Continuing our exploration of what seeking ‘perfection’ does to actors and how we can avoid this pitfall, we have had a lot of conversation in our online classes recently regarding making swift decisions.
Not swiftly reckless or swiftly inappropriate but swiftly specific.
When we make a decision about what our character appears to be doing or what they appear to want, we can play that moment or pursue that objective and take a step into the story.
When we ruminate, deliberate or over analyse, we remain on the fringes of discovery. We don’t test our instincts in the arena. We feel like we are making progress and we give the impression that we are developing our work but, in reality, we are killing time. I have been painfully aware in my own work of the tendency to distract from the job in hand by ‘sweating the small stuff’. I can ask questions about issues or details that don’t yet need to be tackled. I can engage the director or designer on an idea that makes me feel in control and active but ultimately delays the inevitable…the simple task of making relationship with the other actor.
It scares us doesn’t it.
What if we are not as connected as we want to be? What if we don’t manage to produce the emotional response that this moment requires? What if they don’t believe me? What if I don’t believe me??!!
These ideas haunt us to the point where we will do anything to avoid playing the scene. After a while, it becomes obvious. Obvious to us and sadly obvious to everyone else.
What, then, do we do about this? We practice the art of trusting our instincts. I have a brother that I love dearly but we are quite different. He is a lawyer and very bright…I am neither.
When we go to a restaurant, my brother (Jeremy) will choose what he wants pretty quickly and I will spend an age. There is nothing wrong with that of course but if you know any lawyers you know that their rhythm is often different to anyone else’s.
A number of years ago, we sat, menus in hand about to order and, with his trademark impatience he asked me what I was waiting for? I said that I was unsure of what I wanted so was taking my time. Jeremy shot back; ‘when you read the menu the first time, something jumped out at you didn’t it?
‘Yes’ I said… weakly.
‘That was your choice’ he responded. ‘The thing that leaps out at you is the thing you really want, so trust it and order’.
He may not remember that conversation but I do. I was so struck by the idea of being so decisive and how that can strengthen your sense of self.
I think that our development of a role is very similar. We often have an instinct on what a character is trying to achieve or what they are attempting to do beat by beat but, rarely do we run with it until we have analysed it from every angle and, in the analysing, we lose trust in ourselves. We lose trust in our instincts and our instincts are what make us unique.
I have been working on this with my students and community members for a while now. There is a phrase that I find personally very useful.
Choose, check and change.
Firstly, we choose to trust the idea that presents itself to us having considered for a moment if it is appropriate. If something makes no sense or is clearly not in line with the story we are trying to tell then we ditch at and yes, engage in further analysis but you know pretty quickly when that is the case.
Once we have chosen to try something, we check with our director and/or the text to see if it is working and, if not, we don’t panic or give ourselves a hard time. We simply ask more questions and change what we are doing.
That is what rehearsal is for after all. It is a ‘waste process’ (more on that another time). We must not assume that we are to get things ‘right’ or we are no good. We must enjoy the discovery. It is indeed one of the most joyous parts of our job. Don’t wish it away.
To you, the artists.