This week I got to spend the afternoon in the Monday class as an observer which, if you have never done as an actor, I would highly recommend. I had the pleasure of watching other artists in action, I didn’t have to worry about my impending scene, and I didn’t have to beat myself up afterwards. It was glorious.
The first scene up was from Streetcar Named Desire, by the late great Tennessee Williams just in case you have been living under an artistic rock. In the scene Blanche and Mitch return home from a date.
Half way through the first beat of the the actors stopped themselves to reset. Then a third of the way through the actual Cay stepped in and stopped them again.
“I don’t understand what’s happening here. Let’s go back to the beginning.”
The actors reset themselves outside the apartment. Blanche looked at the stars while Mitch opened the door.
“Okay, what’s happening here?” asked Cay.
“I’m looking at the stars.”
“Okay, and how do you feel?”
“I don’t feel anything.”
I felt for the actor.
“Ooookay” said Cay, “so explore that.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Not feeling anything IS feeling something!”
That statement struck me as particularly insightful this week. The work involved with emotional preparation can be difficult, especially when it comes time to listen to your scene partner, respond truthfully, exist naturally in the environment, put away the analytical brain. It can be exhausting, and it can drive you crazy. But all of those things are SOMETHING that you are feeling. Bored, tired, annoyed, hot; right or wrong, in the moment an actor can use those as a jumping off place.
Cay was careful to say that those things might not be what the scene is about, or what it will end up being. But it grounds us in an emotional reality and in doing so frees us up to find those things that the scene IS about.