Friday, June 28, 2013

An Interview about González Caballero's Acting Method

Last May 14th the book on Antonio González Caballero’s acting method was presented during the week dedicated to commemorate his work. Due to engagements I had previously committed to, I could not attend in person, so I sent a video of about 10 minutes to do the presentation in a virtual manner.

For that same event, Diana Ham, a member of the Teatro de Árbol group (the organizers of the event), sent me a series of questions - an interview - for me to answer in another video that would be shown during the presentation. The lack of time (and possibly of interest, which I’ll explain later) made it impossible for me to record yet another video with these answers, but just days before the date of the presentation of the book I decided impulsively to answer them in writing so that at least they could be read in part that day, which is what happened.

For some years I’ve decided not to speak directly (in public) about the acting method unless I had something written in advance and that had been reviewed carefully by me. When one speaks while thinking, interesting things happen, but also unforeseen ones that lead to big misunderstandings that I do not want to repeat, at least consciously. So putting things in writing was ultimately the best way to fulfil this commitment.

Answering these questions has, in turn, helped me define my own position on the research, collection and analysis of the method of Antonio González Caballero, and I thought it important to publish them on this Blog (and on the sites that talk about the method) so they can, if such is the case, be discussed or analyzed.

I have left the questions exactly as Diana Ham sent them, while my words may differ somewhat from what I initially sent for the presentation.

Here is the interview:

1. How did you meet Antonio González Caballero?

The first time I had contact with Antonio González Caballero was when I was a teenager, in October 1982, at Arte Escénico (Instituto de Arte Escénico) where I studied acting; he was substituting for an acting teacher. While other teachers put us to work directly with scenes of plays, he directed us through an exercise of footsteps and elements that opened an unknown door towards my sensitivity and creativity. His personality, on the other hand, was very affable, comparing with the ego full of whims of the other theatre teachers I had known.

2. How was your experience like learning the method proposed by Antonio González Caballero?

As I spent more time at the school (Arte Escénico) I discovered that acting classes with González Caballero were giving me more than anything the other teachers were giving me in the same institute. After a controversial (due to its irreverence and absurdity) dropping out of school of most of my generation (we were against the policies of the directing body), we went to take the master's workshop at the home of Norma Román Calvo, who also offered to give us theatre history classes independently.

Dropping out is a decision I call absurd because I did not finish acting school, which eventually haunted me for years, though it was obviously a lucky decision for my creative life because it brought me to the method that is now a major part of that life.

From about six or eight students who started learning at the workshop, only two of us finished the whole process of assimilating the method, José Vera and me, which is why at the book presentation I thank José Vera for much of the impetus to write this method: he continually questioned the teachings of the master, I tried to explain them, convinced as I was of their usefulness, trying to translate them into a more general language to show they worked and why. That's what I've been doing for more than 25 years.

3. What difficulties did you face during the learning process?

Learning the acting supports ('apoyos actuacionales' in Spanish) posed no difficulty for me, every door they opened was to a world of creative and cultural opportunities, they gave me tools to solve technical problems in my profession, they made me read about the human being, learn about the history of theatre, observe life differently.

The difficulty in any case laid in finding that the directors I started working with did not know, let alone the method of González Caballero, but about acting, and that their directing methods were archaic or generally very basic.

But this "difficulty" also became fortunate: firstly, it forced me out of that small group of people who did know the work of González Caballero to seek out others who knew of acting and directing, and I have not stopped doing it since then, taking me this quest to the great living masters - and their heirs - of the theatre scene all over the world, literally; and secondly, it led me to become a director.

4. What elements or references from other proposals for acting training do you recognize in the methodology of  Antonio González Caballero?

For over 25 years I've dedicated myself to trying to find all the references and lines of similarity of the method of González Caballero with other techniques and methods around the world and through the history of performance, expanding now this search to the performing arts in general.

González Caballero was a great creator.  At the same time he was also was a huge collector and also a great interpreter of other methods.  Nevertheless it is clear that he developed his method based on the lack of methods at schools for actors in Mexico during the sixties and seventies, and also in response to what he considered a damaging interpretation of the method of Stanislavski, especially in regard to the use of the actor’s emotional memory. On the other hand, even though he didn’t follow the guidelines of performance exploration of Jerzy Grotowski, his voice method was mainly based on this research. His personal turmoils led him to the hermetic philosophy and to the westernized versions of Eastern teachings, especially the so called The Science of Mental Physics, which he used abundantly in the basis of the method itself: imagination and energy for transformation.

