The Eclectic Actor

There is no one path to enlightenment or acting. There are no certainties, solutions or single techniques. There is no magic potion.

Instead there is a continuation of actors, teachers and practitioners. A deep pool to bathe in, drink and find succour. A million ‘techniques’

All these exercises, tips and tricks drive to the same ends – how to lift the text off the page and make it come alive; how to step into the shoes of a role (who is now you) who has led a different life dealing with different needs, relationships and situations (to a greater or lesser extent); how to communicate this life, story, world through your interaction with the other roles and the circumstances; how to move, educate, elucidate or entertain – in any proportion, or all at once; how to enter a magical game with the audience where you offer to suspend all daily routine in order  to enter, wholeheartedly, a new world together; to, as Meisner  put it, ‘live truthfully under imaginary circumstances’ – in whatever style the writer, director and you decide; to stop time.

Stanislavski teaches us to find out who, where, when, why we are there. (never ‘how’). To live with the magic ‘as if’ – it is YOU ‘as if…’

Strasberg deals in feelings and passions. (Though they need to be directed outwards…)

Stella Adler trained with Stanislavski and brought the same fusion of body and mind. She tempered ‘The Method’ into something more than relying on oneself – she looked outwards to understanding others and their values. Above all, she said, “don’t be boring.”

Meisner offers spontaneity – how to turn off the decider, the observer in your head. Take care not to put it back by questioning, ‘was that spontaneous?’

Uta Hagen fused everything and made sense of it all. She instilled ‘A Respect for Acting’.

Michael Chekhov took Stanislavski out of brain and into body – muscle memory. For needs too big for our imaginations or experiences, he offers ‘psychological gestures’ – physical metaphor.

Rudolf Laban offered a whole world of physical observations to become metaphors for voice and acting.

Practical Aesthetics makes the work personal, specific. (But go the next step to take it into the given situation)

Jacques Lecoq gave us masks to replace our social masks, release our imaginations and make us laugh.

John Wright also works with masks to find archetypes, myth and magic.

The list is endless. Everyone offers something. it is unlikely anyone offers everything. Sometimes a role, a film, a production, a world will require one approach rather than another. Mostly you will draw from many. There are times you won’t need anything but your own memory and imagination.

Here are some of my own thoughts on acting – to use or discard:

Everything begins with the breath and the connection to your ‘centre’/chi/hara/dan tien/solar plexus. Posture becomes really important because if you slump you can’t breathe freely. The channel to your abdominal/diaphragmatic centre closes, you lose emotional freedom and heighten your nerves. We are  drawn to those who are comfortable within their own skins and take their space in the world.

It helps to stop saying ‘he’ and ‘she’ about the role – to jump into the magic circle and use the ‘I – as if…’

The world needs to be as real and specific and logical (even if it is surreal with new logic) as the world you generally inhabit.

The light in your eyes, the life within you, your presence/charisma/energy can be transferred to the specifics of the role but these ingredients are your greatest asset. No one else can inhabit this role like you – YOU. Do not let the light in you die in the struggle to make the thoughts and words your own.

Don’t stand outside your role, judge your role or feel sorry for the role. You are the role.

If you act out the stories you tell, learn the physical skills of your role, improvise key moments in your life, see pictures in your head of where you’ve come from and what you talk about – your body will believe and remember. When you watch people telling you about their lives, their memories are visceral – not just in their heads.

Your needs in the role must be strong, vital, life-changing – you need a volcano inside. Then it is up to you how much you let the other roles see. Be brave and bold within. Then act as you would need to within the situation/social mores/life of the role.

When you have prepared, (using impro, physical metaphor, thinking, research, putting pictures in your head, choosing what senses you use, adding a hidden animal, chakras etc. etc – all, any or none) trust the work. Turn off your your ‘decider’, ‘stage manager’, ‘censor’, ‘self-director’ – watch, listen, see how your words impinge on the other, notice the environment around you, respond as words hit you – get what you want.

It is the first time you have ever heard it, experienced it, said it. Words arise as they are needed. You may never speak again or the rush of thoughts may bring words tumbling out of your mouth in torrents. There is no text; there are only thoughts that are released through words, or covered by them. The words are your own. it is YOU speaking.

There is no big or small acting. There are only drives, situations that you respond to truthfully and with the energy you would use (which may be off the scale). If you are told it is too much – hear ‘untruthful’. Or you are being driven by the ones the director requires. Or you are showing those needs to your partner when you would be playing it cool, keeping them hidden. Or you are locking eyes when you would be avoiding their gaze and filling your head with pictures and ideas. Most likely – you are adding things to show us how well you’ve prepared or what great sub-text you’ve discovered. If you are told it is too small – make the need stronger. Switch off your censor. Obey your impulses.

Acting should be simple: you did it as a child; you do it every day. The hard work is making the world you inhabit real to you; discovering what drives you and allowing it to burn within you; filling in the gaps between your life and the role’s. Once that is done – it is a magical easy game. You jump into the new world – believe – and go.

have fun – and a wondrous game!

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About Mel Churcher

I am an acting coach, voice coach, actor and director.