Saturday, June 13, 2009


"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women, merely players."
William Shakespeare

I was rehearsing a play when I was in college. The theater that we were going to perform in also functioned as the campus movie house. One night as I was leaving the rehearsal hall, which was in the same building as the theater, I opened a door at the bottom of a staircase thinking that it was the rear exit to the building. Actually it was a door to the back stage of the theater and a film was in progress. From where I stood, just to the side and a bit to the rear of the movie screen, I could see all the upturned faces of the audience in the light reflected off the screen; and all those faces were transfixed. They were in another world. It was a remarkable sight. From my position in the dark, they couldn't see me and I couldn't see the action on the screen that was transfixing them, but what was clear to me was that they were all in a dream and sharing the same dream. They were dreaming that the make believe world on that screen was real. And I, of course, unable to see the screen or even hear it clearly from my vantage point, was in a completely different world. I was in a theater at night in upstate New York looking out at two hundred people watching a movie. They, in their world, were neither in upstate New York nor watching a movie. They were either roaming the Western plains or in a seaside cottage in Norway (as I said, I couldn't see the screen and didn't know what movie it was), or some other place, but definitely not in that theater. That was clearly obvious from the look on their faces. I didn't stay there long, but I know that if they had seen me, I would have been a very unwelcome distraction. In fact anything that reminded them of the 'other' reality, the one we call the 'real' reality, would have disrupted and weakened their experience, their immersion in the imaginary world of the film. So if some movie goer had a toothache, or a fire engine was passing, or if she had the misfortune of sitting next to a chronic cellophane wrinkler or a voracious gum chewer or an opining film expert, all these would be reminders that the 'real world,' the world beyond the movie screen was still there and that the world on the movie screen wasn't real at all. And we are all aware of this. We all know that to get the most out of a movie, to maximize our experience, we should watch it uninterruptedly without distractions, and in this way we come to believe (because we want to) more and more as the film goes on, in the reality of the world which it portrays.

In the subsequent years I got very involved with plays and play production and deepened my understanding of what makes plays work; what makes them real for an audience. And by real, I don't necessarily mean realistic, or familiar. What makes a play real is consistency, that the world of the play and all aspects of the production has a consistent internal logic which comes from everybody involved being in agreement about the basic circumstances of this imaginary world. For instance, if we are doing a scene with two parents and two children at home in their living room, then it's important that the parent's treat these two young actors as if they are their own children and the children treat the two mature actors as if they are their parents. If any one of these actors can't get past their initial discomfort at treating a stranger as if they were their son or their daughter, their father or their mother, then that actor's discomfort is out of agreement with the reality of the play, and weakens its effect. Also, they have to act as if the set, full of props and stage furniture, is actually their home and their personal furniture. And very importantly, they have to act as if they are alone with each other and not in a theater being watched by many people. An actor who feels himself being watched and judged is split between two realities and can't function effectively in either one.

And, of course, the same thing holds true for all the other elements of the production. If it's supposed to be daytime, there should be light streaming in the window. If that element was neglected, or if the stage manager forgot to turn that light on, then to some degree the reality of the scene suffers and its effect is weakened. Also the costuming, the stage design and of course the dialogue, all should be consistent, be in agreement, with all the imaginary circumstances which include where and when the action takes place, the relationships of the different characters, what was supposed to happen just before the scene began, what the characters are doing or trying to accomplish in the scene, and the general mood or style of the piece; what kind of a world is it? is it light or dark? is it frivolous or weighty? a fanciful escape or a realistic exploration?

The actors, the set, the sound effects, the lights, etc., all have to be in agreement with these basic circumstances. And these agreements must emanate from and be articulated by the director. Certainly there can be wonderful individual performances; and different individual aspects of the production may shine; but only the director, and only if she or he is given the necessary respect from the all the other production members, is in a position to dictate the given circumstances of the reality of that play to all the participants; and only when everyone is in agreement about what these circumstances are can a reality be created that is strong enough and consistent enough to transport an audience from their 'real' reality into the world of the play. And when they are, then the 'magic of theater' happens. The actors, as they are relating to each other, and the audience, as it watches these proceedings, all come to believe more and more in the reality of what is going on on stage, and the 'real' reality, that these are actors on a stage and not the characters, that this is a stage and not these people's living room, that it is nine o'clock at night and not twelve noon, and that it is the present time and not 1927, all of that fades from consciousness and the actors and audience are transported into a different reality, a reality that becomes real because of agreement.

