While watching more Chaplin films, I recalled an excerpt of an interview with Ryszard Cieslak of Grotowski’s Polish Lab Theatre, by Richard Schechner published in Performance Theory. Cieslak refers to what he calls the ‘score’ of a performance: a dynamic set of predetermined physical actions which, like a musical score, provide a map of gestures and thought processes from which the performer can choose to use. These Gestik actions are objective and do not necessarily reflect what the performer him/herself feels, but provide the audience with images/pictures of what the performance wants to communicate. Chaplin, for example, doesn’t necessarily feel the anger we the audience see, but we see it (and sometimes feel it) because there is a pool of ‘angry’ actions and gestures from which he consciously selects the most organic and fitting. He puffs his chest, shuffles around lightly on the balls of his feet, lifts his arms and quickly drops them, cricles his would-be opponent, pulls his jacket halfway off, lifts and furrows his eyebrows. This score of actions are all gestures Chaplin rehearsed at length and was able to conjure up in each moment with great truthfulness and comedy. Like an improvising jazz musician, he quickly and knowingly selects his next measure from a pool of loose, readymade riffs. Cieslak likens this meticulously created score to “the glass inside which a candle is burning. The glass is solid, it is there, you can depend on it. The flame [inside the glass] is my inner process each night. The flame is what illuminates the score. Just as the flame in the candle glass moves, flutters, rises, falls, almost goes out, suddenly glows brightly, responds to each breath of wind – so my inner life varies from night to night, moment to moment. I begin each night without anticipations. I want only to be receptive to what will happen. And if I am secure in my score, [I know] the glass will not break. The score remains the same, but [each night] everything is different because I am different” (Schechner 1988: 47).
There seems to be a creative balance between pre-determined structure and intuitive impulse. As Cieslak points out, as long as there is a well-known structure of physical, intellectual and emotional actions to follow, the performer can allow him/herself to improvise on each measure based on how they feel in that given moment. Having a well-known score of actions to work with also serves as back-up when the moment is lost. It is impossible for a performer to keep the flame alight every night in each moment, so having the glass (the score) to protect these moments that would otherwise be lost is a valuable tool to keeping the momentum of a performance moving forward.
Lastly, having a previously articulated score of actions (physical & psychological) allows for the kind of critical distancing an actor needs to make from his/her character. If an actor is to have an active opinion of their character and their role within the social structure, they must have the opportunity to simply follow their written notes and observe from the outside, tweaking and adjusting these notes based on what they see.