Friday, June 30, 2006

JAFA

It looks likely that the steady writing gig that I thought was emerging has probably fallen through, at least as the steady money-maker I'd hoped it would be. But, this is an interesting moment, because losing more than half of the income I'd thought I'd have over the next couple of years is forcing me to take more seriously the theater and film work I'm doing. No. It's not making me more determined to 'make money' at theater and film--that simply isn't possible, the way my world is currently constructed--but rather, it's making me look more closely at the INTRINSIC value of doing film and theater for virtually no money. This is convoluted. Bear with me.

By working a lucrative day job as a writer while pursuing art I would be trying to have my cake and eat it too, to get the benefit of higher social status--e.g., the professional women I've been dating prefer guys with money, no two ways around it--while also burnishing my self-image as an artist. This would make me look like an imporant and imposing man. A guy in whom people take interest. A rich artist--ooo, how sexy and successful! But, without the day job, I'm JAFA, a guy in whom others see a cliche, without money. JAFA. "Just Another Fucking Artist."

It so happens that I do have enough money, without the day job, to live comfortably but not extravegantly as an artist, as long as I keep my needs simple and do not have to support anyone other than myself. But, to live this way without being in conflict with myself, I need to stop holding onto the kind of social status that my family background and education lead me to expect of myself. Until now, I haven't been able to do so; perhaps the time has come when I can. After a couple of years of working in Portland theater, I've begun to know--and be accepted by (I hope!)--other working artists who have already traded off their social status in favor of doing art. These are intelligent and talented people whom I respect and like. Increasingly, they're a big part of my social world as well as colleagues. They're becoming my role models. In them I see another kind of status.

The immediate pay-off for letting go of trying to have it all--be rich and do art--is that I'll have more energy for art! I can stop being distracted both by efforts to earn more money to support a more 'normative' lifestyle--which is somewhat beyond my means, at present--and trying to appeal to those who expect it, e.g., some of the women I date. I can stop hedging my bets. I can start refocusing my energy, putting it into what is in front of me, now. I can make more of what I'm doing not because it will make me money or raise my status or get me girls, but because the work in itself is spiritually fruitful.

This moment may be the start of the end of my dilletantism.

***

Talking about money remains one of the last taboos. We all keep secrets around it. One of the big purposes of this blog is to keep myself free of secrets that might block me as an actor. Secrets grow into hard little radioactive lumps in the psyche and imagination that we learn to avoid; e.g., if I'm afraid of the homosexual desires that I feel, I will restrict my ability to feel emotional intimacy with men on stage, even if there is NO sexual content in the scene; if I don't want to be perceived as JAFA, I'll not allow myself to fail on stage, and so never take the risks that will lead me to succeed.

A young actor told me last week that "acting is lying," by which I felt angered and hurt. To me, to act is to reveal myself, and myself is definitely a 'true' thing, not a lie. I immediately felt hesitant to take any risks around this actor, because I wanted to protect myself--protect my secret--from him. I feared his snickering at me, since he'd be seeing me as 'lying badly' rather than as stripping my soul bare. He made telling the truth taboo.

This is where you have to have a tough skin. This blog helps me keep it.

18 comments:

Sokrates said...

A young actor told me last week that "acting is lying," by which I felt angered and hurt. To me, to act is to reveal myself, and myself is definitely a 'true' thing, not a lie.

I'm pretty sure I recall the incident you're describing. "Acting is lying" is a cliché (in my book, at least) that's thrown around by student actors. I'm with you in that I strongly feel that acting is truthfulness, even if we're portraying fictional characters going through fictional situations.

I get ticked when people throw the "acting = poverty" canard at me. Money and personal possessions can be nice, but in and of themselves they're just not enough. For now, at least, I'm willing to settle for a lesser degree of material comfort while I pursue my passions of acting and writing.

Tired clichés stink, all right, but they can stink even more when they come from fellow actors!

Signore Direttore said...

