How I swing the golf club isn’t going to be exactly the way you do. Our golf swings are as unique as our personalities. But good golf swings all have certain things in common. You can’t break the laws of physics and have success.
When I break the golf swing into little pieces so I can learn to do it better, I can clearly identify what works and what doesn’t work, using these natural laws. I can then practice what works over and over.
Acting is different. This is a new play, and I don’t have a clear destination. What I did in the last play doesn’t apply. I am starting from scratch and have to figure out what works in this play, with this cast. Acting is a creative, subjective art, and we make our way to a final performance bit by bit.
So how do you decide what works in a role, which “bits” to keep and which to discard?
The best way is to let your subconscious decide for you. As I’ve said, it is much better equipped to synthesize everything into a cohesive performance than your conscious brain is.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t make some conscious decisions throughout rehearsals. You will. But if you refuse to set them in stone until your subconscious lets you know what conclusions it’s come to, you’ll give a more integrated and complete performance.
So how do we keep our conscious brains from doing what they love to do: make decisions left, right, and center?
It’s an act of self-discipline, for starters. You have to learn to intentionally sit on the fence for a while, to refuse the temptation to hop down on one side or another. To hold open the possibility that something is different than what you expect it to be. That your subconscious may have a different opinion.
It’s a product of actively seeking opposites, and developing a willingness to experiment.
It’s a function of inputting data into the computer (your subconscious), and trusting that it will do its calculations and spit out the right answer. I can assure you that it will. Learning to act is, in part, a matter of learning to stop manipulating your subconscious and to trust it instead.
I tell my golfers that their subconscious knows how to play golf, and that if they could only shut down their conscious brains, they’d all play great. And it’s true. Your subconscious will compensate for your swing flaws as much as it can, because it knows what you’re doing wrong. It’s fascinating to watch.
The same thing applies to acting. Your subconscious will find your character much faster than your conscious brain will. And time is, after all, of the essence. A rehearsal period is finite.
Ah, but I hear you say, “You are asking me to trust this blindly, to not only try these things in class, but to try them when I’m in a play. But what if they don’t work? I’ll make a fool of myself on opening night!”
No, you won’t. And I’ll explain why I am so confident of this in the next post.