How real does this 'reality' get? Let's imagine a play that begins as the characters enter the stage from the funeral of "Dear, old Uncle Joe." It's a good production and the set is very believable. We become convinced as the actors enter that they really are coming into their own home, that they have entered from a crisp New England autumn afternoon, and that they are in various stages of bereavement. One actor wonders what life will be like without Uncle Joe and delineates, tearfully, all the things that he will miss about him. Another actor recalls an episode which reminds everyone of Joe's endearing quality of clumsiness; and soon everyone on stage and several members of the audience are laughing through their tears. The atmosphere in the theater becomes so thick and palpable with the presence of the departed Joe, that soon everyone, even the ushers who have seen the play fifty times before, are moved to tears at the memory of "Dear old Uncle Joe." All of this, of course, is taking place to the chagrin of the departed spirits of Auntie Harriet and Uncle Lou, who actually were your relatives and whose actual passing was marked by you with nothing more than a few minutes of what might be generously called a philosophic mood. Here you find yourself in paroxysms of grief for a being that was never related to you and that never even existed, not in your 'real' reality and not even in the imaginary reality of the play that you are watching. And it is actually the case that many people have experienced some of the profoundest moments, deepest insights and great catharses of their lives when they were not in their normal reality, but completely engrossed in the imaginary worlds of movies and plays.

The richness of this experience comes from the level at which the play is believed. If you believe, not in retrospect of course, but at the time that you are watching it, that the events of the play are actually taking place, then you will respond emotionally exactly as if these events were taking place in the 'real' reality. And, amazingly, you can watch a favorite play or movie a dozen times, and each time, if you allow yourself to get involved, if you allow all the circumstances of your 'real' reality to fade away and allow yourself once again to get involved in these 'imaginary' circumstances, you will, once again, even though you know, in your other mind, your analytic mind, not only that it is all make believe, but you also know the entire plot and what will happen next at almost every juncture; when you are so engrossed in the moment to moment unfolding of this movie, even if it's the twelfth time, and you know perfectly well that the bomb will drop in half an hour or that the car accident will take place, or that Rhett Butler will kiss Scarlett O'Hara, or Terry Malloy will sock Johnny Friendly; when these events take place you will experience them with the same shock, the same surprise, and the same emotional intensity that you experienced the first time!

And this is precisely what we want. We want to involve ourselves; we want to have the drama of not knowing the outcome even though we really do; of pretending that these characters are real even though we know that they are not and of imagining that what happens in the play or movie has life or death consequences even though it really doesn't. We willingly abandon our analytical, panoramic mind to put on a kind of blinders and enter into this moment to moment experience; and it is in that involvement, pretending that the consequences are life and death, pretending that we don't know the outcome and pretending that everything that we are watching in this make believe world is real, that the experience of drama and emotional catharses happens.

And we can extend this idea of voluntarily subjecting ourselves to this kind of limitation, this putting on of blinders, to the 'real' world and to the dramatic situations that we 'find' ourselves in. When we look back at the drama of our 'real' lives, don't we often find it hard to believe that we were once so caught up in getting that promotion or winning that game or dating that guy or girl? So caught up in the imagined urgency of our desires that we did the outlandish things we did and felt those competitive and hateful thoughts with the intensity that we felt then? Now we see Ali and Frazier, Magic and Bird, former Dodgers and former Giants, former Yankees and former Red Sox, embracing and remembering fondly the intensity of all those conflicts and those times when each was the enemy and each would feel like killing themselves if they didn't succeed in vanquishing the other. And the same holds true for more serious conflicts. Germany and Japan within fifteen years of the end of World War II were among our closest allies. American and Vietnamese soldiers, once mortal enemies, now share a drink as they reminisce about the 'drama' that they shared. Given enough time, all conflicts seem like a kind of strange dream, a weird play that we were involved in even though at the time we were so caught up in the urgency of our desires and the passion and desperate actions that that urgency engendered, that it did not feel like a play at all. Being in the grip of a consuming desire or passion is like wearing a kind of blinders. Our entire experience of life is then looked at in those terms, and we evaluate that experience solely in terms of what moves us closer or further from our goal. In retrospect, when that particular desire or passion is no longer felt, and when our desires are no longer in conflict with our former enemies desires; the intensity of our passion and our enmity both are revealed not as 'reality' but as a kind of strange dream based on the 'imaginary' circumstances of the importance that we chose to ascribe to certain temporal goals.

