Wednesday, December 22, 2010

acting from the other side

I decided to finally take the plunge this winter and take an acting course at the Barrow Group. I've presumed to write for actors for 17 years and direct actors for five years now, and I think it's about time I get a more insider understanding of the craft.

I never intended to be a director, but after getting sued by that idiot Edward Einhorn, in his ridiculous attempt to create a director's copyright I basically had no choice. I had to jump in and do it, no training time allowed.

Perhaps I'll take a directing course next, although I feel that getting good at directing is more about getting experience under your belt than it is about any techniques. Acting is more complex, more about getting into your head and into a character than directing - at least when it's done right, in my opinion. Too many directors play silly head games rather than serving the script.

I'm a big fan of William Ball's approach to directing as explained in his A Sense of Direction. I've blogged about it before but it bears repeating:
Each actor who enters the profession carries with him from childhood a starvation for approbation. As he grows older, he finds that acting is a socially acceptable form of doing something in hope of getting the kind of approval that he missed in his childhood. A director understands that to an actor praise is like food. The actor cannot live without it, cannot flourish without it. A director must discipline himself to praise ceaselessly.

It is not necessary for the actor to have done something extraordinary in order to be praised. General praise, in comments such as "you're doing nicely" or "This scene is coming along" or "It's a pleasure to work with you" doesn't have to apply to any specific achievement, but it lifts the actor's spirit and causes him to flourish. He feels his flower is blooming. He feels his life is healthy. He feels as though the sun is shining if a director, who is, after all, the authority figure, is in favor of him.
I love that sentence: "he feels his flower is blooming." There's something so endearing to have that turn of phrase applied to a man - women are so often associated with flowers, and men hardly ever. I liked it so much I wrote something like it for JULIA & BUDDY - Julia has seen a video clip of Buddy performing Hamlet and says that even though he's a caterpillar now, he was once a beautiful butterfly. Buddy scoffs at being called a butterfly at first but later agrees with her:


You had a burning desire in your soul. How beautiful.


Yes! How did you say it? I was once a beautiful butterfly. But then! And my girlfriend – well, she wasn’t too interested in Buddy the maintenance man.

The course I'm taking is for beginners, and I don't expect I'll ever get beyond beginner stage - unlike Buddy I don't have a burning desire in my soul to act. For one thing I'd get bored with the necessity of repeating the same performance again and again. For another, stage actors are as much athletes as they are artists - you have to work through colds, pain, discomfort of all sorts on occasion, and while people are scrutinizing you. I doubt I could handle that. Also my diction is crap and would take lots of work to make it acceptable. But I sure would love to do a Shakespeare monologue - and do it right. I'd have a total brainiac amour over that.

But I want to at least have the experience of attempting to act so that I'll have a better understanding of what actors go through. And I already do greatly admire good acting - I expect I'll admire actors even more once I see what it takes to act.