Friday, November 6, 2009

Why I Act

I'd like to share part of an email I received from someone I know from a past life. He and I worked at a software company together. He lives in England and he's talking about his feelings about a community theater production he's helping with:

Though I have been chaperoning my little 9 year old boy whilst he and my daughter (17) perform in a musical "Blitz".

My God! Attending the relentless rehearsals, and then running around backstage supporting the costume changes and ensuring they are ready for their cue is harder than I thought. But that is nothing compared to the conceptualising, project management, coordination, team work and sheer bloody-mindedness needed to actually produce, direct, and give the performance. This is just amateur, and its 'Total-War' the way the WWII countries fought. What you go through must be crazy, and yet...

The excitement, even in the wings before the curtain rises, and the camaraderie is tremendous. That plus the mental, physical, and social development for the kids has made it more than worth it. Though I have little idea whether they will do sign-up when they are next asked.

It's all that, and more. People who aren't in the theater (though this particular man has performed) find it all so exciting and stimulating.

The costumes, the scenery, the makeup, the props
The audience that lifts you when you're down

Yes, it's all there, and it will continue entice and thrill and delight. But I've found that if the theater is going to mean anything at all to you, eventually all the glamor (ha!) and excitement and camaraderie gives way to other things. Because guess what? It's not always thrilling and exciting. Some day you find yourself working with a director with whom you simply can't connect, for whom anything you do is wrong, no matter how hard you try. You'll work with people who don't share your creative vision--or have no vision at all. You'll work with actors who are self-centered and egotistical (the theater seems draw this particular personality) who, in character, you have to show love and concern for on the stage but in the dressing room you want to hit between the eyes with a 2x4.

But strangely, masochistically, you continue to work in the theater. For through it all, hopefully, you're growing as a person and an artist.

But there is something you can do to increase your chances of doing good work and having an enjoyable experience, and that's simply find the people who bring out the best in you and work with them as much as you can. I know for me, that means working with actors who are open, and if you don't know what that means, it's a level of intimacy that only certain people are capable of reaching. I'm not interested in actors who prescribe to the "remember your lines and don't bump into the furniture" method of acting. Who reduce acting to "just telling a story." Actors who are afraid to risk showing who they are on the stage, who hide behind the character, instead of actively living inside the character and within the character's world.

I first got an inkling of this way back when a director by the name of Jim Barton cast me as Freddy in a production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile at The Vokes Theatre in Wayland. He told the night of the read through that we all have been cast because of who we were. Interesting, no? Subsequent rehearsals left me floundering until one night I mentioned to Jim that I was struggling with character. What does he sound like? I anguished. How does he walk? Jim just smiled and said he talks like me. Walks like me. Me. I was Freddy. And I'm the Reverend Muncie in Looking for Normal and tonight I'm Victor in The Wonderful World of Dissocia. Acting is being. Acting is living truthfully in an imaginary world.

In a director I need one who has a strong vision for the script and the production, but also is a collaborator, one who looks to the actors for their contribution in terms of developing the characters and understanding the script. The word that best fits this kind of director--and the actors, too--is organic. Not wedded to their own specific preconceived ideas, open to exploration and discovery in the rehearsal process, more interested in internal motivations than outside gestures, inflections, or line readings.

As for the environment, I need one that actors call "safe." One where you feel free to explore and take risks. To put it in simpler words, an environment where you won't feel you're making a fool out of yourself if you try something. A place where the creative process is understood to mean that every idea is valid, every participant is respected for their talent, and together they have the power and potential to break new ground.

The excitement of an opening night, the allure of the makeup and costumes, will continue to attract people to acting. But it is the process and the promise for creative growth that keeps me.

No comments:

Web Analytics