I think there is much more hidden there. Dozens of researchers and explorers are needed, as well as consuming time, to find all the references around the method of González Caballero.

5. Is the proposal of Antonio González Caballero a method or a technique? And why?

That’s a trick question because, from my point of view, it is a method as well as a technique:

- It is a method if what you want to discover in it is a creative methodology for the actor to create on stage, it is a way for creating (a total -or complete- character in this case).

- It is a technique because whoever has mastered this method has assimilated and obtained technical supports (the "apoyos") for a creative end (which one is not important).

The method, conceptually speaking, is a methodology for achieving a goal, the technique is the means used to achieve this objective: in our case, the technique would be the use of the acting supports, and the method would be the structure of these supports with the acting movements (corrientes actuacionales) -Realism, Naturalism, Super-Naturalism and Super-Realism- and the four authors -Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg and Pirandello- to achieve the creation of a full character for the scene in question.

Personally, now that the book of the acting method has been published, I'm more interested in the technical aspects of the method because it has given me the opportunity of using it in other fields of theatre, like in Butoh, for example, where it doesn’t matter if there is a character or not, but where I can freely use the method’s acting supports: I use the technique but do not follow the guidelines of the method. In that sense González Caballero becomes a theatrical scene theorist beyond the western modern theatre of Mexico and can be compared with leading researchers and creators worldwide.

6. From your perspective, what differenciates the method designed by Antonio González Caballero from other methods or pedagogical proposals for acting training?

The method of González Caballero is unique from the Mexican perspective, there is simply no other acting method as elaborate as this one in the history of Mexican theatre.  Even though there has been research and great acting teachers, both past and present, none of them has created a method from beginning to end like González Caballero did. In the world and in the history of theatre, that's even stranger than you can imagine: methods like these are few and far between.

These methods, which are rare to find in a finished state, acquire universality when one discovers them and explores their basic principles.

The method of González Caballero is unique because it is a creation of González Caballero himself, it is his own method.  Though he explored with different actors for over thirty years, it was him who gave names to the acting supports, he decided the path to follow, he decided the final objectives, he managed the exploration.  It is his own method, his personal creation towards which all who passed through his laboratory helped.

But I insist, the most important thing lies not in the differences with other methods but in its similarity to them and its twists, in that sense this creation is universal. Its universality is based on following certain principles that every creative being needs to create.

It is a Mexican method, which makes it different, and it is a universal method, which makes it a gem.

7. How important is the existence of an acting method created with the Mexican temperament in mind?

I do not think González Caballero had intended all those years to always address the Mexican temperament, I think it is much more simple: the method was explored by Mexicans because it was Mexicans who worked with him and it was a Mexican who created it. That would theoretically make it ideal for Mexicans to comprehend, but then I would get into a long discussion, because it is not always so.

I think it's a an acting method that has in mind the human temperament in general.

8. How is energy defined within the method/technique of Antonio González Caballero?

Energy in the technique is something concrete, it is physical, as in science. That’s all it is. If energy is not matter, if it is not a body, then it won’t exist on stage. It’s not about thinking it or desiring it, it’s learning to feel the transformation that it causes in the body. Practicing the acting supports ("los apoyos") makes us discover the physical powers of feeling energy, as simple as the basic footsteps exercise from the elements: it’s not about taking a step and acting that out, it is about stepping on the element and feeling it, its texture, its body, and being faithful to the impulse in order to start a transformation of the body. If changes in the body were measured while working the method’s supports we’d discover that there are specific physical changes (muscle tensing and relaxing, changes in the rate of blood flow, breathing, changes in the tension of sight, changes in body temperature), the energy the method talks about is physical.

9. How should one understand imagination with Antonio González Caballero?

Imagination is a powerful tool of humanity and its base is creativity, imagination is innate to creativity; the method directs creative imagination to achieve defined objectives; in the case of the complete method, the defined objective would be creating a full character as would be required from an actor in theatre, film and television today; in the case of each technical support (apoyo actuacional), creative imagination is the means to discovering emotions, depths, atmospheres, masks, etc.

10. How much of the method proposed by Antonio González Caballero depends on observation of everyday life and how much on imagination?

