What Is A Salon?
The Salon Project is a method for training actors in styles of movement in various eras of history. The guiding concept is that an actor learns the style of an era by living in the era that produced the style. It is based on another principle of The Williamson Technique: that an actor’s sensory connection the people and surroundings of the imaginary world are the stimuli that cause behavior. Therefore, creating surroundings and relationships must be the beginning point in any physical training that deals with behavior. The Salon Project is an opportunity for the actors to create for themselves a living experience of the epoch that they are studying. It is a resource exercise that is constructed out of what the actors themselves bring to the class. They do extensive research in the liberal arts of the era: history (especially biography), political diplomacy, literature, religion, theater, art, music, dance, architecture, the art of fashion, and in the case of some very skilled actors, use of various languages. (One semester Queen Elizabeth I of England spoke to each of the ambassadors and monarchs from other countries in their native language and gave her speech to Parliament in Latin.)
HISTORY OF THE SALON PROJECT
The project was born of necessity in the 1979 at Rutgers when Professor William Esper charged me to undertake the Period Style training of the MFA and BFA actors. I was asked to teach the specific manners and dances of the eras in which our plays at Rutgers are set. My own teaching instincts are such that teaching these skills for their own sake would be tedious at best. Having been trained first as an actor (with Sanford Meisner and with Anna Sokolow in Movement for Actors) for me it was, and still is, inconceivable that an actor’s behavior could be separated from the stimuli---the people, surroundings and circumstances of the play---that cause this behavior.
Since the beginning of this movement technique (the early 1970’s), there were always sections of the classes where I stimulated the actors’ fantasies about a particular culture. I would play music from that country and era then describe the clothes and the environment. Often the class would deal with an event that occurred. This work was an extension of the methods that I had learned under my mentor, Anna Sokolow. The actors would begin to create the era in their own imagination and then place themselves in it. They might give themselves a name, age, and any other characteristics that emerged from their imaginations. The next step would be to set the actors into motion having them live out some simple fantasy event in that world with the other actors in the room. The purpose was to let the character’s physical behavior develop out of the people and surroundings that they were experiencing in this imaginary world. This approach, I feel is one of the most important contributions that Anna Sololow has given to the discipline of Movement for Actors. Her movement training is one that is deeply tied to the needs of an actor.
In my own movement for actors technique, this became a very effective means of creating an environment in which the actors incorporate the physical skills that they were learning in my work: alignment, unrestricted breathing techniques, the body’s technique in walking, standing, sitting, and most especially techniques for how the body opens up and takes in the people and surroundings of the sensory world. I used many styles of creations: the girls and boys of the 1950’s Rock and Roll era; members of the Venetian Nobility in the High Italian Renaissance; Baroque courtiers gossiping about each other, Texans in a local dance bar in the 1930s, etc.
Therefore, when I was asked to teach classes in Period Movement, I reasoned that, in order to use my strongest assets, I was going to have to create the environment that produced the behavior in the first place. Thus was born The Salon.
DESCRIPTION of THE SALON
The Salon Project is a one semester course of fourteen weeks. The actors select their characters and begin their research in the months prior to the term; they conclude the semester with a public presentation of the completed project. The final presentation is a three hour improvised gathering, The Salon. Here the actors interact with one another through their characters. The actors use their historical research to create a strong point of view for their characters: (1) they establish a strong personal and political ambition that they can pursue during The Salon, and this must relate to the other characters who are present; (2) they establish alliances both between characters and between nations; (3) the actors agree on at least one major international issue that involves every one.
The Salon is fully costumed; the actors themselves research and assemble their characters’ dresses, uniforms, military decorations, women’s jewels, gloves, fans, snuff boxes, canes, hats, handkerchiefs, etc. They use all the social skills of the era. They master the dances, often creating their own choreography for duet forms (minuet, galliard, etc.). They present their fully developed idea of their characters to the audience in a one-minute biography that they themselves write. These speeches are an opportunity for the actors to consolidate for themselves the skills that they are learning in their voice, movement and acting classes. The actors create entertainment for the Salon: their characters sing and play the music of the era, give poetry readings, play musical instruments, create parlor games. The actors construct the props such as documents and letters. They make their own gifts that their characters present to one another for political or social reasons (Faberge Egg given to Queen Victoria by the Romanov Family to gain her consent to the marriage of Nicholas, the Tzarevitch of Russia, to her grand daughter Princess Alix of Hesse; a broach from Louis XIV to his sister-in-law Henriette Ann, Duchesse d’Orleans in appreciation for her diplomatic skills in arranging the Treaty of Dover between Charles II, her brother, and Louis).