Getting what I want has never made me happy in any lasting way, especially regarding material wealth.
I like this post, David.
When I first came to town I got a call from some poker players wanting me to teach them to be better liars.
They were quite perplexed by my insistence that good acting is dependent on findinf truth in oneself and the material - which is to say the deeper truth of our humanity.
To be honest, I've been a well practiced liar in life. Sometimes out of fearful egotism, but just as often out of a keen desire for making sense of the world.
No easy answers.
No easy path, whether it be MBA ot JAFA.

love,

Kris Joseph said...

Hey David!

Did you coin JAFA? I love it, and will use it shamelessly.

I'm getting caught up on your blog after a long absence. I can't wait to read "The Empty Space", now, and wish I could see you in Mackers, and I wanna start a theatre company called "JAFA Productions".

Happy Canada Day!

David said...

Kris!

Good to hear from you! I'm adding a link to your blog to my page. I didn't know you were keeping one. It's fun, isn't it?

Nah, I didn't coin JAFA. My shrink told me he read it in a book somewhere. Pretty great, yah?

SamA said...

It's origins may be linked to an old Vietnam era acronym, JAFO (Just Another Fuckin' Observer) as chronicaled in the movie Blue Thunder.
;= )
SamA

SamA said...

One point about the acting is lying issue. There is a text in college called Acting is Believing and I have always said my acting book would be Acting is Lying primarily as a reaction to this book (which no one liked very much). While all great acting is essentially a search for truthful expression of feelings, emotion and character, it is also, really lying. I'm not Macbeth, but I played him on stage. I wanted to see the dagger, but never really did. I have worked with people who, in an effort to create a total and truthful reality, have injured me, other actors and ruined the play. You must as an actor have an understanding of yourself as a part of a production, you can grow and develop your character and moments within the play, but hey, the plays the thing right? I guess my two cents on truth in acting is like life and happiness, it's not the destination, it's the journey. We hold the mirror up to life, we don't go into the looking glass. That way madness lies.
;- )

David said...

Is technique and awareness of the inherent 'artificiality' of a production the same as lying? I know what you mean about actors searching for truth by fully 'inhabiting' their part by emoting--that is madness and it reall does look ridiculous--but the artificality still supports the goal of truthfulness, yes? If I think of myself as 'lying,' I cut myself off from possibilities. My approach is less investigative, because there's no 'standard' or goal which I'm attempting to achieve; but if, on the other hand, 'truth' is what I'm aiming for, I have a guiding idea, something to spur me to continual discovery.

One thing I like about acting is the dual-mindedness of it. You are truly 'in the moment' and utterly outside it--the cool, judging craftsman--at the same time. If I were to give up either part of that dual-mindedness, I'd not being doing the job.

At least, that's how it's turning out for me.

p.s. I'm really happy when one of my posts spurs this kind of dialogue!

David Loftus said...

I don't see how you can be "in the moment" and outside -- controlling and critique-ing it -- without engaging in some form of lying. That's not a bad thing. Only people who are non-reflective, who totally believe what they're doing (and do you ever really do that, in any sustained way, on a stage?) could be said to be utterly truthful, even if what they're doing is evil and false and ugly to everyone else.

I'm entirely comfortable with the notion that acting is lying. Of course it must be: I play Macduff, but I've never discovered a murder, had my wife or children slain, or been so angry with someone I wanted to kill him (er, felt I had a RIGHT to kill him, anyway). Yet I pretend to have all these experiences in front of a crowd of watching people [well over 200 last Saturday, yay!] who want to think it's "true" -- that they are seeing someone behave the way most people would in such a situation -- but how could any of us know, since most of the audience have never had such an experience either. We're all pretty much going on what we've seen other lying actors do (as well as small voices inside us that may or may not guide us truly), to be honest.

I certainly wouldn't respond to such events with the kind of high-flown language Shakespeare has forced upon me/gifted me with. So that's clearly a lie.

Maybe we attain some ultimate or potential truths through this process, maybe not.

But to insist that acting, or any sort of art, is truth telling, period, strikes me as similar to saying "checkmate" before you've moved your first pawn: you're blithely skipping over a huge, complex, and mysterious process.

David said...

