Acting and Flow

Almost every acting coach I know teaches that to really do the work of acting properly, the actor must be in the moment. We watch young actors struggle first with the concept and then the practice. We watch them inch toward that goal, and if we are lucky we get to see flashes of it in the occasional performance. It is a difficult thing to do, since to do it, the actor has to undo years of training and practice in avoiding the present.

Actors are not the only artists who do their best work in the moment. A number of artists, when they are working, drift into the “eternal present,” which is normally called flow and which I have discussed before (here, here, and here). They begin work, and often without their knowledge, the world drifts away to be replaced by a moment-to-moment existence wherein the very best of creation happens. This is the way it usually happens to actors as well. They start a scene and get caught up in it and then they are creating in a way that they never have before.

During the last rehearsal of the week, I was privileged to witness an actor leap fully into the present moment and stay there, sustained for an entire scene—repeatedly.  That doesn’t sound like so much when you say it in words, but it was amazing to watch.

Run-through after run-through, the actor leapt into the present and stayed there until a stop was called. Anyone who has attended even two rehearsals can testify to the rarity of such an event.

The show that we are rehearsing is Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula. For an actor it presents an unusual challenge, at least the way we are doing the show. This actor’s problem was to portray a character named Actor 2, who, in turn, portrays at least one other character, so he has to present at least two distinct characters to the audience, sometimes in the same speech. The transitions are nearly instantaneous and problematic to say the least, and adding depth to the second-level character is a further difficulty.

When this actor made the jump, those problems disappeared. He was alternately Marley and Actor 2 and Marley. Each distinct, with different postures, accents, attitudes. Although he stayed close to what had been rehearsed, he modified his blocking as necessary to achieve his objective in the scene. And he adapted his tone and approach to counter whatever the actor playing Scrooge invented as a response.

Suddenly we were not watching the actor that we knew; we were instead watching a persona named Actor 2 and a ghost named Marley alternate in the same body. The level of concentration, characterization, and intensity rivaled that of any seasoned professional at the top of his/her game. The whole room was completely silent. We (the stage manager, assistant stage manager, assistant director, and I) had seen that scene perhaps 10 to 12 times before, but we were all watching as though it were the first time. And we watched the first time—three times. Such is the power of the present moment. It was theatre as it is supposed to be. It was powerful enough that the stage manager cried, I discovered later.

The actor, since he was fully in the moment, remembered very little of what happened. As we talked after the rehearsal and he came back to himself, he began to remember more. My hope is that he will recall most of it over time, but that is not important. What is important is that he made the jump and discovered the value of flow and the immense boost to creativity that you can get only by working in the moment.

I could wish no more for any artist, be he/she sculptor, painter, photographer, dancer, writer.

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Date: Monday, 18. November 2013 0:56
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Theatre

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