Blue-Eyed Freak

20 Jan

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Have been watching a lot of Paul Newman lately. 

…A beautiful actor…and not just physically (though, he was that too.  Obviously.) I mean in “applied theory.”

Personally I always preferred Newman’s enviable ability to take all his work on a character, internalize it, and just “be”…unlike his classmate Brando…who acted through strange speech placement and physical ticks, with the specifics of an acting exercise deployment.

“Being” is the most arduous task an actor has to achieve, at the end of the day. Not everyone can do it, and it is frequently a thankless job, written off and underappreciated, because it lacks the flash and boom of sex, and rape, and murder and Hollywood mayhem.

…In essence, it’s taking all that table-work, and research…the inward exercises of intent and motivation, hours and hours of scene beat breakdowns, and workshopping…and trusting that somehow the work will take care of itself, informing your performance without forcefully pushing its agenda every second.  Learning all that, and trying to let it go so you can just “be” is – I think—the thing that keeps the artform of acting moving forward.  Because the challenge is so insane, constantly switching up on you from character to character, scene to scene, day to day, performance to performance.

Very few people win awards at this, but in my opinion, the actors who can just “be,” are the Masters of the craft. Not to be confused with the lazy, incompetent bastards who just “show up,” mind you. There is a mighty Mississippi of difference between a fella who arrives, takes up space, says a line…and a fella who has a reason, a past, a future goal, a hidden desire, an agenda, when he does.  But those things don’t mean he’s gotta hammer you over the damn head with it.  The intrigue is the fact that you can grasp a hint of what is going on in their heads…and you want to know more.

…The intrigue is: they make you lean in, and watch them…even without necessarily knowing why you’re doing it.

In theatre, this is a strange little animal to get ahold of because house size and lack of close-ups force you to use other active choices, and help direct the attention where it is needed.  There is a balancing act involved…and it’s a favorite tool, used by other actors, who I particularly favor.

…Meanwhile, though I appreciate the hell out of it, I totally admit my own limited capabilities, despite the recognition of the theory.  I can achieve it in a capacity of wryness, or the stillness of being “creepy,” but when excess energy is added to the mix, my already overly expressive face seems to run away with itself like a drunken sailor.

…Because I’m busy focusing on the inward information, listening to the others on stage with me, and forging through my own map of goals, I don’t honestly spend a lot of time thinking about what it all looks like while doing it.  My attempts to simply “be present,” inadvertently allow my face to run away with every thought that comes across my brain, which from half house in a 500-seat theatre, works for me.  From three feet away: not so much.

…The strange irony of this is popping out now, after two very broad and ostentatious roles.

I knew I would need to reel that shit far, far in, for this. Counting on the discipline of the corset to remind and readjust my bodily constrictions, I’ve been fairly concerned about what the frustration and bookwork exploding from this character, would naturally do with the rest of me.  But, what I wasn’t taking into consideration at the time, was the true size of a straightjacket I was being handed.

…The difficulty of battle sequences that I thought would render me completely physically obscene “expressively,” have been counter-challenged with an almost constant direct impediment: a pair of sunglasses worn for over 90% of the show.

…The discipline this is forcing on me has taken away the thing I’ve unconsciously leaned on for years as a performer, as well as forcing the development of one of the things I need most to work on. 

How do you spell out a thought process without eyes? How do you restrict the most essential communicable part of your face, while your body core is ensconced in steel ribs, and still tell the story? 

…I’ve got limbs, shoulder posture, neck rotation, knees, and a mouth with vocals as tools.  That is all.  Because of the rise of the circular rims, I haven’t even the browline to help me tell a story equally infused with fight and pain, hope and loss, anger and…at last…love.  I been made to drop the security blanket I’ve by turn counted on and been cursed by, for years, and am being required to learn another way to tell you, another way to show you, another way to “be.”

…And because I’m still working on finding her voice, that means I’m working on four fronts at the moment: The athleticism of choreography, the rise and fall, in and out of cadence…from neutral ground to flash-back nightmares in childhood, Simultaneous scene work: splitting any given moment between working with Helen physically in a totally different scene from the conversation-filled one being held with someone else, and dealing with a stolen security blanket…trying to trust I can do the job without it.

…In other words: “just fucking tell the story, and BE.”

Sounds easy enough when you say it. 

…But trust me: it ain’t.

Newman was a freak.

~D 

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