It’s been a while.
Here’s something to ponder.
All ‘successful’ performances rest on one thing – truthful connection. It is hard to deny that whatever we are watching (no matter how aesthetically or presentationally pleasing) means very little if we remain untouched by what the players are doing to each other. A little like eating fast food, it is immediately satisfying but in the long term, we remain undernourished. Empty.
You may have heard someone say, when they were convinced of a certain thing – that they ‘know in their knower’. Certain truth’s register inside us on a deep and profound level and it’s almost impossible to be persuaded otherwise.
I believe that as an audience, we have very finely tuned ‘knowers’ and, even if we desperately WANT to enjoy a certain production or individual performance, we cannot persuade ourselves that it works when it doesn’t. We have a haunting, a sensation of dissatisfaction inside us that whispers ‘this isn’t what you want it to be, this isn’t fully satisfying’.
You remind yourselves that the actors are really talented, the design really impressive and the production has been praised by one and all …but the haunting remains.
You are unmoved.
In these instances, I would be willing to bet that the actors are not connecting with each other. They may look like they are, they may sound like they are but, they are empty vessels – full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
This is not always their fault either. If not encouraged properly, actors can be sidelined by ‘style’ or ‘themes’ and drawn away from the thing they are primarily meant to do – change the other person.
In this sense there can be said to be a three way transaction…
If we want to move an audience, we must move the other actor/s.
You see, the audience invest in the onstage/onscreen relationships. When we onstage nod and wink at the audience, trying to shortcut, nothing happens. No one is moved.
All energy expended by the actors on the audience is, in effect, wasted. We should be spending that energy on our scene partners and, by default, reaching the audience.
So, how do we move the other actors? With specific and truthful relationship, that is – specific and truthful connection.
There are many different approaches to our craft and indeed, many wonderful approaches. Regardless of methodology, I believe that we are always seeking to make connection with another person in order to change them to suit our needs.
There is a wonderful book by screen writing guru; Robert McKee called Story. In the book, he talks of ‘value charging’. He suggests to budding writers that if a scene doesn’t work, the characters are probably not ‘value charged’.
What he means is, like people in life, each character enters a scene with a set of values, a set of beliefs about the world and how it should work. We spend the scene trying to get the other person to adapt to our values and see the world the way we see it.
This happens regardless of context, the scene may revolve around something as mundane as the washing up and still, we aim to change the other person so that things go our way.
In order to do that, we must reach out psychologically, we must affect and play upon our scene partners heartstrings while dealing with their attempts to change us. We psychologically negotiate underneath the text, tactically adapting to whatever is thrown our way.
One of the main ways we can promote truthful and effective connection is via ATTENTION. Taking our eyes off ourselves and placing our attention as fully as possible on the other actor, remaining open to them and whatever they offer throughout the duration of the scene.
The excellent voice coach; Barbara Houseman talks about having ‘cameras in and cameras out’. There is a state of being where the actor can be so self aware that it is as if they have a camera consistently pointing inward. An endless stream of selfies so to speak. This leads to tension, self consciousness, held breath, lack of responsiveness and critical self judgement.
In order to become free of self awareness and actually connect with the other person, we must have ‘cameras out’. This releases us from self concern and guarantees a greater chance of honest, truthful connection with the other person. With attention firmly on the other actor/s, we are able to throw a metaphorical rope over to them and remain connected with them for as long as is necessary.
With ‘cameras in’, we appear to be in relationship with the other, we make all the right noises and all the right moves but lack fundamental truth that comes from genuine interconnectedness.
Let’s work for attention, let’s work for connection, let’s work for truth.
Let’s work to play with and on our scene partners in order to change their values to suit ours. In this way, as a byproduct of our efforts, the audience will be changed. The very thing that justifies the ticket price.
To you, the artist.