We are born with a powerful set of lungs able to emit sounds as piercing as a factory whistle or an ambulance wail. Yet actors dedicate 4 years of their lives in an acting school learning how to master the art of breathing in an attempt to “find their natural voice.”
As a child our emotions can fluctuate in a nano-second from red-faced rage to a delightful explosive laugh. Yet we spend 4 years in an acting school learning to “get in touch and access our emotions.”
We are impulsive, daring and spontaneous as children. Yet we dedicate 4 years to an acting school learning how to be impulsive, daring and spontaneous.
We have no difficulty pursuing an objective as a baby or a toddler - curiosity is innate.Yet we spend much of the first two years of an acting school learning how to play an objective or tactics.
Do you see the pattern? This realization was a turning point for me. I came to believe that my goal was not teaching but creating an environment for unlearning. It became the birth (excuse the pun) of an approach to acting based on the premise that acting students needed to relearn how to consciously do what they do unconsciously anyway.
This epiphany struck me when I became a father. Like any caring parents my wife, and I wanted to protect our child from harm (it’s a wonder that children even survive past the age of 3). We found our child putting things in his mouth from dirty raisins or Lego bricks on the floor to crawling towards certain death at the foot of the stairs. The word NO! became a regular occurrence. Perhaps one of the saddest and happiest days of our parenting life was when our son, approaching the cupboard full of poisonous cleansers, stopped and turned towards us to check us out. It was the first time that I saw him suppress an impulse. I was ambivalent. I was happy, in that the odds of him killing himself were greatly diminished, but he had also reached a point in his life when there was a separation between an impulse and an action. The irony was that if he ever wanted to become an actor he would have to have to unlearn some of what we had conditioned into him to save his life, but the sacrifice was the loss of spontaneity.
Religion, science, and philosophy share unifying principles; they all begin with the same question – "Before there was something, what was there? Nothing." In religion and creation mythology, it's said, "In the beginning, there was nothing, and God (the Gods) created something." But who created God? We must have faith. Scientists, on the other hand, propose the big bang theory, and the possible existence of an infinite number of such cosmic events, perpetually expanding and contracting the universe. Regardless of the perspective you choose, it requires a leap of faith.
From “to be or not to be” to “to do or not to do”. In the end a thought occurs and an action must be taken. These actions we take have consequences. Those who make this leap of faith into action enter the world of imagination. In the beginning was the act, not the word. Whether dealing with it on a Meta or the Micro level whether we like it or not Nike got it right “Just do it.”
There is a story of the man who journeyed to discover the meaning of life and thus discovered who he was. He searched the world over until he was told that there was indeed a holy man who sat way up in the mountains that had the answer he was seeking. He inquired as to why others had not made the journey. He was told it was too perilous. Despite the perilous journey he persevered, believing life without meaning held no value. He finally arrived at the summit. He had experienced many crises of faith and loss of confidence, but had somehow found a way to survive and was able to keep his faith and courage alive. He found the holy man sitting there peacefully as if awaiting his arrival. He asked the holy man “what is the meaning to life so that I might discover who I am?” The master told him that he had been asking the wrong question. The real question was not “who am I, but what am I.” The Holy man told the man that he had been discovering who he was with each choice he made and each hardship he had overcome his entire journey.
We all possess predispositions toward certain emotional patterns, thoughts, actions and behaviours, which will work for some roles but not others.
There’s an array of specific and idiosyncratic conditions that affect the actors ability to discover the character from within, everything from text analysis to character choices, physical, psychological, and breathing patterns of an actor. I explore these aspects more in the subsequent Blog: The Physiology of Acting and The 4 Elements.
Instead of seeking "the methods" to follow, actors should look for tools and not rules.
Acting should be viewed through the lens of a carpenter not a cultist. A carpenter assesses a situation and chooses the right tool for the job. A cultist applies the doctrine of their chosen ideology.