Sunday, September 30, 2007

ON ACTING: Assertion

The student at the seminar was new; to me and to acting in general. I gave her a scene to perform. I have certain scenes that are great 'testers', scenes that ask certain qualities of personality/emotion from an actor that, once I view them, enable me to evaluate the actor's intrinsic 'stuff', whether they are inherently comfortable under duress (since every scene is conflictual by design), and reveals to me what emotions they are eager to experience, hesitant to experience, shy in experiencing, etc.

Immediately I could see she was unwilling to assert: her voice was weak and quiet, and her bodily manner immediately betrayed her unwillingness to 'state her claim' in the dialogue and back it up forcefully. Her body seem to shrink; her eyes looked away from her partner.

I next asked her to be bolder in the scene, to be angry at her partner. She became shrill and loud, unappealingly so. She shouted, she demanded...coldly and without sensitivity to the other person. She had moved 360 degrees: from delicacy and vulnerability in the first rendition of the scene to steel plated insensitivity and harshness when assertion was demanded.

There are people who are uncomfortable with assertion: they either allow themselves to be run over by other's demands, relinquishing all claim to their desires; or, once pressed, angrily and coldly over-assert; with a steel plate covering their emotional receptivity. They proceed toward goals unappealingly, like a 'bull in a china shot', destroying all in their path.

Both methods betray an unease with assertion, a clumsiness with assertive goal-seeking, a refusal (or extreme lack of practice) to press one's claims easily and effectively on someone else.

Actors who move from one polar extreme to the other in conflictual situations, unable to act without the refined and seemingly paradoxical duality of 'sensitivity-accompanied-with-strength' need practice in assertion, and probably with all strong emotions in general--and, I would argue, primarily with anger--which must comfortably underlay assertion. "Speak softly but carry a big stick" is the old adage: Anger is the big stick; speaking softly (but effectively) reveals the actor's comfortableness in brandishing the big stick without the clumsiness and lack of appeal of heavy-handed cold-bloodiness.


Post a Comment

<< Home