Tuesday, November 03, 2009

degree of difficulty

Sometimes I think the best thing that I can teach anyone about acting is how difficult it is to do it well, not so they will feel discouraged, but so that they will never become complacent. Good actors make it look easy, and it often doesn't seem like it requires any specialized knowledge, just walking and talking and not bumping into the furniture, as Spencer Tracey famously quipped. But the grace that a good actor exhibits in performing a role well is either the product of a freakish natural talent that almost no one has, or the result of hard work and sustained imaginative and intellectual engagement. And even the freakishly talented ones need help in shaping a performance, even if they supply regular flashes of brilliance at particular moments.

In promoting my class, I do have to put messages out there about the power of the approach that I teach, and there is power in it, without a doubt. But that power doesn't remove the difficulty of acting. That is a disappointing discovery for many. But as frustrating as the difficulty may be, it is the challenge of facing that difficulty that prompts us to stretch ourselves beyond our previous capabilities, to achieve what would have previously been out of our reach. And that means that the difficulty is nothing that anyone should want to avoid or be rescued from. "We must do what is difficult because it is difficult", the poet Rilke wrote. I am happy to show people what acting involves, to point them in the right direction, give them tools and procedures to follow, and to help them along the way. But I would never want anyone to think that I am here to make things easy. I'm not that kind of acting teacher.

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