The use of your imagination will depend on the development of your observation capabilities, but if your imagination is let free, if it is channeled and it develops, even what little you may have observed in life will become great material to achieve something creative on stage. González Caballero knew that and although he asked us to observe the world he was not demanding in that area, he did not drive us to have experiences as other acting teachers do, who say that if you have not had diverse sexual experiences you can not be an actor, or that if you have not felt deep pain you will never feel that on stage. The most important thing for him was to use your imagination, with it we could create all necessary situations and achieve moments that were unimaginable for us but possible for a character.

11. How is the evolution of the ABC like during the technical process proposed by the methodology?

The ABC is one and it’s unique, it never changes: interior-body-voice will remain interior-body-voice to the end, it is a principle of work and is not something you can develop, it is something that is there.

What the actor should do is take conscience and let the ABC free and, with time and practice, that freedom develops to flow much better so we may achieve the creative goals that we may have set beforehand.

12. How did Antonio González Caballero arrive to the sequential order of the acting supports he explores?

After about 15 years, between 1971 and 1985, mainly through chance (as in all exploratory tasks). But more importantly, I think, was the exploration path he set with the four revolutionary authors of modern theatre (Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg and Pirandello) and the theatrical movements -or tendencies- (Naturalism, Realism, Super-Naturalism, Super-Realism) they caused; they were the precursors for the sequencing of the acting supports of the method, as he realized that each current was channelled in the exposition of a concrete part of the human being.

If the goal was to create complete characters with a strong sense of truth and the four authors exposed human nature from four major perspectives (Chekhov with Naturalism and character, Ibsen with Realism and personality, Strindberg with Supernaturalism and the unconscious, and Pirandello with the Surrealism and the superego), then the path to follow regarding the sequence of the acting supports was clear.

13. Why choose only four authors of modern theatre as a basis of a methodology for the creation of a total character?

They were not chosen by him.  They, and this is widely acknowledged, are the proponents (some people say "creators") of modern theatre as such, of the modern character, the one that is used today and which we should use as starting point to break or discover new horizons.

In any case González Caballero decided not to use beforehand what was usually done, based on the study of stage directors or of theatre theoreticians, as basis of a method, but not the technique.

Many researchers are contained in the acting supports.  The most famous that comes to my mind is Stanislavski and the acting support in the method called  'character's emotional memory', for example, where González Caballero transfers the application of Stanislavski’s emotional memory from the actor to the character: the actor does not use his own emotional memory to give it to the character but instead has the character create that emotional memory on stage , through improvisations that create that memory in the character. Even then Stanislavski's proposal is contained in Chekhov’s proposal.

14. Can we think of each of the acting supports as metaphors of human complexity?

The acting supports are technical tools, I would not call them metaphors, they are concrete tools.

You can philosophize much about them, of course, but they are practical tools, they turn creativity into something practical for the actor.

15. Do the supports allow becoming aware of human complexity, to then potentiate it on stage? Why?

When you view the method's acting supports from afar you discover a kind of deconstruction of our humanity, they are points of reference for our human encoding; if we look at them separately they are part of us, if we piece them together we see ourselves completely. Obviously their diversity and their combination create an unprecedented complexity, but through the method they become manageable, and they are technically very useful for any creative development on stage.

We could devote an entire creative career to just the acting support called Body Zones -zonas del cuerpo-, for example, or complete plays using only the acting support Masks; González Caballero didn’t ask for it, but it is a possible consequence of their exploration.

It is obvious that once one finishes the method and with the ability to create a complete human being on the stage we have greater awareness of human complexity, but also of its richness; by following your words, each acting support is potentially a way to address parts of our humanity.

González Caballero liked to say at some point that one of his goals was to make better human beings and that the best way to do that was through the method, that the method helped us to completely know ourselves or to be aware of all our human complexity.

16. Does the method / technique favour the construction of a fictional universe that takes the actor away from the idea of acting, to bring him to the experience of living a universe different from his?

The actor is not taken away from the idea of acting, but from idea that it is him who is the character: it is the character who is the character and who comes to life.  That creates a new experience: it's like living other lives without those being yours and without being affected yourself by them, except by increasing your experience and wisdom.

17. Is each acting support a door leading an actor to activate his infinite creative imagination? Why?

They are doors indeed, they are supports that support the actor in achieving certain goals, they are working tools; by being means to discover and explore a part of the human being and being something you can use on stage to create a character they become, depending on the artist's interests, endless possibilities or a specific training to address an issue in the scene: it needs emotions and complicated, deep, non-specific feelings, there are the Levels of Interrelationships and the Haiku, but if you want you can use the Levels of Interrelationships to create entire plays and the Haiku, needless to say, is an art in itself.

