There’s a barrier that we create between imagination and reality. It keeps us sane, rational, and able to survive. It’s also the gatekeeper to presence, truth and acting.
The actor must develop a working relationship – in fact a joyously-conflict-ridden-i-hate-i-love-you-let’s-have-a-beer-i-wanna-kill-you-you’re-my-best-friend-for-life – relationship with it. It’s the line that keeps you safe and in check. It’s a vital component of your existence: your social well being, ability to hold a job, to study, work, plan a vacation, pay your bills, drive a car, and pretty much everything that affords you your comfort, protection from the elements, and separation from simply being an animal all depend upon it.
You need that thing…
…It kills your acting.
Until you own it, it owns you.
Weird thing is – it IS you.
“It” is your fear. We tend to be afraid of our fear, and it therefore, we anoint it the crossing guard of our existence, the authority over what we will and will not do. It tells us not to go there, it sabotages our work by making us overdo things, lose our lines, shut off emotionally, laugh obsessively, or any number of habits it’s conditioned into us to keep it safe. Your fear is smart. It’s designed by you to trick you into inactivity. Stagnation. Probably active stagnation – when you’re busy as hell but not progressing. Best excuse ever is that you’re too busy working on a bunch of urgent about to fall apart emergencies, right? It cons you into staying in that active stagnation, out of your presence, with invisible intimidation disguised as passionate belief, or it simply convinces you ‘you can not‘ or ‘you don’t know how‘, or ‘this is silly’.
It’s a bitch. It’s a bitch and I love it. It’s impossible to love myself without loving it. I even have a pet name for it – I call him The Evil Genius. Yes, ‘him’ – you can and should see it however you want. For me it’s a little bastard called The Evil Genius.
“EG” does all that stuff to me – basically he convinces me to find the easy way around and that if there isn’t an easy or quick way to do get it done, I probably shouldn’t do it because it means that I’m not going to be good at it. What a crock of shit. I worked my ass off trying to find the easy way to do things for years. Guess what? I failed. Life is funny though – every ‘failure’ holds an opportunity to learn and grow. In failing to find the easy way what I learned is that the ‘hard’ way is really quite simple and in the end no more or less difficult than the pursuit of easy. Life, acting, anything and everything that matters to us really are quite simple when we allow them to be. I’ve learned that I, like you, resist simplicity because there’s a vulnerability and accountability to action that comes with it. I’ve learned that the key to finding the motion of life, and the motion of your acting is to embrace the fear/pain/discomfort that EG wants to plant in my way, and desperately fights me into focussing on. The key stepping forward is in LOVING that little bastard.
Loving him isn’t easy because he scares the bejesus out of me. Nope, not easy, but it sure is simple. The thing that I am always reminding myself about EG is that he’s not really evil. He’s just desperate. He’s just the postured snarl of the naked fragile child who is terrified of his own demise, willing to do anything to exist. He is my fear. His function is to ensure my survival by ensuring his own. Knowing that he’s there to help, but that he’s a little paranoid and misguided makes him loveable. Simple.
To love him is to embrace my own vulnerability and mortality. That’s scary.
If he’s in the way using any number of increasingly genius tactics, then my survival instinct tells me “This is not safe, go no further, STOP!”. And I am ‘protected’ from my own existence. I am not real, I am not present – work becomes presented. An attempted facsimile of the experience on the page, but not the real thing. However, as I commit to loving worming my way through whatever decoys and distractions he’s left to throw me off his trail, and find him, I have access to presence and only then can my full self can exist in my work. Further, when he is exposed, his desperation and vulnerability fuel my work beyond anything I could achieve without him. He is my core energy, he is a nuclear explosion afraid to go off.
Why you Act
Your relationship with your “Evil Genius” is why you came to acting. On some level, you know that EG stands in the way of your opportunity to experience your life. Somewhere along the way you have had a taste of the presence of experience or on some level you have a deep sense of it and you know that acting provides a means of finding it again. You, like me, are addicted to it. Actors are experience junkies who have developed a management system for our addiction: Acting.
Acting (the process of re-creating real life as scripted) is the perfect management system for the experience junkie. It requires that we challenge our self understanding and awareness, provides an experience delivery mechanism in a crafted series of moments of existence, a painful sense of hope that we we will get there one day aggressively countered with a sense of futility and impossibility, a rabbit-hole of siren song distractions to overcome, the big huge joke that the only way to achieve is to stop fighting, the societal excuse to engage in the whole process, and safe place to take it all out for a spin.
And it’s all in your mind.
It doesn’t really exist.
It’s just an excuse to explore your own existence.
In one form or another, the highest praise we ever hear for the work of an actor is that “I never catch that actor acting. They are just there, I so believe them.” That’s because acting itself ceases to exist and there just IS.
Life, Experience, Action, Presence.
The creation of the notion the ‘acting’ or ‘actor’ can be achieved is one of the greatest feats of accomplishment that The Evil Genius has imposed upon actors – the ultimate desperate distraction to keep it safely tucked away and hidden behind the actor’s pursuit of that which does not exist. Active Stagnation. Separation of Craft and Self.
It’s important to remember that The CRAFT of acting exists. It exists the way that gravity exists. It’s not ours to define, it’s ours to discover. It is precisely the series of laws of process that we discover in order to recreate real life exactly as scripted completely uniquely through the instrument that is the SELF. But ultimately, in the moment, on ‘action’ Craft must disappear so that life may be revealed, discovered, experienced. Craft and Self must collide, fuse and create something much bigger than the sum of their parts: PRESENCE.
Your function as the actor is to facilitate this experience. In order to do this, you must constantly be honing your ownership of your ‘Instrument’. Really that’s just a way of describing your ‘Self’ with a perspective that makes your ‘Self’ available to tell a story. The development of your instrument is the result of a deep understanding of Craft, Self, and your barrier between the two, so that you can remove the barrier and allow Craft and Self to collide and fulfill the experience. The actor’s experience contributes to something much greater, connecting the writer, the actor, and the audience.
It’s transcendent, and impermanent which is why it’s addictive.
Why I’m Here
Recently in one of my classes a young actor completed a 10-year battle she didn’t realize she was having until she won it: proclaiming the true sentence “I am an actor”. That’s a big one for all of us, but for her, it was huge. It was taking on a beautifully hidden barrier to her work that her Evil Genius had hidden away deviously for a very long time. It had been denying her work, her commitment to her scene partner, and proving that acting was a waste of time.
Turned out that it stemmed from a place of parental disapproval way back as a kid. It took us 3 months of working together, I never actually pointed it out until the moment to win the battle presented itself – in truth I suspected it but didn’t know for sure until the moment that she was ready to do it, but it went quickly when it was time. She decided to hear, listen to, and act to her truth in spite of the desperate noise her Evil Genius was creating, and BOOM!
She arrived, here, in the present.
Full of her beautiful insecurity, fragile passion, and inexperienced drive. She changed, before our eyes. Her face softened, a radiant glow came over her. As she came to (her) life, so too did her acting. That was about something much much bigger than acting class.
Acting class. The study of the craft. The study of self. Acting. These are simply the means we’ve decided to use to create a place to exist, if only for a moment. The beautiful irony of the humble commitment to a master that doesn’t exist. It’s all a means to an end. A series of counter-manoeuvres that we use to outsmart our Evil Genius, removing it as the barrier between craft and self, emerging, and connecting. As we foster each other in the unencumbered exploration of both so that they can become invisible to us, and we are left with complete and total crystal clear immersion in the moment that has been written. Truth. Life. Presence.
That’s the what and the why of acting, teaching, and living for me.
They’re all the same thing.