When we are not caught up in any overwhelming passions, when we are just going through our normal day to day lives, we enjoy going to plays and movies and reading novels and watching television shows and listening to gossip (which is usually based on stories of friends and neighbors and the foolish and shocking things that they do when they are caught up in the grip of some passion or other); to voluntarily, for a moment or an hour, put on those blinders again and involve ourselves, if not in our own imagined passions, in the imagined passions of others.

And when we leave the theater after being involved in an intense drama we experience a kind of decompression. We leave the intensity and conflict of that imaginary and tightly focussed reality for the more expansive, broader perspective of the 'real' reality. Yet, although it may be broader than the imaginary reality of the play, our 'real' reality is focussed as well. Even when we are not watching a play or movie and even when we are not in the grip of an overwhelming passion, we still have blinders on. We look at the world from the limitations of our own perspective. We have our own history and our own sets of desires and ambitions, our own sense of what is comfortable and not; of who are friends and who are strangers; of what is native and what is foreign. We experience the world through the filter of our own needs. When we are hungry we look out at the world searching for food. When we are tired we look for opportunities to rest. When we are ambitious we look for opportunities for advancement. An ambulance passes. Within it someone is experiencing a critical moment in their lives as we saunter down the street looking to get a little sun on our faces. Is there an objective reality or does each of us live in our own reality created by our individual memories and desires and experiences. More basic than that, each of us, as humans, filter input from the external world through basically the same sensory equipment and organize that experience through the same structure of human brains and human nervous systems. On a basic level, we understand all other members of our species because we share the same biological structures which results in us having the same basic human perception and the same basic human set of biologically based desires.

I have said over and over in this blog that our experience of life is the goal of our life. We are alive to experience things. Most of the arguing that goes on concerning the origin of life centers around the accidental versus intentional origin of our biological equipment. But biological equipment is just a way of delivering a certain kind of experience, with a certain way of perceiving and a certain set of desires. You can study species in terms of genetic and structural differences, but, more profoundly I think, you can study species as different ways of experiencing the world. The members of each species understand each other because they share the same equipment and therefore the same basic way of perceiving the world and the same sets of biologically based desires. The more we study the molecular complexity of the living cell, the more far fetched it seems that life in its 'simplest' form could ever have evolved 'by itself' from non-living matter. But if life was designed, it wasn't designed as a biological experiment in and of itself. It was designed to deliver a certain kind of experience; and species understand each other because they share the same 'experiential' design.

But there is another aspect of life, an aspect beyond the experience of biologically based desires and the satisfaction of those desires. Microbes may be relentless, in that their appetite may be insatiable. They may be driven by desires so intensely that they never experience a moment of stillness and satiation. I don't know. But their lives are very short. To sustain a longer life, a living being needs something more than the endless cycle of desire and the satisfaction of desire. And that is the experience of no desire. There are moments, perhaps long interludes, when desires are satisfied and no new desires are creating a new urgency or a new focus. These moments of no desire, especially when experienced in the environment that one is so exquisitely adapted to, are wonderfully peaceful and renewing. It is for these moments that we ultimately live; not for the momentary satisfaction of our desires, but for the peaceful, blissful interludes between desires. This is why it is so joyous and renewing to be in nature; not in the midst of a drought or a food shortage, but when the animals and plants are getting their basic needs met. The wonderful peaceful feeling that you experience is not just emanating from within you, but you are receiving those feelings from the other beings who, when not in the grips of an urgent need, experience a profound peace and a blissful sense of connection to the world.

