Last week I got a call from an actress that was referred to me by a long time student and private client.
I could tell the moment we started speaking that this is one of those actors that really really has respect for this art form.
I could hear in her voice she has that burning hunger that I personally love to witness that keeps the actor going deeper and deeper into the work.
It is quite clear that along with her remarkable talent, she has amazing instincts and intuition that have carried her very far in her career.
She has had a lot of success on a number of tv shows and is now being given the rare opportunity to bring her gifts to the stage in a city that is not very forgiving when it comes to standards.
She has signed all the contracts and in a few months she will play a very complicated and layered role in a new two and a half hour drama minus a much needed fifteen-minute intermission.
And yes, she has to do eight shows a week.
There will be no “Action!”
There will be no “Cut!”
And you guessed it…
There will be no editing to pick and choose the very best takes to bring the perfect performance together!
There will just be her, the ensemble, the set, the props, the lighting, the sound, the arc as laid out by the text that she will have to live without stopping two and a half hours a show, eight shows a week, and about two thousand people in the audience who paid about $150-$300 sitting there to watch her do it.
In short, there is nowhere to hide and no one/no thing to hide behind.
There is no stopping and starting over.
It is happening right now and the stakes are as high as they can possibly be!
That’s the beautiful danger of theater Life!
It is the actor’s true home requiring and even testing our technical accountability to make it through such a deliciously challenging process.
So you can imagine the panic in her voice as she shared:
“I just don’t know what I am doing! I can’t get there on my own! I take class. I have literally taken class all over the place. I mean I get these notes and sometimes I have no idea what they mean. And then within a lot of the class setups, I am scared to actually ask what these notes mean because I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. But shouldn’t they make sense if they are being given to an actor? Shouldn’t I know what I am doing by now? And then I feel like it is up to luck if things go well in the space or not. Sometimes I am in it and sometimes I am not. And even when my work goes well, I have no idea how I got there. Yeah, I guess it is luck. I always seem to have a breakthrough when I get these random adjustments, but then I have no idea how I can use what just happened from the adjustment without being handed the adjustment to get the breakthrough. So I leave feeling great about the breakthrough I just had from the adjustment but I always seem to have to wait for the adjustment just so I can have the breakthrough. I am literally addicted to adjustments!… to get the breakthrough to discover some kind of opening in which, at this point, I am not even sure has anything to do with the life of the actual text. It’s like I am always being directed rather than learning what the hell I am doing! And I want to know what the hell I am doing! I feel so damn stuck! And I am actually also a little angry that I am still in this position for this long. And worse, I feel absolutely lost! And so I am actually scared to do what I love doing! How the hell am I suppose to do this eight shows a week! What did I say ‘yes’ to? I am terrified!!!”
Before we hung up, we set up a meeting, and then I asked if it would be ok if I dedicated my next blog to this subject and share her story anonymously as I know all too well she is not alone in this predicament.
She agreed as long as I promised to help her “find her way out of the predicament”.
We laughed and I was honored to be brought onto her team.
Unfortunately this is not an isolated conversation.
I am disheartened as I am introduced to more and more actors revealing to me how distraught they are by not getting this “thing” that they seem to knowingly or unknowingly be looking for.
Despite reading numerous acting books, scrutinizing award-winning performances, participating in numerous workshops, and jumping from this studio to the next, there still seems to be something missing that is leaving the actor with a very large question mark about this “thing” they so inexplicably love.
So what’s missing?
I can tell you, without hesitation, what is missing.
No matter what day and age we are in, though “styles” may have changed throughout the ages, the basis of all acting has not:
PLain and simple:
Life, circumstances, relationships, needs within those circumstances and relationships, obstacles to overcome in order to improve circumstances and relationships, and doing all we can that is in line with the text to achieve those needs with the hope of living in one way or another some kind of peaceful, happy, successful, loving life as indicated by the givens of the text.
Basically what you would know in life, so would the character!
Because all that makes the unknown of the moment possible.
Without it, you are telling your own story and swimming in your own pool of who knows what.
We need tools that will help us physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually do the work.
Just as a ballet dancer needs to know all the technicalities to do a thousand faute turns, the actor also needs to have a set of tools supporting him or her to do the work.
If you want to live in the chaos of the unknown or moment, you have to be aware of what is known to do just that!
And of course, the perfect test of action is can you, the actor, do a play that is two and a half hours, eight shows a week, and still have a consistent, alive, uninhibited, organic and visceral performance as well as the vocal and physical stamina to do your job and tell the story truthfully using the full spectrum your instrument?
And let’s be honest, this is not just reserved for the theater.
Any actor that has the talent, sophistication, know-how, and ability to be dependable and accountable is an actor that has a long life in this business whether it be stage or screen.
I always say at nauseum to my students and clients:
“An actor that is always working…
is an actor that has always done the work!”
So here is my short answer to this unfortunate dilemma.
How do you live moment to moment in relation to the circumstances of the text?
How do you live in the unknown of the moment?
How do you use your listening in relationship to filter wants and needs that drive your character’s story forward?
How do you emotionally live the arc of your character?
How do you get to where the text indicates?
How do you have a clear relationship with others including your environment and objects that still tell the story?
How do you discover the physical or vocal attributes of your character?
How do you make sense of your lines so they are not something you are just saying but they have an intention to improve your character’s circumstances moment to moment?
How do you organically give birth to the lines you are saying?
How do you viscerally understand what is happening between the lines?
How do you completely bring your character to life using the accumulation of your life experiences as the instrument to the world of your character?
How do you live in the chaos of the life of unknown?
How do you do a two and a half hour show eight shows a week?
By being supported by craft!
If you are seeking answers to these issues and are still saying to yourself:
“I still do not know what the F*$# I am doing!”
It is time for you to take a stand and speak up for yourself because you deserve what you are seeking not only as an actor, but as an artist!
And quite frankly, as a consumer!
There is always something invauable to learn from everyone, but you have to be sure you are learning and can use what you are learning for your career as actor to be active and alive and truthful in the work in relationship to the story!
The fact of the matter is you have the right and obligation as an actor, as an artist, to have a set of tools, a craft, that will always have your back supporting you in any and all of your creative endeavors.
And there is not the way to get there!
But there is a way.
And that way is the way that resonates and stimulates with your instrument to do honest, truthful, exciting, sophisticated, and unpredictable work in relation to the circumstances at hand and that always allows for the quality of your work to be consistent and not dependent on luck!
It supports you in your knowing and therefore in your freedom within the unknown of the moment.
That is the craft that you want to cultivate.
That is the craft you want to continue to work with!
This is a craft that never fails you.
It always has your back.
That is the craft that you can always put to the test, refine, mix and match, while always knowing that you are supported and can find your way!
That is the craft that allows you to throw caution to the wind, dissolve fear, and fall back in love with the process of acting once again!