To describe the artificial element--i.e., the artful element--of acting as "lying" is to say that the audience's willingness to enter a state of 'willingness to suspend disbelief' is their willingness to believe things that aren't true. Nope. I see their 'willingness to suspend disbelief' as their agreement to enter a state of experimentation, in which they try on certain scenarios--through the drama--to explore the universal meaning of other people's specific experiences (for Brecht, this experimentation was highly intellectual.) To lie, for an actor, is to misrepresent the meaning of what s'he's doing. When you play MacDuff, do you seek to lie about the essential experiences of grief and duty to one's country? Do you hide yourself behind ideas or emotional walls so that you do not 'honestly' express the experiences of grief and call to duty so your audience can see them? Self-conscious technique and awareness of artifice SERVE expressing these honest experiences, rather than misrepresent them. Actually, to lose yourself completely--and madly--in the role of MacDuff would be to lie, because, indeed, you are not MacDuff. But, to use technique to say, 'this is what the MacDuff in each of us would do,' is to express truth.

David Loftus said...

To describe the artificial element--i.e., the artful element--of acting as "lying" is to say that the audience's willingness to enter a state of 'willingness to suspend disbelief' is their willingness to believe things that aren't true.

Hmmm. I'm not sure whether that's a fair assessment. Both sides are pretending: I'm pretending to be and feel and do things I'm not, and the audience is pretending to believe that I'm really being and feeling and doing those things. In a sense, those are both lies; but they are also a consensual dance, which is part of the magic. Perhaps this might seem a little more clearer if you imagine a female narrator who speaks directly to the audience and treats it as her friend, or beloved: even when the actress doesn't address the viewer directly, I may find myself easily falling in love with her -- or her CHARACTER -- for the duration of the show. This is a lie -- she is an image, not a person, she (the actress and the character) is totally unware of my existence, and yet I experience something of the delicious sensation of being in love with her, because it's pleasurable, because it's enlivening, and it may even just teach me something about myself. All of this strikes me as a sort of "false" process -- yes, a process of lying -- that may move me closer to some truths.

Does it make any more sense if you imagine an actor having an "off" night -- pretty much going through the motions -- and yet receiving a standing ovation from an audience that was genuinely moved and enlightened by the performance? Clearly a lie of some sort is going on here, but I don't think you could say it's a bad thing.

It's like the Jewish principle of what is done is more important than the intent: handing a five dollar bill to a homeless person when you're in a grumpy mood and convinced he's going to spend it on alcohol is a more moral act than handing a quarter to him with all the graciousness and goodwill you can muster.

To return to something else in your original post:

I immediately felt hesitant to take any risks around this actor, because I wanted to protect myself -- protect my secret -- from him. I feared his snickering at me, since he'd be seeing me as 'lying badly' rather than as stripping my soul bare. He made telling the truth taboo.

I don't understand what you're saying here at all. It sounds to me as if you too readily granted this person the prerogative of being right when you clearly disagreed. Why should you do that? Why couldn't you have said to yourself, "He doesn't know what he's talking about; I'll refute him by my onstage work"? Besides, what truths -- what "secrets" -- do we reveal onstage other than precisely the ones we share with everyone else . . . those universal fears and aspirations and pettinesses that everyone has? How would making yourself vulnerable by saying, in your performance, I am just like everyone else, make you open to ridicule, rather than respect? I think a strong performance -- what you call "truthful" and I call expert and ardent and sincere lying (more and more, I think this is a disagreement over semantics) -- can only evoke admiration in the onlookers, not ridicule. And I don't think it makes you vulnerable. You have to be strong and honest and skillful enough to do it, not "safe enough."

Signore Direttore said...

