Andrew Wood, MFA, Yale School of Drama • Essentials Online starting soon. • Call for a Free Informational Session • (323) 836-2176

freedom lies on the other side of technique

Just ask Neil Strauss (from his post “Killing the Enemy Inside”)

In the old days, there used to be a little AFC in the back of my head. He would tell me things like, “There’s no way a girl like that could like someone as ugly as you” and “She’s probably this flirtatious with everyone” and, the worst, “Don’t do it – you’ll probably get rejected.”

(I had to look up AFC too.)

But he studied the craft of seduction and practiced and had some success, and this voice was muted.

But then another voice appeared:

This voice is different. It is a soft, knowing voice. Perhaps it was there all along, drowned out by the inner AFC. However, trained by thousands of approaches and experiences, this voice has developed an unerring instinct. It is often more right than I am. That is why I always listen to it.

The voice tells me things like: “It’s time to kiss her” and “she’s saying she doesn’t trust you, but what she really means is that she wants to trust you” and “cut the thread about her ex-boyfriend” and “this is a test – don’t fall for it” and “relax, she likes you.”

Sometimes it stays quiet, and I have to ask it what’s going on. It’s a funny voice, because sometimes it counters logic. But, as I’ve learned from my years in the game, your logic is often wrong. It will lead you astray. To quote David D’Angelo: Attraction is not a choice.


In fact, I would go so far as to say that most of my game these days has become simply listening to that voice. Perhaps it means I’m finally reaching the goal I initially wanted, of becoming a natural, of letting go of anything planned and memorized, of becoming like my friend Dustin. Of course, I needed the routines and lines to develop these instincts and get to this point, but they’ve done their job.

So perhaps that voice, then, is the sound of unconscious competence.

And then the money shot:

Your goal then is to develop that voice. And, as the name implies, developing it is not a conscious act. It is a side effect of the process of mastery, of converting from an unnatural to a natural.

A side effect of the process of mastery. Attunement to the voice in yourself that is your infallible guide is a by-product of endless hours or practice, and learning from failure. The philosopher Wittgenstein liked to use the image of throwing away the ladder: technique that you learn in acting class is something that you learn to climb up to a certain point, at which you no longer need the ladder and can throw it away. That’s the point when you have developed what Strauss calls the voice of unconscious competence. You don’t need the ladder of concepts and principles and do’s and don’t’s and rules of thumb, because you have internalized all of that. It lives in your neuromuscular apparatus like a spidey sense. You just need, at that point, to let go, trust your unconscious competence, and enjoy the ride.

But don’t miss Strauss’ important point: this voice, even if it exists in you from the beginning, is not yet recognizable as the infallible guide that it is. It is from years of practice and honing your technique that your attunement to this voice evolves. Many people come to acting class expecting that their native impulses will guide them to immediate success and their work out of the gate will be praised, and are crestfallen when they learn that their own impulses have steered them wrong. Except they haven’t: those impulses have steered them into class, where they can try and make mistakes and learn and develop the voice of unconscious competence. But to go down that road, they have to let go of the childish desire for things to be easy, for things to come easily to them. I am reminded of the New Testament story (I am a recovering Catholic 😉 ) of Nicodemus, who is a rich young man who wants to follow Jesus. Jesus tells him to give away his possessions to the poor, and then come and follow him. Nicodemus goes away sadly: he can’t get out of his comfort zone and give up his stuff. I think at this point Jesus says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle (apparently some kind of back gate to the city) than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Stanislavsky said to find the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.

Shunryu Suzuki said that seeking after wisdom is wisdom.

Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Freedom lies on the other side of technique. Invest in yourself. Work. Sweat. Thrive. Triumph.