16 June 2006

Staying in the Moment

Discussing cognitive and experiential knowledge has little to do with reason vs. emotion.

The cognitive and experiential elements of life have more to do with how actors learn to stay in the moment.

Actors know all the lines. They know what happens next. They know the conclusion from the beginning. They memorize it all.

The challenge of their craft is to create a believable experience based on all the cognitive information they store in their heads for a performance.

They do this by learning to stay in the moment.

After a few acting lessons in Chicago, I figured out that we would not be learning how to act.

The little school used the Sanford Meisner approach to teach us how to be very real in a scene, how to not pretend.

At the time, all that vulnerability scared me and I eventually stopped taking lessons.

However, today I still value what I learned about the practice of staying in the moment because it seems to be a good way to live a life.

My teacher told me, "The other person in the scene is your life preserver, your flotation device. Observe him. React honestly to what happens, not to what you think should happen."

We once watched two advanced students practice an exercise where they stood facing each other until one could make an honest observation of the other.

The students then had to use that observation as a line four or more times before they could move on to another honest observation.

It might go like this:

First student: "You look scared."

Second student (maybe surprised to hear this): "I look scared???"

First student (maybe nods to confirm): "You look scared."

Second student (maybe furrows brow, contemplating why this appears so): "I look scared."

In this way, the lines got really tied to honest experience. It was not possible to give priority to the cognitive.

Our teacher explained that this practice had come in handy when one of her classes had recently performed Tennessee William's Streetcar Named Desire.

In one scene (Was it with Blanche and Stan?), the woman is supposed to remove a lampshade in an effort to become more visible, illuminated by the light.

The man is supposed to be a bit bored with the game at that point, and half-heartedly replies, "Why did you do that?"

However, during one of the performances, when she removed the lampshade, the light bulb unexpectedly EXPLODED.

Trained to stay in the moment, his eyes grew large and he gasped incredulously, "Why did you do that?!?!"

Our teacher was pleased to see the scene go in a direction it never had gone before.

It sort of took on a life of its own because both actors reacted honestly to what was happening, not what was supposed to be happening, or what they had expected to happen.

The experience was very genuine and believable.

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