I wrote these down in my terrible handwriting, fully intending to post them here, and I keep forgetting to. That actually happens quite a bit — its sort of the downside to having a notebook and periods at work with a lot of free time.
So yes, the big one was from the very first class. As I mentioned in the past couple of posts, I’ve taken yoga before. One of the things one learns in yoga is timing your breathing to your movements, especially exhaling — and it is perfectly okay to exhale loudly. I also learned Lion Breath, which is clenching the back of your throat just slightly so that you make sort of a raspy noise both when you inhale and exhale. The noise, theoretically, reminds your subconscious that you need to breathe at certain specific times. I think.
Biomechanics is different. About 1/3 of us in the class, on the first day, were panting, which is loud, and some of us were breathing loud intentionally, especially on the exhale, as we had been taught in aerobics and yoga classes to do. George, however, insisted that we shouldn’t breathe loudly — since this class is about performance, not getting in shape, breathing loudly distracts the audience. What he said specifically was that breathing is a private matter, just for you. No one else needs to know about it, although you still need to breathe. I thought that was an interesting take on breath.
He also said something I really liked last week. I’ve noticed, in a lot of cases, that embarrassment holds some of us back. I really try not to let it get in my way, but honestly, I don’t know what my movements look like to other people. Anyway, so there are moments of embarrassment for most of the class, and George, in a fit of frustration, said that shame is self-indulgent, so don’t do it. I love that phrasing. Shame is self-indulgent. It really is! It draws attention to you, demands that others make you feel better by being awkward, and prevents you from furthering an activity that would, if you were decisive and not reserved, probably be pretty good. I mean, at least you tried. If you are ashamed, you don’t try. Okay, so that’s a little life lesson-y, which I dislike, but its definitely true for actors in rehearsal and on stage: shame is a waste of time. As a director, I’ve definitely seen this hold actors back — waaaay back. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to the director or ask for advice if you need the help, but my response to confusion, as a director, is often to ask actors what they think should happen and either guide them to a more clear version of that, or tell them what I think should happen for the purposes of the story. I mean, actors have a better sense of character than they think, but they are often ashamed to express themselves. It’s my job, probably more than anything else, to keep the story clear. I reserve veto power, but I find that actors come up with new and interesting interpretations of the story that I then want to incorporate, or their point of view about a character agrees with mine. But its the potential humiliation that keeps them from speaking up, which, honestly, makes them hard to work with. The best actors to work with, for me, are the ones who are not afraid to do weird things, make bold choices, and are then able to laugh it off if they screw up or look stupid. And trust me, audiences want to see that — they don’t want to see attention hogs, but they want to see actors who are bold onstage, but who also look controlled and rehearsed, which is the whole point of the rehearsal process. And, the whole point of this movement class.
George also mentioned that a big problem actors have is that they have a sense of what the show “should be,” and they become critical of themselves when it doesn’t fit that. As if we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. I mean, sure, there’s a lot that can be worked on, improved, and yes, there is such a thing as a bad play (either from interpretation, performance, script, or some combination thereof), but forget regret and forget quantum physics and forget Sophocles’ metaphor of the cave — at least, while you are in rehearsal and performance. If you didn’t do your best, do your best next time, that’s the only thing that can fix any screw ups. If you continue to emotionally flagellate yourself, you won’t be able to move ahead; conversely, if you decide good enough is the best you can do, you’ll never evaluate yourself, which leads to bad theatre as well. So being able to evaluate yourself is good (another role the director plays is evaluation — are you telling the story clearly? You might feel like you are, but you may not be, and that’s what I’m here for, and it’s not a judgment on you personally, because it can be fixed). But evaluating yourself is not the same as hating yourself for every mistake. Evaluation leaves room for improvement — shame, self-hatred, do not.
Again, a little life lesson-y. If you find these are problems in your daily life, I advise that you find a good therapist, because a good acting teacher should only be giving you advice for your performance career. But, I do think these are good notes for rehearsal and performance.