in the Actor
Centre of Gravity Connection"
In all things maintaining a
balance is the key to a successful outcome. Acting is no different.
Rehearsal Room workshops constantly reveal that an imbalance
in the essential performance ingredients is almost as big a problem
for the actor as an absence of the essential ingredients.
So, what are the essential
Repeated constantly in the
Rehearsal Room is the view that the fundamental responsibilities
of the actor are to
- tell the story and
- be believable.
The 'being believable' component
of the actor's craft also has two fundamental ingredients -
- Creating the image of a complex
character (driven by an unconscious "need")
- Being able to actively listen and respond
to the impulses that any interaction with other actors may produce from
the ingredients of the story.
The area of responding to impulse is one that different actors
will handle in different ways. Actors who enjoy connecting to
emotional memory will look for impulses that can stimulate that
area. Actors who have an open intuitive approach look for impulses
in many areas and on many levels. Actors who lean more towards
the intellectual and less towards the intuitive will tend to
look for logical impulses as opposed to instinctive ones. All
these elements are reasonable components of the mix. However
an imbalance that favours one area significantly more than another
is also likely to upset the quality of the performance.
Too much connection to the
emotional impulses frequently produces an indulgent and internally
focused performance. Too much connection to a broad range of
impulse response can create an erratic performance outcome, sometimes
disrupting story. And too much connection to the logical can
hinder and restrict, sometimes eliminate, impulse responses in
both the other areas. So again balance is a critical issue.
The whole area of impulse response and its connection to the
unconscious is a really interesting one. The Rehearsal Room has
been exploring ways of manipulating these connections. Basic
impulses are connected in the most primitive way to our primal
instincts and therefore to the 'animal' in us. The most basic
instincts are survival instincts. Survival is of course connected
to the fundamentals of physical survival and our 'fight or flight'
mechanism. But it is also connected to our psychological survival
- the survival of our sense of self. Whenever survival is threatened
or potentially threatened the initial mechanism that is available
in response is 'the readiness to act'. The readiness to act is,
in its most primitive sense, the impulse for 'fight or flight'.
You only need to look at any animal preparing to defend itself
or its territory, to see this impulse is fundamentally connected
to 'centre of gravity'.
In addition experimentation with raising and lowering our own
centre of gravity reveals that this process is directly linked
to the diaphragm. And our diaphragm is fundamental to our breathing.
So here are a series of impulse related
elements that are integrally linked to all our most basic physiological
functions. If all these factors are inter-connected it is obvious that
one element can be used to support or stimulate the others. If moments
of surprise or 'fight or flight' raise our centre of gravity then it is
possible that, conversely, raising our centre of gravity
can be used as a device to heighten moments of surprise.
If raising or lowering the
centre of gravity affects our breathing then conversely our breathing
can also be used to manipulate the centre of gravity. And breathing
can be used as a great tool to support moments of surprise or
any impulses generated by the unexpected.
Is It Cheating?
Purists might consider this sort of mechanical manipulation to
be faking it. And to a degree that is true. However, it has to
be acknowledged that the performance process is not a perfect
one and that useful tricks for creating the illusion of truthful
response are very handy devices for the actor to have at their
disposal. In this sense the mechanical device of raising and
lowering centre of gravity (through breathing) is a most productive
and useful manipulation.
Entangled With Life Forces
The first useful factor about this trick is that it is well hidden inside
the body, so only heavy over-use will reveal its presence. Subtle movements
of the diaphragm and the centre of gravity can produce quite readable
responses while their source is entirely hidden from the audience view.
But the most significant advantage of manipulating this tool is that because
movement of the centre of gravity and breathing are so directly connected
to the animal instincts of flight or fight, then even mechanical manipulations
alter the muscular, skeletal, chemical and consequently psychological
framework of our physical reactions. So, a plethora of intuitive instinctive
connections can result from one simple mechanical act.
A conscious effort to raise
our internal centre of gravity can significantly increase the
drama in the scene, the impulse response rate and the pace of
dialogue (and perhaps much more besides). All this from one simple
device. The Rehearsal Room is finding that use of this practice
is a fundamental tool in the performance process.
Originally The Rehearsal
Room began exploring centre of gravity shifts as a tool for heightening
the potency of an actor's moment of surprise as seen through
the camera's eye in a CU or a MCU. It was noted that this significantly
affected muscle tension in the face. More recently while rehearsing
a play it was noted that increases in centre of gravity were
an integral part of conflict and affected muscle tension throughout
the body - it heightened the awareness of the animal impulses
in the actor.
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