Friday, April 14, 2006

The Thing Itself

Banquo is a good part--I get to be a ghost, for one thing!--but I admit to disappointment at not getting Macbeth or--more realistically--Macduff. I'm a better physical match for these other guys and they have great actions to play. Banquo IS terrific, of course, and only a year ago I was playing little more than a spear carrier (e.g., Montano, in OTHELLO), so I have nothing to complain about... And yet, I can't help my disappointed in my audition performance. I can't help feeling that if I had been at my best I may well have nabbed one of these other roles (of course, who knows?)

That said, my audition does turn out to have been an informative diagnostic moment, which may improve my work in future auditions and stage performances.

In many, if not most, of my auditions until now, I have been prone to the kind of obvious jitters and gross nervous habits that I could easily see were killing my connection to--and freedom to use--my impulses when in front of the auditors. Most of those habits have now abated--my confidence is greater, I'm better at grounding myself, I have more perspective, and I better know my acting goals for both the short and long run--but, these grosser habits having abated, I now find a level of 'disconnection' between I and my work--between I and my impulses--that, even though I've sensed it before, I am only now free to address.

Beneath all the noisier chatter, which is now more or less gone, lies a core 'numbness,' which comes in on me the SECOND I start working in front of the auditor. It's not there when I'm preparing text on my own or with other actors, either at home or in the lobby just outside the audition hall, but comes in on me with the first words out of my mouth. I may feel solid, connected, confident, and sensitive to my own impulses in the moments BEFORE standing in front of the auditor, only to see all that get quietly swallowed up by a subtle emotional and physical numbness (the physical numbness is most noticeable in my vocal apparatus, especially in my tongue, where it connects in the larynx,) which is maddening. The MACBETH audition gave me my best look at this numbness to date.

Every acting coach I've ever had has emphasized that the jitters, nervous ticks, and manifestations of resistance that one feels in performance are part of the truth of the moment, and so can't be ignored, which is nonetheless what I've tried to do, until now, despite all the good advice. I've not been able to 'use' my nerves, so to speak. What progress I have made has been in grounding myself to lessen my nerves to begin with; but, with most of the manifestations of nerves now subsided, I see clearly that when the numbness comes in, I try to act 'in spite' of it, pushing past it, almost always to ill effect--gestures become obviously mechanical, vocal quality hollow, emotions canned, and objectives false.

When I was debriefing this audition with my trusted advisors--Aase and Arro Beaulieu, Theresa Koon, and Neal A. Corl, all my current coaches--each of them helped me get closer to seeing and understanding this 'numbness' and had good advice for how to deal with it. But, Theresa is the one who gave me the word "numbness" to describe the experience which this audition uncovered for me, beneath all the former crap, and she gave me a strategy for dealing with it. Her strategy is no different than any other I've been given, but her way of talking about it spoke to me. The penny dropped.

Theresa suggested that instead of pushing past the numbness, I might try becoming INTERESTED in it (which is different than 'using' it), accepting it as part of the given circumstances at the moment. This is a delicate thing, and is tough to do on the fly. But since I got a chance to test this notion in my work with Theresa only minutes after our conversation, I know it's the key.

Toward the end of our voice session, I sang "I Can See It," from THE FANTASTICKS, a couple of times through. The song went well enough to try putting some 'actor's intentionality' into it--i.e., singing 'with feeling'--and, next time through, the song fell apart. Then, Theresa suggested that I try it again, but this time--as I sang about my hopes and objectives as expressed in the lyrics--to think about how my hopes and objectives applied to the ACT of singing the song itself, while I was doing it. Hunh. This I did. The song came to life. Theresa asked me what happened, and the best I could tell her was that by following her direction I felt my conscious self better listen to my 'unconscious'--or unnamable--self, so that the later had more free play (this is tough to describe.) By making my actual act of singing that ABOUT which I was singing, I came closer to bridging that elusive, mylar-thin, but tough, separation between me and my resistances.

What I did in this run-through of my song was what I want to do in auditions: make the 'numbness' as much ABOUT that which I am speaking and acting upon as is the scene objective of the audition piece (good luck parsing that sentence.)

One thing that is clear to me: by taking interest in this numbness--addressing the act of performing in the moment of performance--I am therefore putting more attention on the text itself. Taking interest in the numbness seems to equal renewed interest in, and sensitivity to, the text. Now, that's the holy grail.


(This is all badly said, but I want it in the record, so I can say it better later.)


Signore Direttore said...
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Signore Direttore said...


I think this semantic twist is vital. I've heard and said "use it" for years. It has always made sense yet has rarely been truly effective. Something a parent might repeat. Or something you hear that rings true with wisdom yet is impossible to realize.
Lately I've been "allowing" and "following" what cuts me off from the moment. I suppose these terms/actions are closer to what you speak of.
I like what you say about putting more interest in the text. I'm not quite sure what you mean, but it feels like you might be onto something.
Tricky stuff to talk about this process.


sirbarrett said...

It kinda sounds like you're using a bit of reverse psychology on yourself. By getting interested in the numbness it's like building up the reserve of energy that you commonly associate in real life when you feel something but don't express it -repression. There is that subtle something that is readible under the surface that can't be pinpointed in exerting an expression but nevertheless comes through when one is genuinely interested. Anyway, good work! Be the best Banquo you can be!