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Saturday, May 2, 2020

Note(s) on Acting (Training)

When I was in grad school, one of my mentors, Richard Easton, came into class one day with a sheaf of papers that he started handing out.

This was a strange occurrence, as up to that point, Richard had never brought so much as a pencil to class. He was a true master of the stage, and we were learning Shakespeare from him. Our efforts were often punctuated with his most repeated phrase, "Yes. Something like that."

We were all 99.9% sure that's not at all what he meant.

Anyway, this morning, he waltzed into the room, speaking in his booming British accent, "I was on my second bottle of wine last night, when I decided to write down some notes on acting." He then proceeded to run down his list. It was eclectic, droll, and... much like Richard... spot on.

In my recollection, the page even had the title, "Notes on Acting." That may or may not be real.

That's basically what I'm doing here, today, sans the wine. Oh, and I really only have one note that I'm going really dissect right now. I can't promise that my insights will be nearly as helpful and entertaining as Richard's were (perhaps I'll share his at some point), but they are mostly mine, and they're in my brain and need to get out.

So what better place than the Interwebs?

There are a lot of things I've picked up over the years. Some of the things I've gathered have ended up with a hefty layer of dust on them, as I haven't bothered much with them since then. Other gems I've taken, examined, cut a bit on this side or that, and polished to a high sheen.

One of the most important things I think I've learned is that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to acting. If there's an approach I'm using, if it can't be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of each individual, that approach is ultimately a failure. Yes, it might have helped many others, and sometimes in exactly the same way, over and over. But that doesn't mean it will work this time.

And in acting, this time is the only time that really ever exists.

A brilliant performance, repeated perfectly, is no longer quite as brilliant the second time through. It's the bugger-all of acting, to be honest. In order to really achieve excellence, we have to let go of the idea of perfection.

We have to let go of the plan.

If I'm sticking to the roadmap of my performance I've painstakingly laid out, how well am I taking in the tiny, exquisite changes that are happening all around me? The person opposite me delivers their line with a slightly different inflection, a distinct change of body language... and I miss it, because I'm too busy checking in with my mental version of Siri. "Take a left... in... one hundred feet."

I've digressed. It was a fun digression, but a digression nonetheless.

The point is that, in teaching as in performance, we have to be completely tuned into the NOW. What's happening in this moment, right in front of us?

Another way of putting this is, if something I say doesn't work for you, chuck it. Defenestration is an art, and you can practice it right now.

I mean, give it a shot. Try to be open to the experience. But ultimately, if it doesn't do it for you, it doesn't do it for you. And I, as the one doing the instructing, need to be sensitive to that... and THEN CHANGE WHAT I'M DOING.

So part of what I'm doing here, and on my Twitter feed (@actingnodrama) is opening up a conversation. I don't expect or want it to be one-sided. If you disagree, say so. If something isn't clear, ask. And definitely if you ever feel even the slightest bit of disrespect, CALL ME ON THAT SHIT.