Meisner, Movement & Presence

Everything Acting and Embodied

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Commitment–or the Leap into Risk

I’ve been blogging about audition mistakes, and this is one of them, but it goes to the heart of other issues in acting as well, so I want to just talk about the leap.  As in, The Leap.

There is no substitute for presence.  It is the alpha and omega of acting.  If you’re not present, then what you do in your acting is pretense.  It’s not what Sanford Meisner called, “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”  It’s not bringing your authentic, in-the-moment self to acting…and since, for my money, there’s nothing else worth watching, it’s a hearkening back to the days of acting as presentation.  Think Sarah Bernardt instead of Eleanora Duse.

So we reach for presence.  But.  Once you have presence, you still have to reach for more.  In art, as in sports, there is always the reach for more, for better, for the test of what you can really do.  Your personal best isn’t static.  It’s a growing entity.

I did a casting director workshop last week in which I hit my personal best for that day.  Besides the fact that it felt GREAT, and the feedback was great, I knew it as my best because there was no hangover, no second guessing, no doubts, no obsession (okay, very little obsession) about the outcome.  I was present for both takes, and I have them on my computer and have watched them a few times.  I remember, in the second take, this jolt of fear, because the presence overtook me and I lost control of myself and of any idea of what I was doing.  I felt, reacted, moved, in ways I myself couldn’t have predicted.  I kept getting little jolts of fear as I said each line differently than I’d ever imagined saying them.

Of course I know that when this happens I’m in some kind of freakish zone that is the point, of, well, everything.  Maybe it’s the definition of creative freedom.  It can happen when I’m writing, too, and I have no idea what I’m going to put down until it’s down and then usually I’m laughing my head off because I’m so bold and, well, completely nuts.

But what was the difference between being present for take 1 and being present for take 2?  What can we learn?  In take 1, I rode the sensations in my body.  I felt the moment, connected with my reader, aimed for the character’s deepest need.  But in take 2, I forgot about all of that.  I stepped into some level of the unknown–I leapt free of my day to day self and became something else.  I felt my body–I was in touch–but I didn’t focus, didn’t have to.  I knew the scene, but I wasn’t playing it…I kind of was the scene.

Josh Pais talks about the committed impulse–about being absolutely committed to being true to what’s happening inside you at the moment and f*&K interpretation, judgment and expectations.  For me true commitment in acting means jumping off the cliff of who I think I am, forgetting everything and speaking the first line in the act of this metaphorical leap.  If I start there, it will continue and move to some new place.

How much can we risk?  True spontaneity is having no idea what you will do next.  It is the revelation of the hidden self, the letting go of control.  Famous actors talk about it–Kristen Stewart, who I just saw in the Clouds of Sils Maria (and she was fabulous as she almost always is) talks about being addicted to the first read, when she doesn’t know what she’s doing and can be utterly unpredictable and alive.

Being present is hard enough, you might say.  Staying out of one’s head.  Feeling the sensations of the body, being in touch with the senses in relationship to the room.  What is this next step?

I would say that the focus on the sensations is one level of letting go of control.  But you’re still working with focus, you’re still DOING something.  And it’s a good thing to do.  But what about letting go of trying to be good and just letting go completely?  What do you commit to then?

I think you commit to a level of unfettered truth that includes terror and incredible satisfaction.

And like everything in acting, you get there by not thinking, and practice, practice, practice.

Go forth and act.