18. Is the method / technique functional for a director's work? (If the answer is yes, how?)

Directors who use the method of González Caballero can use, in a very interesting way, the actors educated with it, but I should warn that, according to González Caballero, it should not be an obstacle: the actor does his job and so does his director.

I am of the idea that a work with a unified common language between actor and director can help prevent problems, but that's my idea; González Caballero prepared us for going out and working well with directors who could either know the method well or ignore it completely.

19. What was a character for Antonio González Caballero?

A living being, just like any of us.  But even more so, since there are no limits to the imagination of the actor on stage, anything can be a character.

20. What is a character for you?

I believe in González Caballero’s open concept: any creation on the stage is a character. A character, according to modern theatre conceptology, is a complete human being, but the door is open, anything can be a character.

It is when we study and practice Strindberg proposals and the unconscious in acting when we discover that that Gonzalez Caballero wanted to see, how far the actor’s creation could go, where imagination and the magic came together, where we could devote hours to "forms", to "beings", to "projections" that open new paths for theatre. He used to say that Strindberg was the creator of the new theatre, and what he meant with this was that the subconscious was the door to the new theatre. My concept or what a character is would lean towards that perspective: it’s anything that can happen on stage.

21. What do you think is the importance of Antonio González Caballero’s pedagogical proposal for the actor of the 21st century?

That will depend on the amount of people who are willing to assimilate it, use it and explore it to find new paths; it will depend on there being groups wanting to work with it, schools that wish to use it and actors who want to do something with it; it will depend also on there being people who want to do something else, in open new frontiers with the principles of the method as starting point. If that is achieved, it will be very interesting, it will be fertile ground for many more things.

22. Do you consider that the proposal can evolve? Why? (and if the answer is yes, how?)

Obviously I am a fervently interested in the idea that González Caballero’s proposal itself may evolve. But the acting method, in the case of the book, is a moment in the history of that method, it’s like a stop that helps us discover the method in a way that would be very difficult to do if we were always in exploration and movement. It is not a formula, it is not a closed proposal, it is like a photograph, a stopping in time that captures texts, voices, ways of doing something; it is a document and therein lies its importance.

We know very well that González Caballero’s method would evolve if he were alive, surely some acting supports would change in his hands, others would surely be added, new doors of exploration would be opened; that was being done with the study of energies and with some supports.

González Caballero is no longer with us, but if we keep the premise that he had, of an ongoing exploration, the method will be open to keep evolving with us, his heirs.

23. What is your responsibility to the method / technique of Antonio González Caballero?

At first, 25 years ago, I thought that my responsibility was the commitment of finishing writing the book and publishing it.  Then I thought it was also passing it on.  Now I know my responsibility to the method of González Caballero has split into two: making it known and expanding it from the point of view of its technique.

The method is an ingredient of my professional life for creating a character, the supports are the technical basis of my stage creativity, my interest lies then in further exploring those supports while following at the same time my personal creative interest, no doubt.  I do that with each support, I write with them, I dance with them, I act with them, separately and fully, I follow my personal exploration and document it, trying to keep in mind the bases and principles from which I start, the exploratory work of González Caballero.

Answering this questionnaire-interview for you is also part of another responsibility, to keep expanding the knowledge of what was so functional for me as a student of acting and what was essential in the early years of my life as a theatre professional. I strongly believe it will be so for others who come to the theatre to find tools and can’t find them easily, for those who are not as attractive or great as to be blinded by instant fame.

As Stanislavski said: “Not all of us are talent geniuses, for those of us who are not there is the method, the observation of geniuses to repeat what made them great."

(Many thanks to Tadeo Berjón for his invaluable help in the translation of the original text from Spanish)

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If you read in Spanish you might be interested in my book about Gonzalez Caballero's Acting Method, "El libro del método de actuación de Antonio González Caballero"

El libro del método de actuación de Antonio González Caballero (NO incluye el Método de Voz), en su versión en papel (en especie) está a la venta solamente a través de Internet, y en tres sitios: 

Amazon España:étodo-Actuación-Antonio-González-Caballero/dp/1466261919ón-Antonio-González-Caballero-Spanish/dp/1466261919 


También está a la venta en formato electrónico (libro electrónico o ebook), en la tienda Kindle de Amazon:

Kindle amazon:ón-Antonio-González-Caballero-ebook/dp/B009HUT5AA


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