Monday, August 20, 2012

Is your character giving you space?

The Character is IN today... but how far? And do you -the actor- feel you still have space?

Read this excerpt of A BALANCING ACT about Personal space and dual consciousness

As in all relationships, the question of personal space arises in performing a stage character. “ I need more space,” says a lover who feels overwhelmed by your affection. When the energy of the character comes into the actor’s container, there is often a first stage when the actor doesn’t let it go down far enough. Too often I see it stopping at the shoulders. Regularly, I see actors only in character with their torso, while the second half of their body is still like their good old selves. This common mistake happens because actors are afraid of the new energy coming in. There is a sense of loosing one’s own private space in one’s body, and being “invaded.” Yet, it is part of the process of being an actor to lend your own body to the expression of another personality. That is why I always encourage actors to fill their entire container with the energy of the character. Since we will later rebalance safely at the end of the show, it becomes easier for them to let the energy “invade” them, or more exactly, fill them in. Sending the energy of the character all the way into the feet is also very important, as it helps embody the walk as well as the head movements. The energy needs to flow though the entire body – the neck, arms, tips of the fingers, torso, hips, legs, and soles of the feet. Actors need to pay attention to this throughout the performance. They need to let the energy move through them and continue breathing! Performers who are often afraid of the presence of this unknown energy in their body will stop breathing fully. Regulating the breath is a powerful way to help the energy circulate in the entire body and the blood stream.
Sometimes the energy of the character will leave the body a little and appear as if floating on the side of the actor, or above his head. In this case, the character only appears “on and off.” It is as if you were turning on a light and turning it off again. The light will seem intermittently interrupted, and while you’ll still be able to see, there will be a certain sense of discomfort and uneasiness for the viewer. It is important for the actor to be aware of that and to bring the energy back with a strong pull, and then send it all the way to the feet and the tips of the fingers again. The goal of the actor is to have a smooth, regular and deep manifestation of the energy of the character. I advise to be very aware of this very frequent issue, and each time the performer notices that the energy is off, to consciously and firmly pull it back. Doing this over and over will help with the incarnation of the character.
With practice, actors will start perceiving when they are fully in the character’s vibration, only half way, on and off, or not at all. There is a clear perception that comes with being at another level of vibration when “the character is in.” It is a very distinct feeling, different from being yourself. Noticing all these differences and nuances, voluntarily bringing the energy back and sending it to the feet and fingers, is crucial to the successful completion of the embodiment.
As with all new and unknown situations, normal anxiety can accompany this process. It is sometimes frightening, and justly so, to become someone else, to lose one’s own identity, feel oneself change vibration, feel the voice change to a different register, and to even feel the muscles of the face respond to that change and involuntarily adjust to a foreign mask. Performers need to be very solid and very grounded to let this happen to their container. Breathing deeply and fully, pushing the diaphragm down toward the feet, tremendously helps control this anxiety. As an actor will bring in an outer personality and alter his own, his entire energetic system will be affected by the change. His aura, chakras, Flower of Life, and entire blueprint will reflect the new imaginary host and take his or her shape. As if he were a shape shifter from shamanic cultures, the actor will let this happen while completely conscious and remaining in control. A part of his subconscious must always be aware. This part is the spiritual head, the inner voice that is the true leader, the chief, the protector, the inner actor, the Higher Creative Self. During a performance, the actor will let the character lead, giving him his personal inner space to inhabit. However, he must always remain ready to take control back again. It is what is called a state of “dual consciousness,” a concept at the heart of Stanislavski’s work. Dual consciousness is a state of mind that allows the actor to be aware while at the same time totally immersed in the personality of the character. It is a partnership dance between the actor and the character, one leading the other. In this state of being, the actor can still control and let go at the same time; he can lead and also be led. It is a pilot/copilot team, a walk arm in arm, a tandem. A delicate balance of leadership is required to keep the truth of the character’s incarnation. Most of the time, the actor needs to withdraw and leave space for the character, letting him or her take first place in the limelight, allowing him or her to take over.

This is an excerpt of the book A BALANCING ACT. Want to read more? Click here

Emmanuelle Chaulet is an artist's coach and Lecturer in Theatre at the University of Southern Maine.
She works in the USA during the year and in France during the summer months. She coaches performers privately all year.

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