The Metaphysical Actor Part Two - The Tao of Acting

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When the Control Comes In

Basically we are looking for a way to keep our mental control out of the way once a truthful performance begins to gather momentum. As Stanislavski said, “when the subconscious, when intuition enters into our work we must know how not to interfere.” Our next set of questions are - why would an interference take place? What is the nature of the interference? I believe that most actors wish to fulfill the demands set forth to them by the writer and the story. The primary demand is that we play truthfully within the given circumstances. Now when those circumstances are Hamlet’s first glimpse of his father’s ghost or Henry V rousing his troops into battle the actor must meet the extremity with truth. Why are many actors not able to meet these extreme demands? I believe the problem may stem from the actor’s own personality matrix. More on this later. But, when the emotional history of the actor has not been processed, the control inconveniently steps in to protect the ego from breakdown. As this reaction may have contributed to protecting the identity from being destroyed in difficult circumstances, the ‘controller’ no longer serves a beneficial purpose to the actor or anyone else. When an emotion arises within the experience of ‘living the part’, the controller then steps in to protect the individual from appearing weak, vulnerable, or from feeling the root of the trauma or initial experience behind those feelings. As a result, the ‘controller’ sabotages the sensate experience of the body because it is simply too unconsciously painful to be in the body associated with those feelings. A subconscious inspired performance then becomes conscious, the mental processor locks down the emotions and the truth in the performance is lost. All that is left is a talking head.

The Path of a New Actor

These mechanisms of consciousness and of the entire identity of the self, I believe would go hand in hand with Stanislavski’s teachings. Stanislavski said, “the actor must fit his own human qualities to the life of this other person and pour into it all of his own soul.” (An Actor Prepares) Stanislavski also defined his way of working as ‘Spiritual Realism.’ Both of these statements lead me to believe that an actor must know his human qualities. He must learn, discover, investigate, and heal the recessive qualities of his humanity. As he does this he will begin to formulate, experience, and strengthen his identity - his true identity - his ‘I.’ He will grow more powerful, more compassionate and will learn to sufficiently navigate all conflicts. He will open his heart and his mind and will essentially learn to ‘live his own part.’ I believe it will be imperative for the actor, or any artist for that matter, in the coming generations, to live with more exemplary vitality. As our world veers further and further off course it falls to the artists to live with vitality, health, and love. The culture of our now hyperlinked world society looks to the artists to be the voice of change, the voice of how to make our world a better place for all. We must start with ourselves. We can learn and train to be, as Ghandi said, “the change in the world you wish to see.”

Developing the Spiritual Life of the Actor

I see the training for the actor to exist on two major fronts. The first being the training involved in our own souls. Stanislavski was going after a ‘Spiritual Realism.’ Does this mean that we may need to begin to develop and cultivate our own spiritual lives? Or, as Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University would call, our ‘existential intelligence.’ The intelligence of our existence. In order to unify the conscious framework of an actor’s toolset to the physical and spiritual life of the character - does this mean we will benefit from opening our own spirits to the intelligence of the Universe herself?

This may lead us to believe that as an actor or artist begins to strengthen his own spiritual life, that this may arm him with more ease, trust, reward, depth, and truth as he embodies the spirit of a character. Then we can learn to fulfill our art form with utmost integrity, as we learn to truly ‘live our parts’, which is to say - embodying another ‘spirit’ on the stage for all to see the true depth of the artistic microcosmic portrayal of humanity in all its tragedy, comedy, romance and farce.

The Tao of Acting

To Stanislavski playing a role truthfully meant that the actor was in harmony with nature. He believed that when an actor is in the midst of an inspired performance, his or her subconscious gently opens, and from the subconscious feelings come which cannot be analyzed. “Since we do not understand this governing power, and cannot study it, we actors call it simply nature.” (An Actor Prepares) I believe that we can study it and that we can learn about its power. It is at this point in the discussion that we can begin to integrate eastern philosophy and the ancient study and practice of Qigong as a means to opening up the subconscious experience in the body - as well as how the practice teaches the student how to generate balance, harmony, and trust in the body, mind and spirit. What we are going for is essentially a ‘Tao of Acting’ a way for the actor to learn how to draw more and more ‘nature’ into oneself. Stanislavski says ‘nature’, I will use the term to signify all that is extant within our entire universe. This ancient practice directly deals with implanting more ‘nature’ within our body, mind, spirit unity. Drawing ‘earth up’ and ‘heaven down’ is not meant to be religious, but meant to imply all the energies which exist above and below us. The ancient study and practice of Qigong, I believe, is an essential tool for the actor. This practice not only develops the experience of sensations in the body (subconscious), but it is also highly efficient and sophisticated in its ability to help heal the body, to work with or around injuries, and above all teaches the student how to begin to be a conduit for the energies of ‘heaven’ and of ‘earth.’ We can learn to be one giant antenna for moving and breathing with the intelligence of Universal Mind - with Nature.

Stanislavski says, “Our aim is not only to create the life of a human spirit, but also to express it in a beautiful, artistic form.” (An Actor Prepares) With regards to the discussion so far, I believe that a large part of the ‘beautiful, artistic form’ is the very body, mind, and soul of the performer himself. Beauty in form will be an automatic by-product of the performers’ attention and work towards cultivating his or her spiritual life. Heal recessive components of the personality, give yourself to proper nutrition and exercise, learn to open your compassionate heart, train the power of your mind, and the result will be a clearer identity - an Ego who is ready to be the embodiment of beauty and spirit. Allow what Stanislavski refers to as a ‘beautiful, artistic form’ - to be your transformed and vital life and spirit. Your audience won’t be able to keep their eyes off of you - and they won’t know why. But you will. Hard work, perseverance, trust, and integrity.

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