Elements of a Score

Ryszard Cieslak in The Prince


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.

1 Comment
  1. I enjoy and can identify philosophically with the candle & glass metaphor, but find it difficult to employ in a practical manner onstage. At times I feel like I am a “slave to the score”. I find myself either stifling an impulse to move in a manner not aligned with my pre-imposed score, or the opposite, allowing every impulse to derail me.

    I recently rehearsed a role using Stanislavsky’s Method of Physical Actions. I found the essential impetus for each moment and I attacked my objectives with 100% effort and energy. Instead of molding my movements to fit an already memorized text, I invited the text to emerge out of me (as if for the first time) as I matched my character’s physical predicament. And it did. I was doing what my character was doing, therefore, it felt natural to say what my character was saying (as dictated by the script).

    A lot of my non-rehearsal training is rooted in the Viewpoints, chiefly kinesthetic response and spatial relationship. I found that these forces were impeding my ability to stick to my score. In the process, I recognized several moments where (intentionally or unintentionally), I would change my physical or vocal score based on an outside stimuli, and saw my partners maintain their physical and vocal score, essentially “bulldozing” the change that I had presented them with. I didn’t know whether to applaud them for their discipline in maintaining their physical and vocal score, or deride them for not accepting what I had offered them (again intentionally or unintentionally).

    I once heard an anecdote about how Cieslak was so precise in “The Constant Prince” that when newly recorded audio of the performance was added to a video recorded a year or so earlier, the physical and vocal score was in sync (approximately). That is impressive. Cieslak certainly had the internal discipline to pull that off, but I wonder if his performance lacked the reaction to external stimuli. There are so many variables an actor cannot control (crowd noise, street noise, ambient sound, weather, temperature, etc). Or perhaps, he was able to channel his habitual reactions into his score. But if I am performing on stage, and a set piece crashes behind me, I recognize it, and I adapt my performance to incorporate that unexpected guest. It happened simultaneously in the world of the play and outside the world of the play. There is definitely a structured spontaneity necessary to performance. But what is the proper balance?

    When researching the topic of physical and vocal scores, I had two questions. 1) Is a strict physical and vocal score attainable? 2) Is a strict physical and vocal score desirable? I believe the answer to the former is yes (as proven by Cieslak) as far as the latter. I feel that the answer may be no. Yes it would prove to be an excellent experiment in discipline and acting technique, but at what risk to “being in the moment”? In non-essential moments (essential moments being fight choreography, partner dance, the like) is a strict physical score necessary?

    Please weigh in. I’d love to continue this discussion.

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