I mentioned that perhaps microbes are relentless and insatiable and never pause in their pursuit of their ravenous desires. The other species that is becoming equally ravenous and in danger of eliminating this crucial and renewing experience of desirelessness from their lives, is our species, homo sapien. While other species may compete for food sources and for mates, we compete for jobs and prestige and popularity and recognition and promotions and psychological advantage and attractiveness and on and on. And to assist us in these endless comptetitions we are bombarded by commercials and constant subliminal messages that tell us that we are only worthwhile, we only have value, if we own a, b and c; and if we accomplish x, y and z. We are alternately overwhelmed and exhausted. No sooner is something accomplished than the plate is filled with a whole new raft of 'must do's' and 'must haves.' In all of this there is no peace; and with the loss of peace is the loss of a sense of connection to each other, to all of life and to our environment. In lieu of inner peace we search ever more desperately for that object or experience or relationship that will give us that sense of completeness and connection that we lack. And this is a fool's errand. What we are seeking is within us and we will find it by doing less not more, and giving ourselves, whether it is prescribed by an organized religion or not, a sabbath; a time dedicated, not to the pursuit of desires but to reflection and going within. We have to undo all the lessons that we have learned that our worth is contingent on our accomplishments and our acquisitions. When we do at least that much, then we can begin to feel what other species feel when they are not in the grip of an urgent need; that we are connected to and are a part of each other and our environment. Then we can use our powers of intellect and reflection and contemplation, which may be the sole province of our human species, to deduce that we are one, that our desires separate us, but that is only a game we play; that the being looking out from behind his eyes as he competes with me and the being looking out from behind my eyes as I compete with him, is , ultimately, the same being.

Is this what our entire life here on this planet is about? Is our brain/body a kind of 'blinders' that we put on that gives us a specific persepective, a specific point of view, with a specific set of desires? Did we start out from oneness, from unlimited knowledge and love, and then separate into different brain/bodies each with their separate perspective and sets of desires? Do we intentionally suppress the unlimited knowledge that we had and that we use to grow and maintain our bodies and brains, what is referred to as the subconscious, in order to live a 'dramatic' life of pleasures and pains, of highs and lows, of victories and defeats? Do we choose to be a member of a particular species and a particular family in the same way that we choose to attend a particular play or movie? Do all the members of a species share a similar way of understanding the world and a similar set of desires, so that all the species members can understand each other and create a coherent universe in the same way that actors in a well written and directed play, create a coherent world where the various characters divide up into separate existences, seemingly at odds with one and other and yet in perfect harmony to create a coherent imaginary world? Is our goal in life to realize the desires that we arrive here with at the expense of our 'competitors' or is it to realize that our competitors are really us and to realize the temporal and illusory quality of our desires and begin the trip back to where we came from; from separation back to oneness?

I'll get back to these points in a minute but, for now, let me mention something else: When Edmond Kean, the great British actor, played Othello and he strangled Desdemona, the effect was so real and so horrific that most people in the audience had to avert their eyes. They could not bring themselves to witness such a barbaric act. But the actress who played Desdemona reported that Edmond Kean's hands barely touched her neck. When Pavarotti, swept up in the drama of an opera, would sing so passionately that the walls of the opera house would reverberate; at the same time that he was so wildly passionate, he was exercising exquisite control so that his vocal chords were not strained and he could be in good voice for the next performance. James Brown, "the hardest working man in show business" would, at the end of each of his 'all out' performances, give meticulous feedback to all the members of his band, including each musical note that was missed and which band member missed it. At the heighest levels of technique and relaxation, full involvement in the imaginary reality of the performance can take place without diminishing one's awareness of the 'real' reality. In fact with virtuosi awareness of the 'real' reality enhances their participation in the imaginary one. This may seem to directly contradict what I said earlier that, "An actor who feels himself being watched and judged is split between two realities and can't function effectively in either one," so let me explain the difference.

First I have to talk a bit about the training of actors, because there is a lot of misinformation about that. Actors study voice and movement and speech and these are important tools, but this is really not acting training per se. Acting, at least acting in the last forty years as seen in movies and professional plays, is not the art of learning how to manipulate your face and body and voice to fool an audience into believing that you are feeling something that you are not really feeling. The actor does not stand outside of his role manipulating his voice and musculature. Studying acting is learning how to immerse yourself more deeply into the life of the character so that when you are acting you are experiencing the moment to moment experience of that character. If you succeed you are not fooling the audience. You are experiencing something and the audience is experiencing your experience. How is this accomplished?

