The Long Journey Back to Here and Now

We are born with a powerful set of lungs that can bellow clean and pure with the piercing intent of a factory whistle or an ambulance wail.  Yet actors spend 4 years in acting school learning how to breathe in an attempt to “find their natural voice.”

We can shift emotions in a nano-second from red-faced rage to a delightful explosive giggle. 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 spend 4 years in acting school learning how to be impulsive, daring and spontaneous.

We have no difficulty playing an objective as a baby or a toddler - we know how to get what we want from a parent or a grandparent. Yet much of the first two years of an acting school is taken up with learning how to play an objective or tactics.

Is a pattern starting to emerge here? Is this not starting to feel like a WTF moment? I began to increasingly believe that I had nothing to teach students, but everything to help people unlearn. It became the birth (excuse the pun) of an approach to acting based on the premise that the goal was to help actors relearn how to do consciously what they do unconsciously anyway.

This became abundantly clear to me when I became a parent with my wife, and we were raising a child of our own. Like all dutiful and loving parents, we tried to spare our child from harm. It’s a wonder that children even survive past the age of 3 years old. We found our child putting things in his mouth from dirty raisons on the floor to Lego bricks. Pulling tablecloths with expensive china to crawling towards certain death at the foot of the stairs. The most frequent word out of our mouths was NO! Perhaps one of the saddest and happiest day of my parenting life was when our son approaching the cupboard full of poisonous cleansers stopped and turned towards me to check me 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 a great deal of what we had conditioned into him to save his life, but the sacrifice was the loss of spontaneity. 

There is unifying foundation between religion on the left, science on the right and philosophy in the middle; they all start from the same place - “before there was something there was what? Nothing.” In religion and all creation mythology they say “in the beginning was nothing and God (the Gods) created something.” But who created God? Did he invent or create himself?  You must have faith. In science they will tell you that in the beginning there was the big bang. If you ask what was before that they will tell you that there may have been an infinite number of big bangs with the universe contracting and expanding for all eternity. But before that?  So in the end no matter which way you cut it, slice it, dissect it, twist it or express it. It requires a leap of faith.

From “to be or not to be” to “to do or not to do”. In the end an action must be taken. Those who can 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 level 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 went in search of the meaning of life and thus to 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 knew the answer. He inquired as to why others did not make the journey. They told him it was too perilous and would take enormous effort. They couldn’t be bothered. He decided to make the journey. When he got there after nearly losing his life many times and experiencing several crises of confidence he finally arrived on top of the mountain and found the holy man. He asked the holy man “what is the meaning to life” so that he might discover who he was. The master told him that he had asked the wrong question. The question was not “who am I, but what am I.” The only real question was how to conduct one’s self moment to moment in the world and depending on what one did answered the question to you and the world who you are.

We all have a predisposition towards certain emotional patterned behaviours, which will work for some roles but not others. For ex. Tears turn to anger, anger to tears. 

There is a whole myriad of specific and idiosyncratic conditions, which affect everything from text analysis to character choices to the specific physical, psychological, and breathing patterns of the actor.  I will delve into these in greater detail at a later time.

Instead of looking for "the methods" to follow, actors should look for tools and not rules. Rather than approach acting from the metaphoric base of a cultist, one should look at it from the base of the carpenter. The carpenter accesses a situation and chooses the appropriate tool for the job. The cultist applies the doctrine according to whomever.

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