Acting is NOT a Linear Process

Most complex activities are not linear in nature.  Whether you are good at painting, cooking, or playing a sport, you gradually developed your expertise.  For instance, I am currently learning to do yoga.  Sometimes I pay attention to the positions I am trying to achieve, to make sure my form is good; sometimes I concentrate on making sure my abs are employed throughout.  Sometimes I pay attention to whether I’m inhaling and exhaling in the right places.

non linearWhen I pay attention to one aspect, I am NOT paying much attention to the others.  It’s impossible to focus on more than one thing at a time.  Whatever I focus on is probably what I feel is my weakest link at this moment.  By jumping back and forth between the aspects, I’m building expertise in all of them “at the same time”, just not simultaneously.  I keep a certain amount of parity in all areas by not developing my skill in one aspect to the exclusion of the others.

It is difficult to become great at one aspect if you don’t improve the others at the same time.  Because the aspects work together to create a single whole, you need to develop them all gradually and not leave one behind.  Imagine putting on a pair of jeans and getting your left leg in all the way up to your crotch before starting on the other leg.  You’ll find the jeans have to come down to at least your knee in order to get your right toe in the pants.

Because each new part in a play is a fresh learning experience, hopscotching from one approach to a role to another is just part of the creative process.  As long as you hit all the squares at some point and revisit them as necessary during the rehearsal process, the exact order you follow probably isn’t critical.

I start with my emotional response to the text, probably because that’s where I started when I read plays at eight years old.  That was my entrée into the life of a play, because most of my theater experience at the time was confined to reading the script, apart from an occasional school production.  Opening myself to the possible emotions my character feels is still my starting point.

Because the way I move on stage is driven largely by the emotions I feel, blocking comes after this initial emotional investigation, never before.  It doesn’t necessarily come second, though.  If I get a script before rehearsals start, I may mark the beats in my script.  I may look for the verbs for each beat, or I may just look for my verb for the entire play.  I may examine the language to see what it can tell me.  I may look for the arc of my character, or for the ebbs and flows of the play.  I may study the relationships between the characters.

All of the tools I’m introducing you to are tools you can use in whatever order suits you best, or suits a particular play best, and are probably best revisited periodically throughout rehearsals.  As long as you expose your subconscious to the opportunities these techniques provide you, the order doesn’t really matter, because your subconscious is clever enough to use them properly, no matter what order you choose.  But that’s a story for another day . . .

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