I often find themes intersect in my life… perhaps you find this too? The fun thing about this is – I never see it coming. I am never stepping outside myself when I am listening to a sermon, or watching a show, or listening to a podcast, and saying to myself: “THIS THEME SHALL REPEAT ITSELF MANY, MANY TIMES THIS WEEK.” It is only when I am in the midst of the repeat, that I suddenly see the connection. It is a little bit of magic that I look forward to in life.
SO – to lay out the theme- in plain fashion:
- This Sunday, the minister at my church, Sione Tu’ata, talked about contemplating what people might say about you at your memorial service, should that happen NOW or sooner than you imagined. Would YOU BE REMEMBERED as you hoped? Are you living your life in such a way that HOW you are remembered is LINING UP with how you LIVE?
- The other point of the sermon was how – LIVING YOUR TRUTH means acknowledging that you are a unique creation of God. Sione talked about how in the Bible, God’s creating of the world is primarily done by words – “God spoke… and it was.” But when humans were created, God put his HANDS in the dirt, spit in the dirt, and from the clay – MOLDED man, with his hands. There was personal involvement. Each creation, handheld, handcrafted, personal, UNIQUE – nothing else, no one else like YOU in the world.
So, this morning I taught my SUZUKI METHOD OF ACTOR TRAINING class, as usual, at Crescent Lotus Studios in New Orleans. For those of you unfamiliar with this actor-training technique, hop on over to YouTube and check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFQSBOiyP9o I got my MFA in Acting at UCONN primarily studying this technique under my mentor, Eric Hill.
When I am in New Orleans, I teach Suzuki Training as an open, drop-in class, twice a week. I don’t just teach, I am a student as well. Several of my former students from Loyola University, where I still teach, train with me. The beauty of this time training together, is that I feel like I have epiphanies while teaching too – things that either I never thought of, but the training has brought out – OR things I always FELT but couldn’t put into WORDS.
Today was a collision of these two things: repeating themes in my life, and epiphanies about acting.
After one of my former students did a monologue in statues, an exercise we all do, I had him repeat the monologue. As he repeated the monologue I said, “Just be HERE. Just be HERE right now. This studio, this place, this position, don’t imagine, just BE where you are RIGHT NOW.”
When he finished the exercise, he told me his trepidation about having thoughts – other than those connected with his MONOLOGUE and his CHARACTER cross his mind. He said that at times he found himself thinking, “Oh I don’t believe that line I just said, FAKE!” or “That was good but not totally emotionally where it should be.” As actors, we are deathly afraid of being inauthentic – we somehow imagine that we can transcend all time, space, the fact that we ARE onstage, the fact that we ARE being observed in what is script-wise a solo moment, that we can somehow LOSE OUR MINDS and be truly in the space/time/character/IN THE MOMENT so much that it is LIKE IT IS REALLY HAPPENING.
This is… crippling to the actor. This idea that you should be “out of mind” enough to depict life and live it without any knowledge of being in your light, being loud enough, hitting your marks, being in frame… etc. And if you are not “out of mind” you are not a GOOD actor. Well… dammit… where is the ART if it is really REAL LIFE to the extent that you can be clueless about your space, your light, your frame, your marks? It isn’t art.
The REAL ART is in being able to juggle all of those things simultaneously. Being in the moment, with hitting your marks, with being in your light, with being heard, with connecting with your partner, your environment, etc. So, when this student talked about all the thoughts crossing his mind he sparked something amazing in me…. a memory, a connection…
Which leads me to this: I remember having bad meditation teachers. They were simplistic. JUST FOCUS. JUST CALM YOUR BREATHING. I was like, “I am a crazy motherfucker, how am I JUST going to focus?” Then, I had an amazing mediation teacher, who said, “If thoughts come into your mind, that’s ok. Just acknowledge them, and let them pass on through.” What a CONCEPT! INSTEAD of denying the existence of my thoughts, let them in – and pass them on through. THIS is what occurred to me when my student was bemoaning his “thoughts” during his monologue.
This was the epiphany: “WHY NOT? Why not allow those thoughts? I am here with you all in this Suzuki class, and I can promise you I am so deeply focused on the work we are doing. BUT I am also thinking about my daughter at baby school, and how she is doing. What I am going to cook for dinner. What the rest of my day looks like. I don’t get STUCK on those thoughts though. I let them pass through me so I can stay focused on the task at hand – teaching class.
THE DIFFERENCE IS, when we are ACTING – we let these THOUGHTS enter into a place of criticism and JUDGMENT in our minds. WHY am I thinking about this when I should be ‘in the moment’?” “I am NOT truly in the moment if I am thinking about how I am doing right now!” Well, what if you were to acknowledge those thoughts, let them exist, and let them go… in actuality I think that is more 3 dimensional and REAL than pretending to be single-mindedly focused in on your PERFORMANCE. Why shouldn’t this deep, multi-layered set of thoughts exist in our acting work, just like it does in our real lives?
So, this leads me full circle to being a unique creation in God.
IF we allow ourselves to be human, and our minds have multi-layered thought processes as actors… how do we get to the place of letting that happen?
First, is – as it always is with workaholic me – doing your homework. Knowing the circumstances, the time period, the lifestyle, the everything about your character to your CORE – so that your pump is PRIMED for the next bit. KNOWING YOUR LINES so unbelievably cold, so that your body and MIND are free to wander and engage without worrying about losing your PLACE.
THEN, BELIEVING that no matter how many people have done this SAME ROLE before you, that YOU – YOU ALONE – have something unique to bring to it, just by virtue of being a unique creation of God. Someone God put His hands on… molded from the ground up. YOU have something no one else could ever bring to that role. Trusting that you don’t need to think of your character as a costume – separate from yourself – that you climb into and zip up. Your character IS you, is ALREADY in you, you have everything you NEED to make this person ALREADY inside of you – if you only have the balls to go there.