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Monday, May 07, 2007

On Acting - I

Acting is a process, they say. To me, acting is a journey. It is, to borrow a term from Lecoq, the transposition of one's accrued experiences into characterisation. The accrual never stops and the characterisation only gets better with more experience. Few people realise the difference between playing a character and putting their own personality on parade. In a movie or in front of a camera this may be required, for the medium has come to need star branding to sell. Theatre, on the other hand, is until today largely untouched by this vice. But soon, soon... and I dread that day!

Perhaps, in order to avoid that, actor-trainers and directors who work on process-oriented input must need focus on instilling the essence of acting: to show the difference in enabling an actor be sensitized to elemental emotions and how that could facilitate an actor portray another persona with an entirely different manner of presence.

Actor training and preparing to act involves much the same ritualistic process as a Religious Medium takes to go into a trance. Acting too is a state of trance. In this sense, acting is no different from religion, which partially explains the abundant presence of the element of performance in the Bhakti movement. Be it an Abhang singer, a Bhajan singer of the Meera and Andal variety or an Arayar dancer, the levels of involvement is of a quality that defies earthly proportion. They are totally surrendered in body and soul to the transcendental and unconscious of their physical this and here. An actor playing a role must aim for this. When the trip comes to an end, there is exhaustion but peace and harmony with oneself. And the tools an actor needs to be endowed with must become the equivalent of the drums the facilitators use to help the Religious Medium trance into one, the lines spoken the theatrical counterpart of the ululations that accompany the 'parai'. But...

If an actor consciously and conscientiously does not seek to build an armoury of this sort, it cannot happen. Trainers and directors striving to bring this to an actor does not suffice. It takes two to light the candle. These tools would never turn into a tuning fork or a percussive presence to be put to use to take the step beyond the mundane threshold for a magical journey into that illusive world of creation. If an actor gets there, then what the audience could get is sheer magic. An actor must seek to become the flying carpet on which the audience can travel into elsewhere. An actor must work hard to achieve this. For, does it not take hard work and more for an artisan to weave the perfect carpet! This flight of course, does not require air to launch the carpet like a balloon. It needs music to elevate. This music is the actor's internal oneness with the emotions of the role s/he is playing. And, to be able to achieve this oneness, one needs to connect to the character's individuality as well as the cultural and sociological belonging either in a community or time or both. For, we are all products of social structures, of time, space, civilisation etc.

Hence it follows, anyone wishing to act must spend time thinking the role out before committing the lines to memory. The key physical and psychological vocabulary of the character must first be learnt by the body before the verbal requirements, because everything begins with the body and ends with it.

The mind has pain, not the body. The mind only directs, but the body it is that acts. The body is the actor, and we only know too well that once the actor goes on public, the director just cannot intervene. Therefore the mind work must necessarily happen before performance and thoroughly at that. And let the body then do its work. Not for nothing that the mind is the capitalistic and managerial head of the hierarchy and the body the toiling bourgeoise labourer. But if the labourer does not work, capitalism would come to a standstill. Same theory applies in theatre too.

We, unfortunately, rarely let the body do its work on stage. Instead, we keep interrupting it by thinking. But letting the element of play come in consciously rather than just letting it happen as practised. That is not a successful trance. It is not even a successful attempt to fake a trance. In movies it is different. To me, the difference between theatre acting and camera acting is like the difference between going into a trance and day-dreaming. The latter can and often gets broken and is continual, not continuous. The former is a single, unstoppable stream like a non-stop, long-haul flight. If it is faked, the audience would see through the veil. So what is the solution? How do we complete our commitment to ensure a total experience for the audience?

Train the mind. Train the body. In the sequence.

Train the mind to let the body listen and store so that these can be implemented later. For, as someone said, education is not the mere accumulation of knowledge, but the successful application of it. Today in Chennai, given our imposed hurly-burly existence, as in life so in theatre, we have forgotten the habit of observation and listening. We do not bother about other presences around us and flitter about glibly like a cascade of words from a stand-up comedian's mouth. Time to stop that and pay attention to the greater teacher of all - Life. Let's start at the basics - the mother of all theatre - Life and pay attention to the real actors, the people around us. Did not the Bard say All the world's a stage, etc etc...?

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