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COMMENTS ON PROCESS Liberating the Acting Class: A Fresh Look at Teaching Comedie Technique Sandra Hardy Teaching comic technique to a group of beginning actors provides perhaps the greatest challenge an acting teacher will ever face, for learning to be funny requires resurrecting that funny self which may have been buried long ago. While all of us love to laugh, and successful comic actors in America are virtually adored for their abilities to inspire laughter, student actors have enormous difficulty getting beyond the fear that the laughter they inspire is a public response to something personally unacceptable about them. This is particularly true among women students, many of whom have set their funny self, their innate power to be amusing, aside in favor of social acceptability. An early objective of comedie training includes attempts to discover the genuine self (the self not covered by social defense skills) which lies beneath the roles acquired through conditioning. Allowing shortcomings or flaws to be revealed, relinquishing dignity at moments when affected pride seems silly, being able to create social insensitivity without losing strength or confidence within the intention are all important in restoring the funny self to its rightful place in the actor's repertoire. Finding that freer, less inhibited self, however, can be rather painful for some students. Frightened they will only discover renewed rejection, they are quite leery of the process. Like most of us, acting students have been laughed at in school for saying or doing or wearing something which hadn't found social acceptance in the drawing rooms of the fourth grade. Worse, some have found themselves butts of cruel jokes or incessant teasing, all of which can be terribly funny to other children. Even if one isn't the humiliated victim, watching someone else be victimized is lesson enough. Thus, children grow up with fears of being laughed at, and learn very quickly how to avoid social rejection. Therefore, it might be advantageous for a teadher of acting to introduce comic characterization slowly, perhaps asking students to create those very victims of classroom abuse they remember having been or seen. Exaggerating any idiosyncratic or antisocial behavior to the extent that it evokes laughter will allow students to experience a positive response in the acting class, thereby helping to redefine the negative reactions initially endured. 93 94 Sandra Hardy According to a study done by Carol Kehr Tittle which compares gender behavior in the early grades, little girls are far more adept at appearing average; they thrive on structured play rather than the more creative play preferred by boys, and, in general, because their needs for approval are greater, respond to role-expectations with greater regularity than boys. This study would suggest that sex-role conditioning overtly discourages non-conformity in females, and perhaps even explains the minimal number of females among the class clowns who regularly emerge in the classroom. Women students of comic technique, therefore, respond quite differently to exploring the funny self, as a more rigid set of social standards has been placed on them from a very early age. They are taught that if they are supportively submissive— physically, emotionally, and intellectually—they will more likely be perceived as attractive, desirable, and engaging. Therefore, appearing helpless or even a bit limited at times is seen as alluring, and being subordinate becomes a means of finding social acceptability. Consequently, beginning women students are inclined to do better if the comic role is a submissive stereotype—a wife or mother, a lover or subordinate employee. To counteract the inclination of women students to perpetuate the stereotypes with which they feel more comforable, a discussion of the sexist state of female characters in comic literature from Plautus to Designing Women should prove helpful. Moreover, exercises which require women to satirize themselves playing those very roles "designed" to gain approval, primarily from men, should not only stimulate greater awareness of the true self which lies beneath the conditioning, but provoke the kind of recognition which ignites laughter. Even more difficult for female students than rising above submissive stereotypes are exercises in farce and/or slapstick. This type of comedy requires facial and bodily expression which is often considered unfeminine...


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pp. 93-97
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