One of the things that makes a performance seem real is when the audience feels that the words that the actor are saying are words that he or she wants to say at that moment. People reading from sales scripts, people saying things that they think we want to hear rather than what they are really feeling, people who have 'rehearsed' in their own minds what they would like to say, and recite from memory what they have rehearsed, all these seem unreal to us. They lack the spontaneity and responsiveness of life; and one of the hallmarks of life, as was discussed in another post (DEFINING LIFE) is that living beings say or do what they feel like saying or doing. If actors seem like they are reenacting what they rehearsed, then their words and actions seem robotic rather than alive. In truth the actor has no freedom over what is said; this is dictated by the playwright or the screenwriter; but the actor has enormous freedom about the way that it is said. So one of the things that a student actor learns is to speak his dialogue responsively to the other person; not to think about what he is about to say; but to learn to listen to the other character, what they are saying to him, and trust that his words will come out in a perfectly appropriate and responsive way. You respond to her, she responds to you, and suddenly, even though the dialogue is set, it begins to feel and sound like a natural, spontaneous conversation. It is interesting to think about why this works, and, trust me, having seen these responsive exercises, literally, thousands of times, if two people are really listening to each other, it always works. This is because we are alive, which means that we are intelligent, responsive, adaptive beings. We are always in a responsive, adaptive relationship to our environment. Even an inmate in an insane asylum is in an adaptive, responsive relationship; it's only that the environment that he is responding to is one that he is imagining by himself (and not the agreed upon environment that all the rest of us are imagining together!).

Is listening to the other characters and responding enough to deliver an entire performance? No. Simply listening and responding can create a believable scene by itself, but all the scenes of a play or a movie have to make sense in relation to each other. The character lives in the imaginary world of the play and her behavior must be responsive and appropriate to the imaginary circumstances of that world. Sanford Meisner, a prominent acting teacher in New York and Los Angeles for many years, defined acting as "living truthfully in imaginary circumstances." Whether Sandy Meisner was aware of the great mystical implications of this statement, I have no idea; but it does have great mystical implications nevertheless. Let's look at the first part, "living truthfully." What does that mean exactly? Well, it doesn't mean that an actor is 'trying' to be truthful. That would be similar to someone trying to be sincere. There is nothing phonier than a person trying to be sincere; just like there is nothing more boring than a person trying to be interesting and nothing more humorless than a person trying to be funny. On the other hand if someone is really focussed on communicating something to you, without trying to impress you in any way, they automatically become sincere. If someone is really interested in what they are communicating rather than trying to make an interesting impression, their communication becomes interesting. If someone is really in touch with the irony of a certain situation, without moving his focus off of the situation to 'try and be funny' then it will be funny. Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances means to immerse oneself in the circumstances of the world of the play and then leave yourself alone. If you imagine the circumstances correctly you will, automatically, respond in a natural and appropriate way.

Among the imaginary circumstances that affect a character's behavior are: the relationship (a close friend or a stranger, someone you love or someone you hate, etc.); the place (are you at home and perfectly comfortable or in a strange office for a job interview); what happenned the moment before the scene begins (did you just get a traffic ticket or see the 'girl of your dreams' or did you just step in dog poop); but the most important circumstance is: what is the character's objective; what are they trying to accomplish in this scene. In acting there are always two different realities; the real and the imagined. In the real reality the actor is walking out onto a stage and his purpose is to act well, to impress an audience and critics; to get rave reviews and wow everyone with his sincerity and emotional intensity. In the imagined world a person (the character) is walking from his bedroom into the living room to try to make peace with his wife with whom he's just had a violent argument. As I said in earlier posts, desire is the source of energy. An actor may be energized by his desire to impress an audience, but he will not become the character until he can re-direct that energy into the character's desire to make up with his wife. There are various techniques for accomplishing this; I will just mention one to give you a sense of an actor's preparation. In his imagination instead of just waiting off stage for his cue or entrance line, he imagines himself not off-stage, but in his bedroom. He imagines the fight that just ensued. He may remember a similar fight that he had in his real life with a loved one. He imagines it in a way (which involves a fair amount or training) that he recreates the upset that he had previously experienced. By the time he enters he no longer feels like the actress is a person that he is doing a scene with, but she is the person with whom he has fought and whose forgiveness is important to him.

