Paul Andreas Fischer
Hagen and Substitution: a Particular Reaction
Hagen seems to use “self-discovery” as a means of subverting self-actualization. “There is much in a creative process that is almost intangibly real and mysterious - why compound the felony and make it more so?” she asks in conclusion. The use of substitution will, she claims, make it easier for an actor or actress to assume roles that would otherwise confound their natural instincts and require enormous efforts of preparation and research in order to demonstrate. Yet particularization “is an essential for everything in acting” and this means adding imagination and unique peculiarities to the setting which would not otherwise be provided.
In doing so, the roles become reversed and the character may assume a dominant position; the director will learn how to shape the scene from the inventive tropes created by this event. Rather than losing themselves, the character finds themselves at the expense of the control normally exerted by the director. This benefits both parties; a director obsessed with minutiae is an invitation for demagoguery and a character who has been imposed upon too extensively will lose their hold on reality.
Whether such substitution is necessary for a scene which already feels real, Hagen makes it very clear that the answer is certainly not. “If it is real, you have already made the substitution.” This could be found to be contradictory to the suggestion of use of the technique to use words one is uncomfortable with: by simply imagining them to be another forceful word, and using this emphasis to correctly execute the line. The fact is that this disrupts a certain characterization of social order in the acting process by necessitating a breach of honesty between the actor and the audience which will undoubtably penetrate into other aspects of the acting experience.
Superficial behavior also plays into the sociological evaluation of acting and this is a distinction which is not properly addressed, though as mentioned before may be touched upon here. An excellent discourse in use of substitution to promote empathy between the audience and the character in a manner unsolicited by “normal” procedures, or impossible with a player’s general experiences or research capacities is unfortunately sandwiched by such light use and indeed the most tricky use of substitution with expletives or simple setting examples. It can be said certainly that while portraying Othello, an ancient character steeped in historical nuance not available to researchers today, substitution effects may be directly argued to be indeed necessary, that in the event of a torrential rain or expletive, it is preferable to simply experience the event personally and innovate methodologies of acting simply by means of traditional preparation and research.