Wednesday, December 16, 2009

what to do when you are not acting

Many of us have had to take on a day job unwanted obligations at some point to support our creative pursuits. This can be a drag, but there is good news: this kind of activity provides great opportunities for paying attention to habitual ways of doing things that you would like to change, and by changing, help your acting.

Suppose you are in a class and in the course of the work the teacher has called attention to a physical or vocal habit that is blocking the flow for you: preventing you, in one way or another, from fully engaging.

It might be habitual tension in your lips or jaw or brow or around the eyes. It might be a habit of standing with your hip popped to one side or the other, so that you are not over your center of gravity. It might be habitual throat tension when you speak. It might be shallow breathing. There are any number of things it could be.

These kinds of habits can seriously undermine your efforts at entering in to the moment, integrating mind and body, and going for it. The trouble is, while you are acting is not the time to put your attention on addressing these things, because while you are acting, you want the majority of your attention to be on the scene at hand, your partner, and whatever you are pursuing in the scene. You want to be ABSORBED by these things. You don't want to be thinking about your jaw or your shoulders or whatever bugaboo of habitual tension you are struggling with. So what to do?

While you are about the aforementioned "unwanted obligations" is a great opportunity to address those things. Thinking about your jaw or your breathing is unlikely to significantly detract from these things, in the way it might while you are acting. So you have the opportunity to monitor whatever the problem area is, and continually make the adjustment that is called for. In order to change a habit, you will have to notice the unwanted habit MANY MANY TIMES and make the adjustment MANY MANY TIMES before the change starts to become automatic. If you are having to give significant chunks of time to your unwanted obligations, then you have lots of time to try to address these things.

Furthermore, not only are you given the opportunity to practice noticing and adjusting, but you have the opportunity to notice and adjust WHILE DOING SOMETHING ELSE. This adjusting-while-doing-something-else is vital, because that is what you want to be doing while acting. Once you have enough awareness and facility at making the adjustment in question, you will be able to go through that process with less and less of your awareness required for it, until you can do it without skipping the proverbial beat. When you are at that point, then your acting will truly benefit. Either you will make the adjustment automatically while you act, or the process of noticing the problem and fixing it will require so little awareness as to be no intrusion at all on your primary activity of acting the scene.

Notice the role that the teacher plays in all of this: she points out some habit, brings you to an awareness of it. The bulk of the work of changing the habit is yours. There are many students who come to an acting class wanting the teacher to make them into a good actor. There is no teacher alive who can do that. Only the student brings about transformation of himself or herself. It is the ones who take charge of their own learning process, of making that process happen, that truly grow. As much as learning to act, the student needs to learn to learn to act. A student who has that is unstoppable.

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