The enemy in all of this is knowledge. The actor has read the play. He knows how it will turn out; knows whether or not he will realize his objective; and that knowledge destroys the actor's experience of real suspense and real involvement. As the character, the actor must operate from a place of not knowing how it will turn out. When the actor has convinced himself that he doesn't know whether or not he will get his wife's forgiveness, or avenge his father's death, or get that once in a life time job; if he comes to believe that it is not predetermined by the text but that it is up to him, up to his energies and abilities, his charm or strength or determination, whether or not he will realize his goals, then he is energized as the character and not as the actor. He is listening to the other characters not as characters in a play but as the people that have the power to grant him or deny him his objectives. This is still responsive, moment to moment listening as I mentioned above, but it is a heightened and specific form of listening that leads to a heightened and specific series of responses.

Sandy's definition, "living truthfully in imaginary circumstances," means that you are already the character. That the way that you adapt to circumstances is the same way that I adapt to circumstances; that the difference between us is not who we are, not the adapter, but the circumstances that we have adapted to. All characters, then, are the same being, formed by and adapted to different sets of circumstances. That all characters are there, latent, within you; that all characters are the same being, formed by and adapted to different sets of circumstances. Of course we look different, and we would not all be cast in certain roles in professional productions. But if we have the ability and the training to discern the imaginary circumstances of a script and immerse ourselves in those circumstances and pursue the character's objectives moment to moment, then we can deliver the basic life of the character no matter what we look like. And this has been proved by multi-racial and cross gender casting. If the commitment of the actor is there, and he or she can get past the way they are cast, then the audience quickly forgets about appearances and focuses on the emotional content of the performance. What a testament it is to the unity of being to see a successful version of Huckleberry Finn by the National Theatre of the Deaf, or an Asian production of Macbeth or an all-female cast tackle Hamlet. A large part of the joy of watching great acting is lost in our current world of Hollywood type casting: the expanded understanding that a human being can become anything; that we are not, in our essence, a certain way of talking or moving or a certain set of attitudes; that we have within us the capacity, providing the desire and commitment is there, to become any well conceived character.

So from Sanford Meisner's perspective, focussing on the relationships and the place and especially the intentions of the character and responding moment to moment with that intention makes you the character. With all due respect to Sanford Meisner, I must mention one element that he omitted from his technique. Sandy spoke about prior events that effect the character emotionally in the approaching scene. But there are other, long term prior events. In what part of the country or the world did this person grow up? Are they from wealth or poverty? Perhaps they are afflicted by a disease or haunted by traumatic memories. Perhaps they grew up in an environment that was extremely oppressive or extremely entitled. To get more deeply at the character some actors (Daniel Day-Lewis leaps to mind) go back to the basic circumstances not just of the play or the movie, but of the character's entire life. So how do they accomplish such a transformation? How does Daniel Day-Lewis do it?

Well, let me ask you this: How do you do it? How did you become the person that you are? The answer is that you really didn't try. You just absorbed the circumstances that you were in. Everybody who grows up in New York speaks English with a New York accent; not French with a Parisian accent. Every grape that is in sunlight long enough becomes a raisin. Every apple that's cooked long enough becomes apple butter. We absorb and are changed by our surroundings, automatically and inevitably. We are adaptive, responsive creatures. The talent of Daniel Day-Lewis is that he is obsessive enough and dedicated enough to hold these circumstances in his imagination for long, uninterrupted periods of time and to do character relevant things for long periods of time. These 'immersions' into imaginary circumstances over time manifest their inevitable changes on the body language, speech patterns and attitudes of the 'imaginer.' To play a cerebral palsy victim Day-Lewis spent months in a wheelchair. To play a butcher he studied butchery long enough and intently enough to become an excellent butcher. To play an American Indian he learned native woodworking techniques and built a museum quality Mohican canoe, etc. Each time he focusses on some activity or circumstance that allows his body, speech and attitude to naturally adapt in response. Some people consider these preparations to be too long and impractical; and certainly if you were producing a film or play where the entire cast wanted to do similar preparations the production would probably never get done. But in a sense Day-Lewis is working very quickly. He is recreating through his imagination in months a process of character formation that in 'real' life takes place over years. The gift of gifted actors is that they love to do this stuff, although perhaps not to the extremes of Day-Lewis, and that they are able to notice the subtle changes that these immersions bring about and make a conscious effort to retain them. Rehearsal times are short for plays and even shorter for movies. Actors who immerse themselves in their imaginations in the circumstances of the character for long periods seem believable and at home in those imaginary circumstances in a way that actors who only enter this imaginary world during rehearsals do not.