These comments regarding lying in acting are not simply a matter of semantics. It seems very clear to me that many of you trick yourselves into believing you are doing and feeling the feelings of the characters you play. That is inded a form of lying, no two ways about it. It is untruthful acting - pushed, superficial and false more often than not. It is not only boring but tedious to witness - it obscures rather than serves the storytelling that is essential to each of us.
To play a character is to be simply of service to the text - both dialogue and action. Playing a character is an intellectual pursuit. To quote the Danish Prince - Words, words, words - but a beginning, my friends. Simply the map, hardly the terrain. Truthful acting, and there is such a thing, requires visiting the terrain that is deep within us all.
True artists and actors, those rare few in whom authentic feeling and action is more accessible, bear the task of helping the rest of us experience our more authentic selves. They tell us our stories and in doing so confirm the meaning and purpose of our lives.
The craft of acting truthfully begins with the idea that actors find and experience the subtext and explore analogous actions in order to bring themsleves up to the role. By giving themselves opportunities to explore the material truthfully, they reveal genuine moment to moment glimpes into themselves (and perhaps our collective subconscious, God, the universe, cosmos, et cetera depending on your spiritual paradigm) allowing the audience to respond to the actors' truth with their own.
In the end it is not supsension of disbelief, but removing the blinkers of everyday rational thought and going a bit deeper.
This is difficult stuff to discuss, conclusions are not easily drawn. These arguments, including my own are but simple sketches. Nobody needs to agree, especially not abslolutely. Isn't that what Neitzsche proclaimed with "God is dead"? That the tyranny of absolute, ultimate truth as defined by someone else has come to an end? I offer one man's perspective - my own truth as manifested through my learning, teaching and experience.

David said...

"In the end it is not supsension of disbelief, but removing the blinkers of everyday rational thought and going a bit deeper."

Excellent.

David Loftus said...

It seems very clear to me that many of you trick yourselves into believing you are doing and feeling the feelings of the characters you play.

I have no idea how you might have developed this notion from anything said here. I have spoken most strenuously in defense of the notion that acting is lying, and I can't see where I ever even hinted that I believed I was doing and feeling what the characters do. Precisely the opposite, it seems to me.

Have you seen our "Macbeth" yet?

My good friend Sokrates wrote early in this thread that "acting is lying" is a cliche for young actors. But I hear "acting is truth" in the mouths of actors -- new, experienced, young and old -- far more often. And I reiterate that I can't automatically endorse that piece of wisdom without examining it further because, as I said before, it strikes me as a cry of "checkmate" before one has moved the first pawn.

How do we know this? How does it work? Why are we acting, really? And I'm not looking for the broad, high-minded artistic answers, but the personal ones. Which noble and neurotic PERSONAL needs are answered for us when we get up and arduously pretend to be someone other than ourselves?

Anonymous said...

As an actor, I learn my lines, discover subtext and the psychological action that is there, given to me by the author, I play with it, interpret it how I may, take what the director gives me, play some more, and say the lines.

An overanalysis of lying or not lying is not my preocupation as an actor. If I say the lines and understand a)What I am saying, b)Why I am saying it, and c)Allow my ego to get the hell out of my way long enough to be involved in the story and not my own thoughts, which, incidentally, have NOTHING to do with the show, I just might communicate something clearly to the audience that they will in turn interpret how they may.

You see, this is the beauty of it. There is no real truth in life, just as there is no "real" truth in theater because it's different for each individual artist, director and audience member. One person may see my interpretation of my character and think it was sheer brilliance, another person my see the exact show on the same night and say that my work was garbage and walk away angry that I wasted their time with my "interpretation". Some folks just want to hear the words, others want to SEE flashing fire pits and HEAR loud booms, etc. Pepperoni or just plain cheese. Hamburger or Gardenburger. Cream or Black.

As actors, we emobody characters that tell stories. We do not "become" anyone other than who we are. We PLAY. We are creative with the text and our own imaginative interpretation of what we discover. We do not CREATE. If we allow our egos and thoughts and over-analysis of ourselves and our work get the hell out of our way we just might discover something. It might be a moment and nothing more. The more we allow ourselves to do this - get out of our own way - the more we allow ourselves to discover and grow as artists on stage in front of 200+ people, fearlessly, bravely and intentionally.

