Saturday, October 25, 2008

ON ACTING: The Bad Actor and Emotional Self-Stimulation

There is the story of a married couple who had been married twenty five very long years. They were in bed having their obligatory once a month sexual rendezvous. It is a warm evening. They’re tired, but they are dutifully committed to the joint venture.

Ten minutes pass; twenty. They’re working very hard. Nothing; soon both are covered with perspiration. Ten more minutes; fifteen, a half hour; the windows are frosted with their efforts. Both are exhausted. They both stop, look at each other. “Can’t you think of anyone else either?”

They remind me of actors who interrupt the natural flow of a scene, the normal rhythmic pattern of reality--stimulus, synapse, response--to auto-stimulate or self-induce heightened emotion through the self-application of an actor’s emotional activation techniques. I also see an image of a football player who, while running toward the line of scrimmage with the ball, suddenly stops, falls to the ground, indulges in a few push-ups, strengthening his ability to bounce off upcoming would-be tacklers before continuing.

The football crowd would shake their heads in amazement; so, too, an audience watching an acting performance which stops for emotional stimulation.

Applying tricks, techniques or exercises mid-scene (or mid-sex or mid-football game) as a last resort--is perhaps acceptable as a salvage effort on behalf of a desperately emotionless marriage, but resuscitating an exhausted running back or stimulating emotion in an acting performance that is here-to-fore emotionless is bad acting. Better if participants find newly renewed energy and emotional involvement from the sights and sounds of the people in the game they are playing.

Auto-stimulation may feel like the real thing, but, nothing ‘real’ ever has been created that way. It is a form of auto-eroticism; while perhaps pleasurable for the actor to indulge, is extremely unappealing to watch. Auto-stimulation is an amateur form of acting: well intentioned at times, often energetically pursued, and, like most things inherently self-absorbed, inimical to an exciting life; therefore ultimately self-defeating on stage or on screen.


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