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Ivan Vyskočil: Dialogical Acting
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Dialogical Acting, sometimes also referred to as Dialogical Acting with the Inner Partner, Dialogical Acting of Inner Partners, (Inter)acting with the Inner Partner, or the acronym DA. Initiated by Ivan Vyskočil in 1968. Its development and evolution continue to this day.

The basis of Dialogical Acting is the experience and the experiencing of interacting (speaking, playing) with oneself (with one's inner partner, or partners) which as a rule happens when one is alone. On reflecting, almost everyone should be able to recall the experience of talking to oneself, the experience of play on one's own, from one's own life. The point then is to study and learn how to produce similarly authentic, spontaneous, playful interaction and interplay (behaving and experiencing) in public, in a situation of ‘public solitude’ (Stanislavski), in the presence and with the attention of ‘an audience’. In a situation where it is ‘as if’ the others, the audience, were not present, in particular without visual and physical contact.

The experimenting and experiencing takes place in groups, where the smallest possible (functional) group consists of three participants: that is, one leader (teacher) and two experimenters (students). The optimal group size is from nine to thirteen, with everyone having at least three turns during one session.

An appropriate space is an ordinary classroom (rehearsal room) with a high ceiling. If possible, the room should be well-lit and empty, apart from the appropriate number of seats (chairs).

After an introduction, in which the leader (teacher) evokes and discusses the familiar experience of ‘talking to oneself’ with the participants (students), for example commonly occurring instances of such actions, they then emphasize the necessity of ‘going out of oneself’ and ‘coming back to oneself’ as well as ‘going into oneself’ through voice and speech. They emphasize that it is necessary that the voice and speech, that vocal and spoken expression, be a conscious act. They also emphasize that dialogical acting with the inner partner is only about experimenting, searching, learning, and finding. In other words, that it is not in the least about performing any kind of art. Then the leader asks if any of the participants, who are sitting on chairs next to one another in a line facing the space like an audience, would like to go in the space and try it. This is in essence the only instruction as to ‘what to do.’ What then follows are merely observations and comments on what each person was doing, how they were doing it, and what they accomplished, usually focusing on what was helpful and what was not, what did not turn out well and why, and what to do about it. How to approach it for it to be it.

Each person is ‘in the space’ a reasonable time (two to five minutes), alone in the others' field of attention, in this ‘energy field’, without any aids (like music, props, costume for example).

Each participant goes through an initial period of chaos and confusion, which typically lasts between six and ten sessions. They then gradually begin to concentrate, loosen up, and start to perceive and express themselves in the ‘here and now.’ They begin reacting, acting consciously, relating and articulating in a more differentiated way. They start understanding and observing contrasts, polarity, and oscillation; true opposites and complementarity; reciprocity; and the interplay of opposites. They gradually start acting dialogically and they start experiencing a dialogical being: they experience what it is to dialogically – and often paradoxically – be. They reach a ‘creative state’ (Stanislavski), they reach inspiration. They experience what it means for “it to be playing in and with a person” (Patočka) and what it is when “the ear is amazed at what the mouth is saying” (Werich). They get to “hear one's partner and respond to him” (Voskovec and Werich). They mature into their own psychosomatic fitness, the one needed for conscious, creative communication. This takes at least three years of systematic, continual study, if not training.

The experience of the initial phase of individual and collective chaos and confusion, and then its clarification, and gradual restructuring ‘from the inside’ is exceedingly important for further development.

Specifically, so that from the very beginning it is a tendency and a daring to experiment which is being activated and preferred. A tendency for experiencing, searching – formulating hypotheses – as well as discovering, particularly that which is one’s own and personal. If this is not done from the outset, the risk is that the often dominant tendency to imitate, copy, accept and produce various prefabrications and standards might get the upper hand.

An organic and necessary aspect of the collective study and learning that take place ‘in the space’ is regular ‘private’ experimentation. The basis of collective study is especially formed by regular written reflections, which are shared with the group leader and fellow students.

Dialogical Acting incorporates and opens up a number of different areas of investigation and possible paths and goals. However, it should always remain a genuinely personal and personality-based matter, where the individual's dispositions (e.g., the type, quality, and strength of their talent) are what determine what it is and can be for, and how. This is determined too by what each person themselves does with it and hopes to get out of it.

For most, it can be, and often is, a path of self-discovery, self-understanding and self-acceptance; for many a path of self-realization as well. This depends on predispositions, talents, and interests.

It can be, and often is, as has already been stated, about developing psychosomatic fitness for creative communication and, therefore, for a more profound and precise ‘conductive’ empathy; for understanding and accepting others; and for an encounter [1], in the true sense of the word.

It can be, and often is, the experiencing, understanding, and the study of the principles of dramatic play.

It can be, and often is, the experiencing, understanding, and study of open acting (playership, performing).

It can be, and often is, a way to understand and grasp, to ‘embody’ and realise a particular challenge, a particular question, task, or text.

It can be, and often is, if it is recognised and understood as such, an open and opening path; a methodology of experimenting, searching and perceiving, noticing and discovering.

It is not, however, a purpose-built, worked-out, proven approach, nor a ‘method’ that can be accepted and ‘deployed’ as a prefabricated thing. And it is decidedly not any kind of technique.

The investigation and study of Dialogical Acting continues in a number of directions, mainly at The Institute for the Research into and Study of Authorial Acting and at the Department of Authorial Creativity and Pedagogy at The Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.


Editorial note: First printed in the conference proceedings Hic sunt leones (on authorial acting). Prague:  Institute for the Research into and Study of Authorial Acting, DAMU 2003. Originally translated by Alexander Komlosi, translation reworked and edited by Jakob Keller and Mish Rais.

[1] Translator's note: the charged word encounter, is used here in the sense of a present-centred meeting of deep sharing first used by Jacob Moreno in this way in 1914. Moreno describes the encounter as “an intuitive reversal of roles, a realization of the self through the other; it is identity, the rare, unforgotten experience of total reciprocity.” (in Fromm-Reichmann, F. and Moreno, J. L. Philosophy of the Third Psychiatric Revolution, New York, 1959)

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