was one of the powerful means of expression on the stage I became very happy. But when I tried to make my speech more beautiful, I saw how hard that was and became afraid of the difficult task before me. It was then that I really saw that we spoke badly and ungrammatically not only on the stage, but in life too; that our trivial and simple speech in life was inadmissible on the stage; that simple and beautiful speech demanded science that had its laws. Only I did not know them ..... I resumed my quest ..... it seemed as if I had lived in vain, for I had learned nothing along the false part I had taken in art ..... we need a foundation in our art, especially in our art of speech and recital ..... I thought this foundation should be sought for in music. Speech and poetry, after all, are music and song ..... Music helped me to solve many problems that had been racking my brain and it convinced me that an actor should know how to speak. Isn't it strange that I had to live almost sixty years before I understood ..... this simple and well known truth — a truth that most actors do not know."

Marie Steiner von Sivers

Gordon Craig was renowned for the originality of his stage settings. Even now his productions are imitated unconsciously. But it is as one who felt within himself the call of the age that he is most significant, as one who in radical form, saw the objective laws of the art of the stage to be a demand of the time. Like a cry of pain, there arises from the few writings left by Gordon Craig the call for a transformation of the art of acting. For the art of acting is indeed the quintessence of the life of the theatre. And Gordon Craig saw the ruination of the theatre in the subjectivity of the actor whose art reveals no great lines nor forms of objective value, but where everything is left to the arbitrary will of the individual. Gordon Craig sought for this objective form, for real possibilities of formation, in the essential laws of movement of the human figure, which for him possessed something absolute, something "cosmic."

From an article on Speech and Song by Rudolf Steiner

"Imagine yourself out there in the Cosmos; now the planetary world is farther from you, and the twelve constellations of the Zodiac nearer. From all the heavenly bodies there is singing — speaking as they sing to you, singing as they speak; and all your perception is a listening to the speaking song, the singing speech of the world .... The planetary sphere is singing to you in vowels - singing forth into the cosmic spaces; and the fixed stars permeate the song of the planetary spheres with soul from the consonants.

Picture it to yourselves as vividly as you can; the sphere of the fixed stars at rest and behind it the wandering planets. Whenever a planet in its course passes a constellation of fixed stars, there bursts forth not a single note, but a whole world of sound. Then as a planet passes on, let us say from Aries to Taurus, a different world of sound rings out. But behind it there follows another planet — Mars. Mars passing through the constellation of Taurus causes a different world of sound to ring forth once more. So in the Zodiac you have a wondrous cosmic instrument of music, while from behind, the planetary Gods are playing upon this instrument.

Letter Documents