If you happen to know someone who is an excellent actor and have seen them perform in a role where their behavior, demeanor and whole attitude is completely different, and then you have contact with them shortly after the show, the experience is a bit disconcerting. It's very much like the momentary discombobulation that you experience when having a conversation with a teen-ager when the last time you saw them, they were a toddler. Because we think that we are our bodies, it is confusing to talk to this perfectly normal person who now has a teen-age body and a teen-age manner of speaking and conducting himself, when the last time you spoke with this very same person he had a toddler's body and a toddler's way of conducting himself. Same person; two different bodies. In the same way as we think of people as their bodies, we also think of people as their personas. Your friend, the actor, just had a completely different persona; different attitudes, different body language, different speech patterns. Same person, two different personas. So one hallmark of a great actor who is capable of radical and convincing transformations, is that she realizes that the way in real life that she happens to talk and move and the attitudes that she has about herself and others is not really her, but is a product of the circumstances that she has been exposed to. The great actor realizes that she is the consciousness that precedes any of these formations; and it is from this place, of unformed pure consciousness that she starts; allowing the imaginary circumstances of the world of the play or movie to affect her as they will.

The great actor not only sees no separation between herself and her character, but she sees no separation between herself and the audience. The great actor makes an assumption: that she understands what the audience wants. They want an experience; and they want her to deliver that experience. The great actor understands that while the audience may sit in judgment, this is always a default position. They would rather not sit in judgment. What they would really like is to be transported, to be swept up; to have a moment to moment experience of this imaginary world and leave their real world with its judgments and its aches and pains behind. And this, of course, is precisely what the great actor wants as well. And if she has done her work thoroughly; she knows that she has created a vehicle that is strong enough to transport the audience to the place where both she and they would like them to be.

And now I can clear up a point I made earlier. A student actor cannot function well in the imaginary world of the play when she is conscious of the audience watching and judging her. A great actor, when she is performing, doesn't think about the audience as separate individuals, doesn't think about the audience at all. The great actor feels the audience; is aware of the audience; feels their desire for an experience and is motivated and energized to deliver this experience. During the performance a great actor feels the audience as one being, experiencing her experience. She is not distracted by the audience; she does not think about it; it never becomes the object of her focus. The audience becomes part of where she is coming from; the audience's energy and focus and intention unite with hers so that she pursues her imaginary objectives in the play and reacts moment to moment with that much more intensity and energy. When you can 'hear a pin drop' in an audience is when the audience has become one with the performer and is experiencing her experience as one being.

There are times when great actors or performers feel that they are not physically or mentally strong enough, or not prepared enough or don't have a good enough role, or speech or team or piece of music, to deliver what the audience wants. At those times this actor may fear the arrival of the audience. But most of the time the great actor feels up to the task and loves the audience; loves them for their appetite for experience; loves them for buying a ticket and showing up which she considers their vote of confidence in her to deliver the experience that they are hoping for, and loves them because she realizes that it is their energy, their support and their focus that will bond with hers and intensify her performance and make her greatness possible.

And this is very similar to how great mystics and spiritual teachers relate to their 'audience' of students and followers. The difference is that the real reality that is the ultimate reference point for the great actor is what the great mystic considers to be the imagined reality, or the play; and the real reality that is the ultimate reference point of the great mystic is Oneness, or God, or Reality with a capital R. From the perspective of the One, the master realizes that everyone that she is relating to is a part of herself. The master, in relating to others, is serving their needs first and not hers. And she knows, just like the great actor knows, what their needs are, perhaps better than they do. She knows that they need to feel loved, a need which she can effortlessly serve, because she loves them already; and she knows that they want to find a way to a more satisfying, liberating, healthful way of living; which is already her way of living. That way of living is accomplished by learning how to integrate the ultimate reality of oneness with the 'real' reality of separation, which is the world that we play in. Just as the great actor is able to deliver what the audience wants as a result of her involvement in the imaginary world of the play, the great mystic is able to deliver what her students and followers want because of her involvement in the Real world of Oneness.

The part about the great actor and great performances may seem like gobbledy-gook unless you have seen a great actor and experienced a great performance. The part about great mystics may also seem like gobbledy-gook if you have never met or experienced a saint. If you haven't had that experience, I do hope you get to see a great actor give a great performance; and, more importantly, if you have not had the experience of seeing or experiencing a saint, I do hope you have that experience as well.


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