Wednesday, November 26, 2008

what is good and why

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco ( an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

I am reading a book with the above title for my dissertation work in German Literature at Stanford. The book is by Richard Kraut, an analytic philosopher. Unless you have a taste for meticulous, painstaking philosophical argumentation, I can't recommend it, but I have found that Kraut has ideas that resonate strongly with the way that we think about how people make life decisions in scene work.

Kraut maintains that older ways of thinking about what is good (what gives pleasure, achieving what one wants or plans) and the problems that are bound up with them can be jettisoned in favor of a notion that what is good for humans is what brings about their flourishing. By flourishing, he means a sustained condition in which humans can exercise their powers (physical, cognitive, and emotional) as expansively as possible.

Most scenes in class involve a relationship in some type of crisis or culmination. The two people involved are attempting, in one way or another, to save or at least strengthen the relationship, based on their understanding of the relationship and what is valuable about it. This, in turn, always comes down to a belief about the way in which two people fit together: what about them makes them a good match.

Close friendships and relationships of all kinds are important because they provide us an opportunity to exercise aspects of ourselves that we value. With one friend, perhaps we can banter in a satisfying way, with another, perhaps we can play a great game of squash, with another, exchange stories of our lives. In other words, they give us contexts in which flourishing is possible. If there is no one to appreciate our wit, and no one to provide wit which, in appreciating, we have an experience of our own wit, then things are not as good for us as they could be.

Of course, we also talk a lot about what we want at particular moments in scenes, but generally, we can say that in scenes, in our roles, our beliefs (as the character) about what wants will bring us closer to flourishing are tested, and we must make decisions about whether to hold fast to one vision of coming closer to flourishing, or to embrace another. Uta Hagen calls this "weighing courses of action" in her discussion of this in her book A Challenge for the Actor.---

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