Kim Stanley: On The Privacy of the Process

Director Bryan Forbes and Kim Stanley on the set of Seance on a Wet Afternoon.

Los Angeles

I've thought about this a long time, and I'll admit that I've gone back and forth on the subject, but I feel that the process through which actors--all artists--go to get to their work should be private. I don't even want to know from my students too much about how they got to a certain point in a scene or a play: I just want them to get to the scene, to the bottom of the character, the heart of the play.

What matters are the results, not the journey toward them. I mean to say that the journey does not and should not matter to me or to anyone else in the class or the production. Everyone has a unique means of arriving at truth, of understanding a character. Protect its unique quality by keeping it to yourself.

When I worked with actors who were very vocal about their process--their journals, their biographies, their many exercises and consultations with experts, therapists, coaches--I couldn't help but notice that the bulk of their work went into the process, not the performance. They were, shall I say, the worst actors in the production--if not the world! I think they used the facade of exhaustive work to compensate for what they could not provide within the part.

Shelley Winters worked like a dog on her parts, and we always got the same Shelley Winters, and it was very real and very honest: It was a woman who wanted attention and acclaim and who was always acting. I don't think she had much talent, but she had a massive desire to be a good, even great, actress. And her journals! Her exercises! I used to tell her that she spent herself in all the wrong directions, and she shared her process with everyone. I don't want to just jump on and harp about Shelley, but that is one example of someone who poisoned her process by making it so public, by asking for admiration for the work, and some people--critics, peers--praised her because they took into account the work she had described. This is what I call remedial arts, and I have no time for it.

I am fine with helping an actor with the words of the playwright, and I want to know what they are trying to achieve, but I don't care what music brought them to enlightenment, and I don't care which perfume made the actress finally believe that she was the character. That is your material, your inventory, your biography. In all likelihood, it will not work on the next part, or even the next scene. The best actors have, in my opinion, the richest inventory of sensory items to call on and to call from in a performance, and if we were to see it, to peruse it, we would find scents and sounds and words and dreams all over the place. It would be interesting, but we would never be able to append any one item in the list to a particular scene or a particular emotion that was brought to the stage.

Make for yourself--actor, writer, composer, painter--the richest biography and the fullest inventory, and harvest it within, and allow it only to have a relationship with the text, with the fellow actor, with the pages on which you type or write or compose.

Bring us the results. Share them. Save the method, the process, the secrets. They belong privately to you and the work you produce.


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