The Technique of Acting

By F. Cowles Strickland | Go to book overview

Chapter 7. TIMING

IN CHAPTER 6, the use of movement, one of the chief creative contributions of the actor, was discussed as a device by which the actor may make clear the thought and emotional patterns of the character he is playing. A considerable portion of that chapter is devoted to explaining the method by which the actor considers each thought or emotional state as a separate unit, devises the best technical means for its expression, and then combines the units into a sequence which has coherence and a logical continuity, making a new and larger unit out of the component parts. Before going on to a consideration of how these larger units are combined to make an artistic unit of an entire act and the whole play, it is necessary to consider the relationship between the action invented by the actor and the words of the author in the smallest and most precise detail possible. This is the relation of action, not to the scene as a whole, not to the thought sequences which make up the scene, but to the individual sentences, the phrases which make up those sentences, the words which make the phrases, and even to the syllables which combine to make the words.

Walter Kerr, in his review of Lloyd Nolan's performance in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, said, "Through the evening Mr. Nolan must work cagily against the lines, offering what seem to be casually reasonable statements of fact and at the same time betraying the sick fear which lurks hauntingly behind every word, every affable wave of his hand, every studied crossing of his legs." In the same review, speaking of the work of the director, or directors, he said, "In the staging, Charles Laughton (succeeding Dick Powell) has infused the minutest movement with aching suspense." Too few critics have shown this kind of insight into the work of actors and directors, an insight which reveals a knowledge that the total effect of any performance is composed of the smallest and most minute and most carefully worked out details.

In many ways an acting performance is like a mosaic; the total effect, no matter how large and how impressive, is achieved by the careful selection of tiny bits which are skillfully combined, so that each particle makes its contribution to the complete picture. Perhaps it is inevitable that even actors and directors, as well as critics and audiences, should be

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The Technique of Acting
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • How to Use This Book xiii
  • Contents xvii
  • Chapter 1 - The Nature of Technique 1
  • Chapter 2 - A Beginning Exercise 19
  • Chapter 3 - The Entrance 32
  • Chapter 4 - Phrasing Actions in Relation to Thoughts 54
  • Chapter 5 - Progressions 70
  • Chapter 6 - The Use of Techniques to Build a Climax 100
  • Chapter 7 - Timing 123
  • Chapter 8 - The Size of a Performance 150
  • Chapter 9 - Pointing 175
  • Chapter 10 - The Invention of Actions 204
  • Chapter 11 - Timing, Rhythm, Tempo, and Pace 230
  • Chapter 12 - Style 253
  • Chapter 13 - The Design of a Role 278
  • Character Index 295
  • Subject Index 299
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