Interview with the Maestro – The Relaxation Paradox – Who Am I? – What You Have To Do To Be Convincing – The Magic If – The World Expressed As Donkey Toy – Closing Aphorisms
The following account is based on a series of interviews with Stanislurchski at his dacha in West Sussex. Over a bowl of tripe sticks, pausing only for the occasional squeak of his beloved donkey toy, he describes in detail his famous ‘Method’ – the system of acting techniques he developed over several years that eventually brought him to the attention of dog trainers worldwide.
A Lurcher Prepares
‘First of all, you must understand – to look this relaxed takes a great deal of work. It’s the paradox of the profession, and I’d like to explore this with you in greater detail if I may.
‘To begin with, specificity is key. Am I a rescue? Yes. Am I a male dog? Of course. As you can see. But I am more than this. I am male lurcher dog of nine years, and this is the first lesson. Specificity. Look for the detail. I am male lurcher dog of nine years, okay – good. What now? I am called Storm by previous owner who neglected me. I lose many teeth and – as you say – I am the skin and the bone. I have medical problem. True. Good. Now we have it. Now we can begin creating the role.
‘Truthfulness. Conviction. Faith in what you are doing. It is not enough to show to the audience something. It is not enough to leap from your basket to fetch donkey toy and then squeak this toy endlessly. No. You must first create in your inner being a desire for the toy, based on all the times in the past you have squeaked this toy, and made it talk. This is not just donkey toy. This is a distillation of your desire for donkey toy made manifest in the moment, and I cannot stress this more strongly. The audience must not simply see you grasp donkey toy, or hear you squeak donkey toy. First you must find the truth in your desire for donkey toy, the obsession, and only then can a true and full experience of the moment you squeak the toy be realised, and the performance made whole. Remember, there are no small toys, only small squeakers of toys.’
Building a Character
‘There is much work to be done in creating a role. You must devote long hours of research, establishing the facts, making notes on the history of the thing, the where and the why and the how. Often you will be overwhelmed. Often you will find yourself howling for no reason. What was name of woman who walked the character at the shelter? What was colour of hair of bad-tempered woman who worked behind desk? What snacks did they serve? And before that – what was name of stupid terrier you shared room with? Okay. So. This was Biscuit. Biscuit was psychopath. Good. Now we start to have background detail. Now we start to have perspective, and shade. Nuance. Now we find that character of nine-year-old rescue dog called Stanley can start to become believable for audience. But there is still much work to be done. Please – help yourself to tripe stick. Don’t let me finish them by myself.
‘Once you have a book filled with notes, you can start to build a truthful Stanley and achieve the objective of the performance, which – of course – is Truth. The audience must not only see the drama as it is conceived by the playwright. It must smell the devastating aromas after evening meal. It must shake its collective head with confusion at the spontaneous way you put your right paw up over your ears – like so. It must sigh with affection when you come in from the garden and collapse on rug with a harrumph. It must grit its teeth when – yes, once again – you find donkey toy and squeak it a hundred times. It is the essence of the work. When you choose the smaller dog basket to sleep in, it is because it means something to you to make this stupid choice, even though your legs stick out like octopus. It is not simply what a lurcher might do. It is what Stanley might do, and therein lies the performance.
‘The greatest tool in any dog’s toolkit is imagination. The employment of the Magic If. For example. On stage, the family are sitting down to watch The Sopranos. There is no room on sofa. The performance comes alive when you ask yourself: What If I Persist in Attempting to Join Them on the Sofa? They may not let you on the sofa. It may cause a great deal of fuss and the exciting season finale of famous New Jersey crime series may have to be paused temporarily. People may have to move. A cup of tea may be caused to be spilled unfortunately. Much has been accomplished. However! Still the artist continues to employ the Magic If. The true artist will ask: What If After All This I Stand Here A Few More Minutes Then Go Back To My Basket Anyway? There! A moment has happened! A reality! The performance continues. Art has taken place.’
Creating a Role
‘Action is the heart of everything you do. And if there is no action, that lack of action is still an action. This is the purpose, the staying in the moment, even if that moment is entirely empty, consisting of random grunts, a twitch of the ear, a sneeze. Do you see? Doing nothing at all is as active as pursuing a squirrel, or disappearing into a bramble thicket. Action is drama and drama is action. There! Now you know everything. Have we run out of tripe sticks, or…?
‘Self-consciousness is the artist’s true enemy. You must employ every technique at your disposal to stay in the moment. Draw in your circle of attention. Build that fourth wall. The only thing that must exist is you and the thing you want. The donkey toy that is three inches from your nose. Good. Now we have it. You watch donkey toy. You want donkey toy. Man comes to grab donkey toy – but you grab donkey toy first. There! The world has shrunk down to a three-inch circle. And maybe one annoying human hand. This is my principle of Unit and Objective. When you can construct your character’s motivation from such things, you will have created a life. One that really squeaks – I am sorry – I mean speaks to the audience.’
Here the interviews ended. Stanislurchski was exhausted (even though he’d only just woken up), and needed to lie down on the sofa. Before I left he was gracious enough to condense his advice into a few well-chewed aphorisms, which I humbly offer for your attention.
“If you have a tripe stick lying on the table in the first act, it should be eaten in the last act.”
“The tail is the window of your soul.”
“When the dog is completely absorbed by some profoundly moving objective so that he throws his whole being passionately into its execution, he reaches a state we call inspiration. Especially if it squeaks.”
“Our demands are simple, normal, and therefore they are difficult to satisfy. All we ask is that the artist as dog lives in accordance with natural laws. And gets to lick the plates in the dishwasher.’