Sunday, October 03, 2010

ON ACTING: Default Modes

Every actor--and most everyday people, for that matter--have a "default mode". That means that under pressure, they resort to a comfortable and automatically adjusting behavioral "setting", a way of operating that is both habitual, comfortable and irresistible.

A default mode is generally created, sustained and practiced early in the actor's life because it worked; it got the actor/child the goodies.

The problem with default modes in an actor can be three-fold: (1) while practical and attractive to the actor, they often may be unattractive and therefore unappealing to an audience (whining is one such mode; another is emotional withdrawal); (2) they may be erroneous to character (for example, whining is not consistent with heroic action; emotional withdrawal is not consistent with a long scene) and (3) as a product of the past, they may be illogical to most if not all present circumstances: like paying for home owner insurance when you no longer own a home and/or the mortgage has already been paid in full.

Actor's (perhaps every day people, too) should check out their behavioral default modes. It would be like checking out your addictions. Do you control them or do they control you? Do they drive your likes and dislikes even when you don't want them to? Are they illogical, irrelevant or unappealing to circumstance?

Default modes should not be allowed to make you default in your career (or lives. for that matter). Actors should try mightily to dig into their personal computers, to deprogram their default modes, so they can change their unproductive settings at will and allow for a variety of possibly more appealing modes: like a sense of humor, steadfastness in the face of adversity, listening to and looking at others, and emotional bravery.

Is acting training a form of behavioral modification, then? Sometimes. To improve as an actor often requires us to improve (that is, to become more appealing) as a human being. What a radical concept!! Why don't we all commit to it. Two for the price of one: A better actor becomes a more appealing human being--at least on stage; and vice versa. The cost of such behavioral modification: the courage to change old safe, survival modes, ones that we have probably been operating under since our youth, and find new ones that both work for our survival needs and are appealing.


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