The Creative Spark—Snarly Puppets and Snoop Dog

What do snarly puppets, Snoop Dog, and I have in common?  My older brother.

As a child, my brother directed a drama piece.  All the kids on the block starred, including me.  The bit part I played marked a highlight of my youth.  Yet my brother stopped directing after managing our talentless crew.  Deep down, I wished he would’ve directed us daily.

My brother also made paper puppets and a cardboard-box puppet stage.  He’d gather me and my siblings and perform puppets.  Fun?  No!  He teased me endlessly through vile puppets.  I preferred to act his plays, not watch his barbs.

I later acted in junior high school plays, once landing the star female role.  I played a drunken lass, coached by my brother, but forgot half my lines.  My brother promised he’d sit in the audience, applauding and blowing horns and whistles.  But when I took my final curtsey, I faced a silent audience.  My brother never showed.  To this day, I wish he whistled, cheered, and hollered.

My brother went on to win best actor in his high school.  He shuffled, shyly, to claim his award, the audience silent.  His coming out as gay didn’t bode well, especially with the jocks.  I wanted to cheer for him, but I shyly clapped.  To this day, I wish I whistled, cheered, and hollered.

As an adult, my brother had a comedy series approved by the National Film Board.  Actors from Star Trek and Roseanne came on board.  But the NFB muzzled my brother’s jokes, so he fought legal battles until funds fell short.

David Allen tosses tidbits on the father of modern acting—Stanislavski—in his book Stanislavski for Beginners (illustrated by Jeff Fallow):

  • Who’s Stanislavski? “Stanislavski revolutionized our ideas about acting.  His discoveries still form the basis of actor training in the Western theater” (p. 4).
  • How should you act? Don’t try so hard, says Stanislavksi: “The harder he tried, the more the audience criticized him for overacting” (p. 5).
  • Instead, act cool, reserved, not hyped: “He concluded that excitement was not enough—he must learn the value of restraint and control, what he called a ‘feeling of true measure’” (p. 5).
  • Stanislavski restrained his acting until his spirit burst, often during climaxes, like music crescendos: “It’s strange: when you feel right—the impression on the audience is worse; when you control yourself and don’t surrender completely to the role—it is better” (p. 19).
  • Yes, restrain yourself, but act with feeling: “He was slowly learning to become an ‘actor of feeling’” (p. 11).
  • And don’t waste time staring at your reflection: “Stanislavsky worked tirelessly, almost obsessively, to improve his voice, his movement, and gestures, watching himself in the mirror—a practice he later condemned” (p. 8).
  • Moreover, whatever you do, don’t model Robert De-Niro: “The imitation of a favorite actor can only create an external method, and not the inner soul” (p. 9).
  • And don’t act old style like Charlie Chapmen or the Three Stooges. “He was now determined to wage war against the clichés and routine ‘lies’ of the stage” (p. 21).
  • Best to model Grandpa or Uncle Stew: “Perhaps influenced by Shchepkin, Stanislavski moved away from copying other actors, to find his models in real life” (p. 11).

Another author sums Stanislavski’s method as “the art of achieving reality, real tears, real laughter, real expression, movement and voice” (Edward Dwight Easty, On Method Acting: The Classic Actor’s Guide to the Stanislavsky Technique as Practiced at the Actors Studio, p. 15).

And voice matters in acting.  When my brother’s TV series got thwarted, I felt crushed yet relieved.  You see, my brother planned on having me sing the theme song. Yet, I fretted how I’d fund studio time.  A friend of mine had an amateur studio but no music-reading skill.  So, I planned to fake it ‘til I made it.

That’s like Snoop Dog performing the soundtrack to Titanic.  A paradox?  I call it a creative spark!