My still center & constant touchstone remains my ongoing work with actors - coaching one-on-one in my studio & the various classes I teach in The Workroom, at the SAG-AFTRA Conservatory & other places in LA; at Williamstown & other colleges & universities across the country. This is the daily practice that feeds everything else I do.
It still amazes me how much I love my job. Okay, sometimes the material we get feels like slogging thru the mud, but the WORK itself remains the same no matter how good or bad the writing is - can we find the "hook," can we use the material to express something that's burning to come out, or to have fun, or to stretch our talent in some way? Can we use the audition to get back to the initial impulse of why we're doing this acting thing? So much of it, I think, is keeping the flame of that initial impulse alive, that thing that made us want to act in the first place. Even though that original impulse may also contain secret passageways to psuedo-rewards: attention, approval, acknowledgment, scoring in sibling rivalry, winning the lottery, etc. etc. you name it!- no matter.
The true impulse, I think, comes from wanting to live in an arena where we can talk out loud to other people about the important things & the silly things & the distressing things, & the joyous things in life that are a part of our collective humanity. Having the opportunity to really do that, I know, sometimes seems like the holy grail. So many times it feels like - "well, this particular acting job is only a means to an end, a way to get to the other meaningful & big things I really want to do."
But to quote Hamlet, "the readiness is all"- and I think we have to assume that slogging through the mud is crucial to achieving readiness for the thing that counts. Counts towards the making of a successful career & counts toward realizing our own dream of what the work can be. And especially, counts toward building craft, a journey that never has an end-point.
Building craft, besides just sheer practice, means finding your own authoritative "voice" as an artist. Your own authentic, original voice. That's all we are ever really doing when we work together, one-on-one, or in class - honing it down to you: to what you want to say with the role, to how you would say it, to connecting to why you really feel it needs to be said, to who you uniquely are when playing the part.
Trying to do this in the midst of that big looming thing called the "business" can be excruciating. Even more excruciating is what we do to ourselves when we let the soul-killing part of getting ahead, get the better of us. But I believe too, that all the junk that rises to the surface with auditioning actually is an attribute of real talent. It's directly connected to your energy & drive for the work. When you look at it that way, what you are struggling with is not your enemy. It is to be embraced as a creative partner & transformed into craft.
(Here's a link to a terrific article I read recently: Why Some Kids Can Handle Pressure But Others Fall Apart. Essentially: it's not stress, but how we think about stress that gets us in trouble. If we accept the stress reaction as our body's way of dealing with a challenge, our blood vessels actually expand rather than constrict with the adreniline rush of flight-or-fight. Ed Zwick once said to me about Meryl Streep "- it's like her blood pressure actually goes down when you go in for the close up." I think, physiologically, this is how she does it.)
And, a quote about Richard Burton from actor Anthony Quayle that I love & want to share with you as we start 2014. With pilot season upon us, I hope you’ll find it inspiring. It's totally counter to all my usual blah, blah, blah about being a high priest of art. But here it is anyway.
"...There was absolutely no doubt at all. He was going to be a thumping great star. He had this inner concentration on himself and on his destiny, on his journey through life, on his adventure. He wasn't that concerned about contributing to great art or anything. No. He was concerned with the odyssey of Richard Burton and that is what made him such a fascinating man.."
Happy New Year, actors & Workroom friends! I want to take this occasion to thank all of you whom I coached or taught last year for coming into my creative space and for the privilege of being invited into yours. When we meet in my studio or in class, I always feel present to the fact that you are entrusting me with a piece of your odyssey, your destiny. I'm honored by that, I'm humbled by that, and I can't wait to continue.
THE PICTURE IS A LEAF CUT-OUT BY MATISSE
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