So to continue where I left off last week… I was speaking of Karen, in training for about a year or so, who just auditioned for a workshop production with a monologue from T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party. In our first meeting we found the objective, which I’ll discuss now in more detail.
Basically, the situation concerns a young woman has been told by her lover that he’s going back to his wife. She is heartbroken, obviously, because she’s in love with him, but the deeper reason is much more devastating. Not only is she betrayed by the abandonment, but she realizes that he was never the person she thought he was in the first place. And this discovery leaves her without anyone or anything to believe in. The works of T.S. Eliot deal, in general, with dark, existential questions, but this play, in particular, puts human love into the picture, and how its withdrawal can destroy a life. The Cocktail Party is heavy drama and it ends in a death, so the actors have to dig very deep – or turn a person into a holy martyr, depending on one’s point of view.
I gave Karen my sensory CD in the first session and told her to work frequently with it, so she could access her fundamental ‘sensory complex’ – which is composed of interrelated ‘sensory objects.’ We had decided that the character’s objective was to make the person she was talking to ‘prove that he had not lost his humanity, that he was still the person she thought he was in the first place – even if he couldn’t be with her anymore.’ But the man she’s addressing has no line of defense – he really is more like the ‘beetle’ she compares him to than the person she had thought he was before he told her he was leaving her.
We had done a little sensory work in our first session, and Karen had discovered the person she thought she would be addressing in the scene. I warned her not to ‘expect’ who that person would be – or even that it would be a person. Sometimes, our primary sensory object is a place, not even a person – and the most important thing is to let the unconscious give us its suggestions without any interference. Since we hadn’t much time in our first session and Karen’s audition would be coming up in a few days, it was possible that she had rushed the process without knowing it. When she went home and did the sensory work on her own with more time to relax, she came up with a different ‘object’ for the person she is addressing; something or someone that will take her a long time to comprehend in all its psychological ramifications. (Note: An ‘object’ can be anything based in sight, sound, taste, smell, touch or personalization. A ‘personalization’ is an actual person; ‘personalizing’ means basing something/someone in a text – or improvisation - on personal experience.)
When we met for our second session, I wanted to set the beats, which we had only touched on in the first session, find the actions and get the monologue to move smoothly toward its objective. But I could see that my student’s ‘discovery’ had thrown her into something I call ‘the down-going.’ This is a very important moment, when the actor discovers that their life is actually based in something other than what they had originally assumed. My second blog refers to this experience in my own life, which came about when I was practicing the same monologue from The Cocktail Party as the one Karen is working on.
She wasn’t ready to set up ‘actions’ until she had worked through a lot more about the person she was talking to. As well as calling it ‘the down-going’ I sometimes refer to it as the ‘anti-therapy’ moment. Have you ever seen a small dog kick up a big spray of dirt? Well, that’s what actors are doing with their psyche when they have the stamina, focus and patience to practice sense-memory correctly. After they kick up all this dirt, they feel confused and sometimes upset. Acting training stirs things up, but acting teachers are not trained to analyze and organize each clod and tiniest stone that has been displaced. We can be a rough lot, us acting teachers! I do my best to keep it bearable…
Unlike the therapeutic process, the artistic one just goes on kicking and kicking. Of course, actors do organize the material, but as they move along in their work, they kick up and re-form constantly. Good actors – and I’m not going off on that tangent right now, trying to explain what a ‘good’ actor is – anyway, as they mature, ‘good’ actors gain the strength to maintain their sanity while constantly tearing themselves apart. Contradiction in terms? Yes, resoundingly, yes! But art has its own rules – and perhaps they are individual to each artist. If they are wise, ‘good’ actors who cannot organize or deal with their dirt, eventually give up acting or move on -depending on how they look at it - or come to a sticky end. Some of the latter are very famous.
In the case of Karen, she felt that her audition was a ‘spray of dirt’ – and it probably was. They ended up putting her on tape, and she didn’t like what she saw. ‘Judging oneself on film,’ can be very subjective.
When the building blocks of acting fall into place, it is possible to feel comfortable with the job one is doing. (James, at least, felt good about the audition, itself; quite possibly it was the fog that surrounded the ultimate rejection that bothered him so much.) Karen, now at the beginning of her career, is learning how to deal with ‘the shock of the real,’ but it doesn’t ‘feel real’ yet. I believe that the insight she had in her sense memory exercise is a real breakthrough, but she has to integrate this new perspective on her entire life. If she continues to go down the path of personal insights, she will probably gain the strength she needs to face the rejection when she doesn’t manage to do her best. She will understand that sometimes she needs to fail, in order to learn something new. Acting is precise, which brings me to the third person I connected with on the subject of ‘audition blues.’ More on what it means to be a ‘true actor’ in the ensuing blog.
Have a lovely holiday! ‘Outing the Actor’ will be back at the beginning of 2012. By the way, I just found out that Karen got the role in the workshop. Go figure…