Saturday, May 22, 2010

ON ACTING: "Losing Control"

John had been married and divorced many times, and could see no rhyme or reason to his inter-gender experiences. Life was emotional madness; and as he saw it, without discernible method. Very depressed one day, after the breaking up of another disturbing relationship, he went to a psychiatrist: “Doc, my love life is in chaos. I can’t seem to find any consistency. There’s no pattern. I date all kinds of girls…tall girls, old girls, married women, deaf women; women with cancer, health nuts. I marry them, I co-habituate with them; we have separate apartments, bi-coastal arrangements…I even dated a guy one time. But no matter who I go out with, a month later we break up…there’s no pattern...I tell you, I’m losing control…”

"Losing control?" the psychiatrist says. "You break up with everyone of them after a month. Your problem is not too little control, it's you want too much control!"

In acting, as was the case in the ‘John and his Psychiatrist’ scenario, losing control is so rare that it really is a misnomer: control is never lost; it just switches from exogenous, cognitive, mental control to inner, spontaneous, emotional control: in either case, whether the voluntary nervous system or the autonomic nervous system is at the helm of action-creation-from-emotional-impulse, structure is unavoidable and inevitable.

When my student actors are hesitant in releasing emotion in performance for fear of losing their ‘personal control’: hitting someone in anger, or really falling in love, or becoming irretrievably sad, I tell them: in all the years I have been teaching I have had no murders, no suicides and no pregnancies. I tell them, as the psychiatrist said the Jon, if actors err on any side it is having too much control.

To break the pattern of too much performance control, I tell reluctant actors to inch up in class toward emotional freedom like a child crawling away from Mama’s skirts, a few feet at a time; in every scene rehearsal, allow themselves a few steps of emotional freedom before returning to check out if Mama is still there, and then a few steps more, and them back to Mama. In that way a reluctant actor ‘loses (actually give up conscious) emotional control’ a little at a time, growing more and more confident with each emotional freeing step.


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