The intentionality of the work is what can drive discovery and that is why I need to act like I need to breathe. I can't imagine a life without those seemingly made up, "fake" moments. Indeed the words are made up by some author or another, but the moments are discovered by my willingness to allow the text to inhabit my body and I then give it life. It's so much more fun than reading a play quietly at home.

This is what people want when they go to the theater. It is social, and they do not need to suspend themself from anything. They might have the good fortune to go to a play and see an actor get out of thier own head, and their own way long enough to tell a story, honestly.

David Loftus said...

Excellent comments by "anonymous" on July 10, 2006 1:26 PM.

Just a couple small points:

An overanalysis of lying or not lying is not my preocupation as an actor.

Nor is it that of anyone else here. David experienced -- or at least expressed -- an emotionally negative response to the proposition when it was first put to him, and I found that curious.

Your description of what you do when you act:

If I say the lines and understand a) What I am saying, b)Why I am saying it, and c) Allow my ego to get the hell out of my way long enough to be involved in the story and not my own thoughts, which, incidentally, have NOTHING to do with the show, I just might communicate something clearly to the audience that they will in turn interpret how they may.

... pretty much sums it up, as far as I am concerned. I don't care whether it's lying or truth, really. I just found the issue interesting to discuss, since it seemed to bother David.


You see, this is the beauty of it. There is no real truth in life, just as there is no "real" truth in theater because it's different for each individual artist, director and audience member.

Oh NO! Philosophical relativity rears its ugly head. (Just joking; oddly enough, I spent this morning rereading Tom Stoppard's marvelous "Arcadia," which seems terrifically apropos here.)


The intentionality of the work is what can drive discovery and that is why I need to act like I need to breathe. I can't imagine a life without those seemingly made up, "fake" moments....

My question in response to that is, are you speaking only of the "seemingly made up, fake moments" on stage or in "real life" as well? Does acting make us more effective, more authentic, in our lived lives, too -- or can it do so?

Anonymous said...

My question in response to that is, are you speaking only of the "seemingly made up, fake moments" on stage or in "real life" as well? Does acting make us more effective, more authentic, in our lived lives, too -- or can it do so?

Acting can cause us to be more keenly aware of situations, circumstances, persons and actions, but life is not "fake", it really happens.

Basically, as I see it, you do the reverse on stage of what you do in real life. That is, on stage, you're given a script (in most cases) and from that you "discover" what is happening underneath the text, from which the actor plays a psychological action. Emotion is the by-product of playing a psychological action. Think of all of the differnent intentions that can be played for the line, "I love you."

In life, we begin with the emotion or thought, or psychological action: "I want to steamroll this person with my physical beauty" (just an example - and a damn fun one to play!). And then say, "I love you." In life, we don't have a script. We don't know what's going to happen from moment to moment. All we know is how we feel, where we are (usually), and that we want to say thus-and-such to so-and-so. What we say may be premeditated, thought out, or completely off the cuff.

People say things like: "If I were you...I would...", or "If I were in [situaion X] I would...". The truth is, we don't know what we would do until we're in the situation. In theater, we know how the story is going to end. The circumstances are imaginary, but as the actor playing the character, we must be brave, drop our ego and allow ourselves to experience what it might be like to be in those circumstances. That's why knowing your lines is so important. You learn them, forget about it and allow yourself to be in the moment. The actor who is preoccupied with his/her lines cannot possibly give himself/herself over to the circumstances of the play and see what happens. Exciting things can happen when an actor allows themself to be in the moment. That becomes truthfulness in the moment, truth in acting under imaginary circumstances.

A final thing to note is that so many actors get so hung up on the verse, scansion, etc. of Shakespeare. They treat the text as though Shakespeare were not a human being writing plays. It's as if while performing Shakespearean text, the actors must divorce themselves from being humans first, actors second, and become instead recitors of really good poetry. I say: say the lines, see what happens to you physically, emotionally. Allow yourself to speak honestly, bravely. It's all there for you in Shakespeare, or Tom Stoppard for that matter.

