I posted this to my current classes, who are entering week 4 of the class at Mother of Invention.
At this point in the course, you may be feeling overwhelmed by all of things you are being asked to consider and attend to. I can imagine that it would be easy to be think things like “is this acting? all of this THINKING? all of this searching and probing and obsessing? where is the spontaneity? where is the play? where is the fun?”
There are a few ways to respond to this. The first is, as General Eisenhower once remarked, “Plans are useless, but planning is essential.” Ultimately, we do want to LIVE TRUTHFULLY under IMAGINARY CIRCUMSTANCES, and living means freely, fully, with verve, with abandon. The difficulty, though, is that we need to do all of that free living in the context of a role in a play or movie that has been written in advance. Completely fore-ordained, absolutely nothing spontaneous about it. So we need to do some thinking and some analysis to get ourselves calibrated and oriented in that right way, so that we can live freely AS Blanche Dubois or AS Hamlet or AS the Joker, and still do the job for the writer and the story that is our fundamental task. So that is one justification for the amount of thought and preparation I am asking for.
Another is this: we initially come to looking at characters in plays and screenplays as people we are observing as they experience something. We approach them as observers. That is the de facto way that we consume plays and movies. To act, though, we need an altogether different way of approaching these things. We must see events FROM the point of view of the person experiencing them, not from the point of view of an outside observer. This is a far more radical shift in outlook than is commonly imagined. It is nothing less than a change in our way of reading, of thinking about people and the choices that they make, and of representing these choices in the execution of a scene.
Accomplishing this change of vantage is a long, slow process, no matter how you slice it. All of the questions I ask and the things I ask you to examine and consider are ways of inviting you to leave behind the way of looking at people in stories that you in all likelihood brought in to the class, and to take steps towards this other way of looking. Over the course of the ten weeks, if you are studious and conscientious and devoted to your work, AND you bring a lot of initiative AND listen carefully to what Uncle Andrew tells you, you may achieve this relative to the character you are playing, that is, you may actually SEE their world from their point of view, and then also be able to LIVE from that vision of the world in the course of the scene.
If that does, in fact, occur, you will have had a kind of experience that you can use as a reference point. You will have experienced what it is like to be completely absorbed in the moment, and to have SOMEONE ELSE’S choices and utterances and physical actions issue from you AS IF THEY WERE YOUR OWN. Let me tell you: it’s a completely psychedelic experience, and not to everyone’s taste. It reminds me of the first time I started to dream in German. You are both yourself and not yourself at one and the same time. And THIS experience of this altered state becomes a reference point for you of what it is like to enter into the NEED that prompts other people to live as they do. This is a reference point you will be able to use in all future acting endeavors. Perhaps your hold on it, your grasp of it, will be tenuous at first, but if you continue to strive to achieve it, if you find a way to REPEAT having this experience, then you will begin to HABITUATE working in this this way in your scene. It will require less and less forethought and effort, and become more and more of an intuitive step through the looking glass, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Ludwig Wittgenstein had a particular view of philosophy: that philosophy itself, the impulse to philosophize, was in fact the source of many of philosophy’s troublesome conundrums. He described himself as attempting to offer “just enough” philosophy so that people could see this, in effect offering them a ladder to climb up which they could then “throw away” once they had reached the vantage point to which he was inviting them. So it is, I assert modestly, even humbly, with me. I am giving you all of these things to puzzle over which you might think of as breadcrumbs forming a trail to a totally different kind of experience. But the goal is not learning to puzzle better or learning what to puzzle over, although this does not hurt, but rather, the experience that may arise as a result of all of this puzzling and rehearsing. That experience is of the vantage which, once you have ascended to it often enough, you may comfortably throw away the ladder, because at that point it will require little more than clicking your heels together to achieve. With your help, we won’t be in Kansas anymore, and it will be a good thing. The very best of things.