Friday, November 02, 2007

ON ACTING: A 'Grounded' Performance

The student frowned just before starting her scene: "I don't feel grounded," she said. She delayed her performance. I asked her what 'grounded' meant. She said "I don't feel "centered", and pointed in the general area of her abdomen. "Centered?" I asked. "You need to be clearer than that. Confusion and a lack of clarity in analysis leads to a confused and unfocused performance." She just stared at me in a sullen incomprehension. She was, of course right: a good performance cannot flow from an ungrounded actor, but I wanted her to understand more fully what she was saying. Acting jargon has a delightful ring to it; but it often escapes meaningful precision.

I recommended the dictionary to her.

To be 'well-grounded' is to be firmly affixed to the earth; solid, not easily toppled.

Moreover, in terms of electrical current: when an entity is not "grounded" and is struck by lightening, the entity will be sadly unable to pass the electrical current through him/her, and will be burned up and consumed in flames.

To follow this line of reasoning, when an actor is not feeling grounded, s/he intuits that if s/he does not understand the essential nature of the character, or, is not attuned to the emotional solidity of the character, the actor in performance will feel adrift in uncertainty and unsureness, as if floating above the character's emotional reality. In electrical terms, if the actor is not feeling 'grounded' in performance, the actor intuits rightly that when electrical/emotional charge of the scene hits, that emotion will not be able to pass through him/her into the other characters and actions of the scene, as it should, but rather, will burn the actor into self-immolating performance dust, as the actor is consumed in his/her own ungrounded and unshared emotion.

The corrective to all this: hard work at character analysis befoe performance, hard work at self-analysis throughout a career, and performance confidence: (1) understanding the emotional nature (and demands) of the character to be performed, (2) understanding one's own emotional nature consistent with that of the character, and (3) allowing in performance an unconscious state of synchronization of the actor's nature and the character's nature.

The young student in question came back to class the next night, having done her homework (on the character and herself) and delivered a delightfully 'grounded' and 'centered' performance. She and the character had become movingly one.


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