Friday, August 14, 2009

ON ACTING: The Pre-Existence of Emotions

A few years ago I had a student who expressed a concern about a role he had been assigned to play, that of a father. The young actor, only twenty-one years of age, stated, loudly and clearly, that he had no children. “…and I haven’t the slightest idea what it feels like to be a father.” His tone of voice suggested that I was somewhat daffy to even suggest he play that role. “Would you like to be a father one day?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “Will you be a good father? “Yes.” “So you assume on that distant day, when you become a father, God will suddenly put the appropriate father-feelings in you?”

He said nothing. I pressed the issue: “On the day that day you become a father, that event will not suddenly create father feelings in you; it will merely activate the father-feelings already potential within you; those feelings have been within you for a long time”. He stole a glance at two pretty girls sitting next to him. “Feelings, all feelings, even the potential feelings of fatherhood, lay dormant within us, waiting to be activated by a powerful reality…in this case: the tangible birth of a child.”

“Emotions preexist. They are like the instinct to speak, hard-wired into all human beings as universal potentialities at birth. Subsequent life experiences merely shape and pattern these hardwiring potentialities into unique patterns within us--called our evolving personalities--as our lives move on in time responding to the discernible and discrete events in a person’s life.

“Your job as an actor, therefore, in playing the role of a father, is: first, before performance, activate (in actor’s terms, ‘prepare’…and there are multiple techniques designed to do so) your inherent, preexistent universal feelings appropriate to the character (in this case, ‘father feelings’…which, if I can judge by your reaction are somewhat locked away), so that during performance, you will be able to allow those preconditioned feelings to be tangibly and specifically activated by the events of the scene."


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