Thursday, August 6, 2009
And one man in his time plays many parts
Although I am not doing any acting this summer, I feel like I've really had some time to digest and better understand the acting principles I received during the last school year. Or, if not better understand them, at least gain a better perspective of how they serve me as an actor (and, of course, as a human). A lot of what we learned in my acting classes through lecture was that acting is 'doing' - that is to say that an actor's job is to create change in another individual by putting action to the words -
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature - Hamlet Act III, Scene ii
- in order to create a reaction within other actors. So then, of course, that actor receiving action must be receptive to that actor's intentions and react equally (or perhaps with even more intensity) in a physical and emotional manner.
Here, the word 'vulnerable' comes into play. The idea of being vulnerable was tossed around in class quite a bit, and I spent a large amount of time during my rehearsals for The Seagull trying to master my own vulnerability in order to open myself up to the emotional powers of my comrades.
Looking back, after finishing the school year, reflecting on my performances (the challenges, the successes, and, of course, those moments when I could not take myself to the 'place' I knew I needed to go to), and observing the remarkable talents of the American Players Theatre acting company, I visualize this idea of vulnerability in a different way. I've discovered that I never really understood being vulnerable as simply being receptive; instead I viewed my own vulnerability as an actor in the same way I perceive my vulnerability in every day life. That is to say, I bred fear within myself whose origins could not be seperated between the world of the play and the world that I, the actor, reside in. Instead of being receptive, I often times muffled my own ability to connect with my collegues as characters because I carried energy from the outside world into my performance.
During my talent review at the end of second semester, Jamie, my acting professor, told me that I always push myself in new directions, but I seldom know how to really get to where I'm going; there is too much "Chad" in what I do, and I need to let go of that.
Colleen Madden, an actor at APT who I have admired for several years, discussed with me her graduate training, where the only true theory she was taught to follow was to "just speak the words." I feel that Colleen truly puts this theory into motion - her actions are simple, driven by her words and her ability to penetrate an other with a fine sense of focused purpose. She is receptive without being fearful and vulnerable without losing her footing. In person, she is perhaps no taller than 5'4" with a tiny build and spritely demeanor, but on stage she is immediately 10 feet tall and her stance is solid, never stumbling. I find her captivating and certainly a force to be reckoned with on the stage. Her art seems effortless (though I know that she rehearses to the bone, always pushing herself to the limits and testing her abilities) during performance. It is truly and honor to see her on the stage.
She's really cool to sit and chat with, too, which is also a plus. She is just a person, and I like that very much.
What I must regain in order to speak simply and be receptive, to create action from idle text and drive toward an objective and avoid all superfluous exersion, is a sense of groundedness; a sense of complete power and confidence within myself. In the past year I have grown tremendously, perhaps learning more about myself and this ridiculous art that I pursue than I really thought possible. But now that I have had the priveledge of expanding my mind, I see how much more there is (and always will be) to learn, and I also see how everything I experience in my life plays a role in what I can give back to others through work in the theatre.
In a way, I'm still very focused on myself - I want to improve my skills, both artistically and academically - but I've also lifted the weight off my shoulders; I do not need to wear my vulnerability like a veil of self-consciousness. Instead, I can utilize my ability to receive experience and emotion and reflect it, as Shakespeare has said, like a mirror onto nature.
It's hard to explain how the ego plays a role in what I do (what I try to do, what I hope to do for years to come); for a very long time, I took to the stage because of the elation I felt from a round of applause or a burst of laughter, and it was during this time that I never really understood how much work was involved in the craft of acting. Now, I shy away from those self-indulgent aspects of theatre I once enjoyed - I am no longer tickled by those who might gush over my own comedic timing or something or other - instead I am pleased when audiences walk away feeling as though they've been affected by the action of the play, that it has given them ideas to consider and a new perspective they might apply to their own lives. I work harder now in the classroom and rehearsal hall, because I want to be the best that I can be for my own sake. But when I am performing, I think that from now on I will always strive to have the power to stand my ground and address an equally receptive audience. I want to give back, because giving creates such a satisfying feeling within my self.