One of the downsides of “the Artist’s Way” is that it makes you (or at least me) somewhat obsessed with the rules. Each week there are certain assignments that you must complete, and each week I set aside some time to plan what I would like to accomplish each day. I am an intellectual, that’s part of my identity. As my coach so lovingly pointed out, I am “the university student” with the degree. As a result, I have also come to define myself as a heady actor with an overwhelming desire to be perfect.
I look at the work of people whom I admire, and all I see is the finished product. I read plays like “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf” by Edward Albee and “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams;” novels like “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro and “Saturday” by Ian McEwan; and watch performances like that of Kate Winslet in “The Reader or of Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables” and become consumed with admiration and jealousy (these are some of my favourite works and performances by the way). In my own studies, I have sought to reach the tears achieved by Hathaway as Fantine myself, and have grown frustrated and discouraged when I couldn’t make my own performance everything that I felt it should be. I forget all of the work, all of the drafts, and all of the frustrations that went into making these works everything that they are. In addition, all of these artist’s have years and years of experience working at their craft. They didn’t just happen on that moment, or on that memorable quote during their “first draft” or “first rehearsal.” They worked hard, they laid the ground work, and they did something else… they let go. That’s the trick isn’t it.
This year, the Academy have nominated both the youngest and oldest actor in the “best actress” category in history for an Oscar. Emanuelle Riva (86 years old – granted she is not a “new comer” with a resume of 78 roles) for “Amour,” and Quvenzhané Wallis (10 years old) for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on the youngest nominee.
While all of the technique that I’m learning is extremely important and necessary, there is a simplicity to acting (there is a difference between something being “simple” and “easy” – this I got from another one of my coaches: Jill Morrison) that must be grasped in order to be truly successful and in order to experience real fulfillment in the craft. No matter who the character is, every scene I ever play must feature a character who is going after what they want. As the actor, I must want what they want so completely that I’m able to lose myself in the pursuit of this want. Lines become a tool, and the anxiety of trying to be perfect, or of trying to do what “the director wants” is forgotten as you lose yourself in the imagined reality of the story and fight for your objective. This young girl has been nominated for the most prestigious of acting awards because of the completeness of her imagination, and her willingness to let go and to play. I am almost positive that she did not walk onto that set with a step-by-step” plan for what she was going to do. She also did not have training that taught her “how to act” and what questions to ask herself, all she had to rely on was an unwavering belief that this imagined reality was real, and the courage and confidence to “act” accordingly.
With all of this in mind, there are two things I must remember as I move forward in this craft. 1) I will get better with time, and becoming discouraged because I can’t do something “now” is a waste of time. 2)I will only succeed in this craft if I learn to let go of this need for perfection and control.
I am currently reading “The Theatre of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, and there is a quote that I came across quite by accident (when putting the book down on my desk, it fell open onto this page and I just so happened to glance down), that I would like to share. The quote is by the playwright ne Ionesco, and it is about the importance spontaneity plays in creation:”Eugène Ionesco, and it is about the importance spontaneity plays in creation:
“I have no ideas before I write a play. I have them when I have written the play or while I am not writing at all. I believe that artistic creation is spontaneous. It certainly is so for me.” But this does not mean that he considers his writing to be meaningless or without significance. On the contrary, the workings of the spontaneous imagination are a cognitive process, an exploration. “Fantasy is revealing; it is a method of cognition; everything that is imagined is true; nothing is true if it is not imagined.” Everything that springs from the imagination expresses a psychological reality: ‘Because the artist apprehends reality directly, he is a true philosopher. And it is from the range, the depth and the sharpness of his truly philosophical vision that his greatness springs.”
This quote is supplemented with the writing of Esslin, but it really makes you think. This post is already long-winded, so maybe I’ll return to what this quote means to me tomorrow. But in the mean time I’ll wrap up with the question: where does the mind of the artist go when they are in the midst of creation? I imagine the state must be similar to what I experienced when I wrote my last blog post. There is something rather magical about the imagination and our ability to create. There’s something pretty magical and exciting about life too.