Defeating the Bullshit

I have seen a lot of acting this week.

Acting both in the theatre, on the screen and on set.

There has been acting that has been good and truthful, generous and purposeful, adventurous and trusting - and there have also been performances contrived and mannered, self-conscious and restricted, clichéd and predictable.

I have seen
actors trusting themselves to listen without pre-knowledge to the interaction of the moment and then allowing themselves time to assess the information just heard before finding an intuitive path to their next choice

and I have seen
actors ignoring intrusive and confronting stimuli that was erupting around them. They ignored these stimuli, because they (the actor) knew those events would happen and in addition they were concentrating on preparing for what they knew they would have to do next. This meant there was no opportunity for them to respond and deal with the choices that needed to be made in the moment.

I have seen
actors so confident that what they were doing would successfully tell the story that they could sit in a chair for fifteen or twenty minutes and trust themselves to talk truthfully to their audience without unnecessary movement or clichéd illustration of their feelings

and I have also seen
actors who have no trust in themselves or their audience and who constantly illustrate their feelings by nervously twisting their clothing or blinking wildly to demonstrate their uncertainty. Who every night contrived the same move to achieve the same blocking without trusting their instincts to do nothing and just listen.

How can it be that there are such extremes of process and such extremes of perception as to what the performance process is all about?

Generally when we are presented with a good and truthful performance we all agree on its success - so why is there so much disagreement about how to achieve this?

The literature - there are many references in the acting literature, from Stanislavski on, that lead actors to think that creativity is the source of inspiration for the actor who is an 'artist'. 'Creativity' is a very difficult element to define and manage. Consequently actors who are lead to pursue 'true art' and 'creative greatness' often get completely focused on this hard to define goal and forget the basic essential foundations such as listening.

Different teacher's approaches - Teachers have to proclaim their differences and to claim attention for their credentials. David Mamet is very critical of teachers. He advocates practical experience as the best instructor and yet in proclaiming his approach to be the only way, even he places restrictions on the readers expectations. Deciding which approach is right can be confusing for the actor who can end up trying to satisfy so many diverse points of view that there is no room left for the essential business of being confident with their own clear and simple choices.

Different actor's approaches - Many intuitive actors provide explanations for how they work which are of little use to anyone else. Their process obviously works for them but is often unclear to others. They are plainly good and successful actors but this is no reason to imitate them. Copying the work of others creates mimics rather than actors and leads to many confusions.

The emotional release - Acting provides a great opportunity for wonderful emotional releases for the actor. On top of this the literature of acting often over emphasizes the connection with the emotional content of the performance. e.g. "The great actor should be full of feeling". There are many influences pushing the actor from the purposeful and truthful into the emotional cliché. Illustrating feelings is a very limited approach to acting.

The desire to be good - distracts actors from simple goals based on trusting themselves and their listening and pushes them into being contrived and manipulative. The desire to be different also creates distortions.

The complexity of the task - Because of the combination of creative, intuitive and psychological ingredients in both story telling and performance this whole performance area is in fact a difficult one to analyse. Hence the diverse range of views. However, one thing is clear - complex tasks are difficult to achieve. Make sure your understanding and implementation of the acting process is as simple as possible. Simple tasks are easy to achieve. So….

Achieve SIMPLE understandings.

Find the key to your own intuitive processes.

Trust yourself.

Simple, clear approaches are easier to keep in balance than complicated ones.

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