Jazz Actors Technique was created by the late Ernie McClintock. McClintock created his technique in Harlem, New York during the Black Arts Movement of the 1960/70’s. In 1966, Harlem, NY, Ernie McClintock combined his Afro-American Theatre with a school that offered actors a five-term curriculum of ten-week workshops in singing, karate, make-up, movement, yoga, speech and black theatre history. To enable inexperienced actors to free their talents, he evolved his jazz acting technique, a process which allowed actors to contribute to a production in much the same manner as a musician contributed to a jazz ensemble. As McClintock’s classes and company grew, he moved his studio three times to larger spaces before securing a “permanent” home for it at 415 West 127 street, a two-story building that had once been a brewery. Using a pool of talent from his classes, he mounted three to six productions a year. The choice of shows ranged from Shango de Ima: A Yoruba Mystery Play(1976) to Equus (1982). McClintock them moved to Atlanta and finally he came to Richmond VA and started Jazz Theatre of Richmond, where he mounted A Hand is on The Gate, and El hajj Malik El Shabazz: The dramatic life of Malcolm X. In 1992 McClintock changed the name of the company to Jazz Actors Theatre.
The technique is a common sense approach to acting grounded in the physical elements of performing as they pertain to character and situation. In fact, McClintock stated that “The primary concern of the actor was to give information (physical information) about character and situation”. Character, of course deals with the physical, mental, social, and economic make up of the person an actor portrays. Situation embodies the following elements: Environment (that which effects the natural, social, political, and economical climate of a place), Place (how the character relates to the physical space as required by the dictates of the play), Relationships (to characters seen and mentioned) and Objective (What does my Character want? Dictates behavior) The physical information that an actor gives the audience through his/her performance is a series of deliberate choices that are made in direct correlation to meeting the physical needs of ones characters and that characters situation. To derive at these physical choices actors need a safe environment for experimentation and risk taking. The rehearsal process for an ensemble of Jazz Actors becomes that sacred and coveted environment. Akin to a group of Jazz musicians who take a piece of written music and experiment with it’s many nuances by stretching phases, elongating notes, or toying with staccato, jazz actors examine a playwrights work in a similar fashion. They are empowered to explore bolder character choices, experiment with edgier stage business, or even stretch a characters subtext to it’s limits. Ernie McClintock saw rehearsals as a place to work the jazz into a refined performance. He gave each actor the freedom to explore his primary goal of character and situation. This process encourages bolder choices, creates a cohesive ensemble and produces a richer experience for the audience over all.
“Theatre is a place to expect the unexpected” – Ernie McClintock
Afro-American Studio for Acting & Speech - hundreds of people came through this very fine, well-known school for the training of Black actors for excellence on the stage. The performing arm of The Studio, which is what the school was affectionately known as, was the Advanced Theatre Workshop. This school eventually owned its own building with a fabulous art gallery, offices, dressing rooms and, if memory serves me well, two theatres. It was home to The Studio and its Advanced Theatre Workshop, Dance Theatre Workshop and Poetry Theatre Workshop.
The Advanced Theatre Workshop morphed into The 127th Street Repertory Company…well-known for its daring, take-no-prisoners performances.
Next, McClintock & Walker operated under the name The Harlem Jazz Theatre.
After the duo moved to Richmond, VA they worked under the name Richmond Jazz Actors. I know that there was some differences with some board members. The notion of Jazz Actors was McClintock’s idea, but that organization wanted to hold on to that name after McClintock & Walker decided to move on. The name Jazz Actors is intrinsic to the evolution of McClintock’s training technique. To make a distinction between himself and whatever the earlier Richmond group might do, he incorporated his group under the name Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors’ Theatre.
“An actor is (or should be) more than a shell, a body and voice that moves around and talks without a mind, without a point of view and without concern for proper projection of lifestyles. Black Iife-style is not complete or total as seen through the eyes of even my favorite writer, Imamu Baraka, or Langston Hughes, whom many with narrow vision would consider his opposite. The Black experience is, indeed, as varied as the works Of Ed Bullins, Alice Childress, William Wellington Macky, N, R. Davidson, Sonia Sanchez, Ossie Davis and Ben Caldwell. A Blank actor is one who is aware of his identity, has respect for his art form, and processes a true regard for the diversity of the Black experience.”
-Ernie McClintock “Black World” May 1974
“Details! Details should be moving around those stages in all kinds of explicit images…”
“The reason we spoke of Black Art was to get Black Artist, whether they were cooks or poets or tailors or singers or jazz musicians or athletes oractors, computer technicians or dancers or politicians, to tell about Black people truthfully, and not only tell them about themselves and their oppressors like they actually were, but also, hopefully, to provide some indication of what we, as a people, had to do to free ourselves, to rebuild our communities and restore our people to their traditional greatness.”
- Imamu Amiri Baraka