12 02 2014

What a privilege it is to do what you love for pay, isn’t it?  I had a lovely experience on my most recent set.  Met some great people.  Great conversation.  As a Mommy, I truly cherish the time I have to just talk about the craft of acting.  And I got to do that in abundance on Monday.

When I say “the craft of acting”, I want to make clear what I mean.  I have witnessed some trying to turn acting into a literal science.  Believing that if somehow, you can engage JUST your physiology, your emotions will follow.  Although there is some sound wisdom to this – our physiology does indeed react when we are emotional – I reject the idea that you can just “science” your way through a role and its demands.  If you are focused on the physiological science of what your body is doing in order to elicit an emotional response – how are you living moment to moment in the truth of the story?

This is not to say the physiology, the physicality of the character should be IGNORED.  I have seen (and have BEEN!) actors who are emotionally on fire, perched on the edge of every emotion needed…. but I often find these actors are so concerned with BEING EMOTIONAL, they are also not living moment to moment in the truth of the story.  They are a one-man show.  There is no interaction between them and the acting partner(s), them and audience OR camera, them and the ghost of themselves they are talking to.  There is an obliviousness to their work, and it lacks specificity.

SO, how do you engage your physiology, engage your emotions, remain specific in your physiology and still live moment to moment within the truth of the story – fully aware of all you are receiving from the audience, the partners, the energy of the moment, your ghost self?

Good question.  I am not pretending to have the answer.  I can only speak from my own experience – all sides of it – the moments that landed soundly at the bottom of my soul they were so REAL and IN THE MOMENT, the moments I could not remember where I was – so was clearly not listening, the moments that fell flat and were devastating.

On some level, there is always SACRIFICE, MAGIC, and COURAGE or FAITH if you prefer (I prefer).  That is what I think.

SACRIFICE – your willingness to let yourself GO to where you need to go, knowing that you are going to be in pain.  And not allowing yourself to wallow in your independent pain – regardless of what the acting partner is giving you and the moment requires.  In some senses, I find the SACRIFICE easier on camera than it is onstage. 

Onstage, there is a sense of self-preservation… that I think almost HAS to be there.  You have EIGHT SHOWS in a week – your voice must survive, you must do this emotional spiral again and again, your body has to hold up.  There is a sense that the moments are not finite, and there almost HAS TO be an eye to the larger picture of the full run of the show.  Now, my Suzuki training says otherwise.  There is an exercise in Suzuki – actually, my LEAST favorite – STOMPING SHAKUHACI.  It is essentially 3 minutes straight of stomping your feet as hard as you can into the floor.  Most of the time when I describe this there is a “3 minutes?  No big deal” – reaction.  But trust me, if you are doing the exercise correctly, it s about 2 minutes, 45 seconds of hell.  The first 15 seconds you feel like a God. 

So – the idea is that you do not save any energy from the BEGINNING in order to have some left for the end.  That you push yourself to the MAX the entire time.  Never flagging.  Until you fall on the floor at the end of the exercise, and get ready for your duel with the gods…. can’t go into all that. 

Here is a video of me doing some Suzuki training in Grad School, although Stomping Shakuhachi is not a part of this:

That being said, I do think you have to remember self-preservation in the midst of your theatre work – or you will end up doing only one really amazing – perhaps overblown – performance a week.

On camera, the sacrifice is the same – you have to be willing to let yourself go down the emotional rabbit hole.  BUT, in a way – you can completely let loose without as much care for body, voice, etc… because although you may REPEAT this brutal exercise over and over again – it will BE OVER within a set amount of hours (usually) or days.  You will not shoot a torture scene over and over again for 6 days a week, 12 hours a day.  You will be FINISHED with it in a matter of hours.  So just go there.  It will suck.  But it will end.

MAGIC – I believe in it.  There is something magical about an entire group of people, and I do mean EXTRAS AND BACKGROUND AND SOLIDER #5, an ENTIRE group of people that are focused on telling a story.  There is a symphony of breath, energy, intention that is magical.  More on how we treat extras in a separate post.  But suffice to say, anyone not lending their energy positively to the telling of the story, is a detriment to the story.

In theatre, there is something magical about all those people, gathered together in the dark, listening, breathing, laughing, crying…. especially in these modern times when electronics threaten to cut us off from all true heart-to-heart human interaction.

COURAGE – or FAITH, as I prefer to call it.  Ultimately, in all acting work, you have to have FAITH on many levels.  Substitute COURAGE if that word makes you uncomfortable.  You have to have FAITH that everything you need to go to all the emotional places you need to go IS ALREADY INSIDE OF YOU.  Does that mean you do not do research to try to understand those things that are foreign to you in a script?  NO!  But it DOES mean that it is not like finding an island that never existed before…. it is more like finding buried treasure.

You have to have FAITH that the person acting opposite you can be trusted, and the SCRIPT can be trusted, and IF you just LISTEN, you will be exactly where you need to be moment to moment.

You have to have FAITH, (and a little belief in magic), that the audience GETS IT.  They GET IT.  Believe me.  The moment you doubt that they are GETTING IT (particularly on camera), you will OVERDO IT.  There is a gauge inside every trained actor that should let you know how big you need to be for the audience/camera to GET IT.  In a 1000 seat theatre, where the closest audience member is 50+ feet away, the audience GETTING IT requires more of your physically and vocally.  In a close-up, where the “audience” is essentially 4 inches or less away from your face, YOU MUST BELIEVE IN MAGIC – the magic of THOUGHT being transmitted clearly.  Without you having to push anything. 

Between those two extremes, there are endless iterations of truth, and a sensitive actor will instinctually know every sliver of possibility.  This is also why we have directors.  🙂 





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