While I was thinking what I wanted to write about in my first blog for our revamped (thank you James Donegan and Mike Levy!) website, I went hunting for a quote I love from Eudora Welty about the task of the artist. But before I found it, I came across another of hers that struck so deep a root in me that I changed my plans.
Here it is:
“I believe in it, and I trust it too and treasure it above everything, the personal, the personal, the personal. I put my faith in it not only as the source, the ground of meaning in art, in life, but as the meaning itself.”
— Eudora Welty
It’s only logical that I would find inspiration for actors in the words of a writer advising other writers, because I observe, like many others, that the actor now has a different role in the creative process. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the work of the actor expanded as playwriting changed and required greater inner life. Think Chekhov. With the advent of psychology, the audience became more aware of a character’s interior journey. With electricity in theaters, actors could now be more brightly lit than the audience, isolating them in light. While there still were pieces that required presentational performances, the demand for truthful work grew as audiences watched films and fell in love with the close-up, where the camera took them into the character’s personal space.
I am reminded of a class I recently taught, and of the repetitive nature of the notes I was giving. “Personalize, personalize, personalize.” It had turned into a “theme” class because the work felt very safe. The actors made choices that were “correct” for the material, and though truthful, seemed opaque to me. They lacked that extra something that brings things truly alive. As we worked through their scenes for each of them to find that hook that connects one deeply to the role, the characters seemed to jump off the stage. Those generous actors left a little of themselves up there.
Who could ask for more?