There are a lot of cowardly actors out there who are so concerned with being "good" that they forget that it isn't about THEM, it's about telling a story. It makes for boring theater. No one wants correct, perfect recitation of lines. People want to see bold, daring choices. An audience wants to be told a story and moved by it's contents. People may not identify with every character in Shakespeare, but they all recognize the humanness of the characters. I think that is why Shakespeare's work has stood the test of time.

David Loftus said...

Acting can cause us to be more keenly aware of situations, circumstances, persons and actions, but life is not "fake", it really happens.

Well, you see, there you lost me. Because in an earlier post you took apart the process of acting beautifully, but with life you're taking it as a given. And it's not: people act and lie, sometimes knowingly but more often as a byproduct of lying to themselves.


Basically, as I see it, you do the reverse on stage of what you do in real life. That is, on stage, you're given a script (in most cases) and from that you "discover" what is happening underneath the text, from which the actor plays a psychological action.

Again, I demur. We aren't given precise texts for life, but we're certainly given, and impose upon ourselves, plenty of standards for behavior and response, whether one speaks of how to behave in a marriage (and even when and whether to marry) or how to carry out a task on the job. Disagreements arise when people have different concepts of the "plot."


In life, we begin with the emotion or thought, or psychological action: "I want to steamroll this person with my physical beauty" (just an example - and a damn fun one to play!). And then say, "I love you."

Perhaps. But I've seen people "work themselves up" into an emotional state or for a "performance" in life, often enough. I wouldn't call them polar opposites at all.


In life, we don't have a script. We don't know what's going to happen from moment to moment. All we know is how we feel, where we are (usually), and that we want to say thus-and-such to so-and-so.

Actually, we often don't know one or more of those things, either, in life. Again, I say we often know "what we're supposed to do" or "supposed to feel" and try to follow the script, with sometimes greater success, sometimes less.

I'm not commenting on your further remarks on Shakespeare because I pretty much agree with them all.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Subtracting all the "shoulds" and "oughts" in life, we still don't know what's going to happen to us from moment to moment. We still have to adjust ourselves to unforeseen circumstances and situations. Sometimes we don't have time or allow time to think or act as we "should" or "ought" regardless of what social or psychological rules we may have self-imposed. [Insert random terrorist attack here.]

All I'm suggesting is that through acting we can explore the gamut of possible choices a person can make in a given circumstace.

You mentioned (Mr. Loftus) that sometimes people "work themselves up" in life. That's a choice. The psychological action is what drives that choice. It's how they get what they want. Typically the person is not consciously aware of why they are "working themselves up", perhaps that's just their modus operandus, others expect it, and react accordingly. This is the same stuff of the theater. It is precisely those relationships, those m.o.'s that writers either successfully or unsuccessfully capture in their writing. On a parenthetical note: the writing might not necessarily be a writer with a laptop, it could be an ensemble cast writing on their feet (physically).

"people act and lie, sometimes knowingly but more often as a byproduct of lying to themselves"

Okay, but the truth of the situation then is that the individual is a liar. It's a simple truth with complicated implications.

In theater, the actor is aware that their character is a liar. The actor then makes choices that jive with his/her interpretation of the character. In life, one may not know that they're a liar (as a result of lying to themself). Therefore, they make choices based on their understanding of themself (factual or fictional understanding is beside the point, it's about awareness). This all further strengthens my orginial argument that an individual may not know how they're going to react in any situation life throws their way, especially if they lie to themself on a regular basis. Their lack of self-awareness impedes their ability to premeditate action. Or on the flip side, they may make really predictable choices that they're not even aware are predictable for them; but others see it.

Again, in the theater, as actors, we would know this about our character and make appropriate choices. In life, it's not that we're lacking choices, or even that we're in a polar opposite universe from that of the theater. In life we begin with a feeling and it leads to action. Whether or not the feeling is "practised" is moot; it's a feeling nonetheless. In the theater, we know what we're going to say, we know how the story ends, we know what's coming in the future. We get to figure out what psychological actions lead the character to say what s/he says that leads to the outcome of the story. Unless we all have the gifts of the fortune teller, we don't know what the future holds in life. There is no script, no matter how much we may plan.

I hope this clarifies my previous response.