One of the greatest myths of acting is one I didn’t include in my earlier post on the topic (which you can read here), and it ties directly into this issue of using the tools:
Rehearsals are for perfecting a performance to be given in the future.
I thought I’d check out the definition of “rehearse”, just to be accurate. On the Merriam-Webster website, I found this:
To prepare for the public performance of a play by practicing the performance
Part of the problem, I think, lies in the word “public.” It is natural to be concerned about whether or not we’re going to give a performance that people will enjoy. We want them to applaud, to tell us how wonderful we are. We certainly don’t want to give a bad performance!
But because you know this public presentation is 6 to 8 weeks away, it is easy and far too tempting to imagine, in our mind’s eye, the performance we want to give and to strive to give it. To disregard anything that doesn’t match this very premature vision of our character. Without realizing it, we’re focused on externals, not our character’s soul. We’re concerned with “looking good” opening night.
We become very “me” focused. What do I have to say, how should I sound, how should I move, what should I be feeling, how should I respond, etc. It’s very easy, you know, to prepare a performance without much regard for the other actors in the play: “Well, if they do their thing, and I do my thing, it should all be all right, shouldn’t it?”
No. Because your “things” are inextricably interconnected, and can’t exist without each other. And yet I see a lot of performances where if you lifted one actor out of the production and dropped a completely different one down in his place, at least some of the other performances wouldn’t change at all, and the others probably wouldn’t change much.
Which is never going to get you great theater.
Again, this goes back to the “staying in the moment” issue; lots of people sincerely believe they are reacting to what they are getting from their scene partners, and yet they aren’t. I can prove it to them in a scene class in short order, but I’d never get them to admit it outside of that. “Reacting” (I’m still searching for a better word) is incredibly difficult. Like “staying in the moment”, it’s hard to be sure you’re doing it unless someone catches you in the act of doing it and says, “There! That’s it! That was completely in response to what you got from her [the other actor in the scene].”
Without a teacher to keep us honest, we’re all sure that we’re doing it right. “Oh, yes, you’re raising interesting and valid points, but it doesn’t apply to me, personally. I’m already doing it.”
So if I tell you that you are probably focused on your end product – that is, the performance – you may find it as difficult to believe as if I tell you that because you aren’t staying in the moment, you aren’t reacting to what you are getting from your scene partner, you’re merely executing a pre-planned agenda (and perhaps an exceedingly well-planned one, at that!) The difference is that I can easily prove last point; convincing you that you aren’t really exploring and discovering a character, but that you are merely collecting things that fit into your early design is much more difficult.
So I won’t try.
Instead, I’ll just explain what I sincerely believe goes on with all actors in the early stages of their careers and which becomes, for many of them, a way of life that lasts to the end of their careers. (I do not exempt myself from this group; it’s because I’ve been there, done that, that I think I know what’s going on.) And I’ll offer you another approach.
You’ve got nothing to lose by trying what I suggest. If you already know how to do it, you haven’t lost anything. You’ve gotten a bit more practice at it, and in all likelihood, you’ll understand it a little bit better than you did before. If you don’t already know how to do it, hopefully you’ll learn something out of the experience. Or at least plant some seeds that will bear fruit in the future.
The truth is that you wouldn’t be visiting my blog if you didn’t know your acting can improve. If you didn’t sense that you are falling short of your potential. Acknowledging that is a very brave act. So be brave for just a little longer and trust that I may be on to something here and give it a shot. Because if you ARE falling short of your potential, I guarantee you that staying in the moment, not reacting to your scene partner, and using your rehearsals ineffectively are the reasons why.