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On Being an Actor

We are all actors. Each and every one of us. The only real difference between professional actors and the rest of the world is that the pros are paid. 

That’s it. Seriously.

If you doubt this, I would like to introduce you to my 3-year old son. He has no formal training. He doesn’t have an MFA in Acting. He hasn’t studied Stanislavsky, Strasberg or Meisner. Yet many of his award-winning performances take place on a daily basis; namely when something has been broken, spilled or lost.

Acting, you see?

But his manipulative abilities (make no mistake about it, actors are manipulators) are not due to exhaustive hours spent rehearsing or pouring over outdated techniques from mentors long gone. No, it all comes quite naturally. Spontaneously. And, that is how it should be.

Just Push Play

child swingset cityI have never had to have the this-is-how-you-pretend conversation with my son. Nor have I had to sit down and explain to him the ground rules of playtime. He just reacts truthfully to a momentary impulse. This, and only this, is acting.

The problem with actors is that they act. The term itself has come to assume a performative quality that is somehow separate from the actor. That is, they pretend to be something they are not rather than being something they are by truthfully responding to a situation in the moment.

“Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances” – Sanford Meisner

I use the terms acting and being interchangeably, but the game-changer is that if we are engaged in being, acting will naturally occur. However, if we engage in acting, being becomes an impossible achievement.

Suffice it to say that when the actor focuses on being (i.e. responding truthfully, not thinking ahead or behind but living in the moment, etc….) he is choosing to engage in something immediate, pertinent and noteworthy. As a result, acting, by traditional definition, cannot take place as the goal is not to mimic, pretend or manipulate but only to respond with genuineness and sincerity.

To Be or Not to Be?

the way of actingBut what does it mean to just be?

For starters, it means recognizing that we exist in the moment. Sure, we reflect on the past and ponder the future, but we dwell in the present. In his book, The Way of Acting, Tadashi Suzuki discusses how an actor on stage engaged in eating his breakfast, is engaged in just about everything else other than just eating his breakfast. He is either thinking about something in the past or anticipating a future event or entrance. As a result, he fails to do that what he is directed to do; just be and eat your breakfast.

Similarly, We must also train ourselves to abandon critical thinking and wandering imaginations. That is to say, just being takes discipline. I often tell beginning sword fighters who admit previous training in “fencing” that they must unlearn their muscle memories given the radical differences between the two disciplines. Being, I think, is similar. We must learn to quite our natural instincts and previously learned behaviors in favor of immersing ourselves entirely in the task at hand – as a side note, this debunks the myth of multi-tasking as an effective productivity tool.

In summation, I have found that people who practice being are much more responsive to those surrounding them – both on and off-stage. They simply are able to focus and engage in a more intimate, personal level. And this is how it should be – regardless of age, profession or creative skillsets.

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