The homework is gruesome; why acting feels hard

A discovery; why I found acting to be gruesome and equally rewarding

As humans, when we are at a precipice of evolving into someone new, we feel fear.  We are afraid of who we are becoming, and what lies ahead for us.  We are so comfortable in our current ways, that we resist the unpredictable  nature of our future.  We make up every excuse we can to stay the way we are, just keep things going the way they are going and hopefully something good will come out of the same ways.  Heck, I am even content with things staying same, or possibly becoming worse.  We resent change.

At the same time, we know that the evolved us, the newer us, will be a much fulfilled person.  So, we want to embrace the change.  We can’t seem to think about the endless possibilities that this new us will bring about.  We even know that we will be that much closer to becoming the person we are meant to be.  We see it as a calling, we get drawn to it.  We want this change to happen.  We need this change to happen.  In fact, the change is inevitable.

But we don’t want to go through the limbo of giving up our current self and becoming the newer self.  We are two people at the same time; one pulls back, and the other pushes forward.  We feel stuck.  Every cell in our body is playing this tug of war and we just want it all to stop.  We just want to stop evolving, we just want it all to stop.  It is painful, it is ugly and it is downright atrocious to ourselves.

We question our every single life decisions that lead us to this very point.  We want it all to end.  I even considered to run away to the Himalayas and just spend the rest of my life meditating and hopefully die in peace; that’s my version of mild suicidal tendency.  This transition from person A to person B is essentially why acting is difficult.

So, you got your script.  You don’t make the rookie mistake of waiting to start working on the script.  You read the script to enjoy, you read the script to understand and then you start analyzing the bejesus out of it.  You start to see our character telling his/her story.  You find out more and more about your character from the script.

Hint: If the writing is good, then every choices you need to make for your character is right in the script.  If the script is not properly written, then the actor has to make choices to bring that character to life.

You find more and more clues about your character and find what prompted your character to utter those words.  You find the weight behind every single word.  You go as much as you can without trying to say those lines like your character.  You try your hardest to avoid taking that first step towards becoming your character before you are absolutely sure what your character is.  You almost fear becoming your character.  You fear transitioning from Yourself (person A) to Your Character (person B).  Contrary to the above hint, you do have to make choices to explore your character. But the more you explore, your choices don’t seem like choices; they feel more like that’s what it always was and we just discovered it by making choices.  This adds an extra responsibility to make the right choice.

You know who you are as Yourself, or at least you are comfortable.  You don’t know who your character is, well not entirely, and hence you dread what the unexplored and unpredictable future lies for you as your character.  So, you just spend time on defining and redefining your character more and more.  This process of “figuring out” feels much safer than “becoming” your half-ass defined character.  You dabble into saying the lines as your character but the first moment it feels yucky, you want to stop.

A scene from Harry Potter comes to mind; where Dumbledore has to drink the potion of despair. He wants to stop, but he shouldn’t; though he can’t remember that he shouldn’t.

And you, as an actor, are plagued with a similar predicament.  You want to explore your character more before attempting to become your character; but you have to attempt to become your character to explore your character more.  You are stuck in a paradoxical limbo.

This limbo feels painful, it feels ugly and it feels downright atrocious to yourself.  You just want to be content with however much work you put in.  And you want to stop.  It’s enough.  Enough is enough.  It will have to do.

This is what I discovered recently, that I have to push through this painful, ugly, atrocious limbo.  I have to attempt to become my character and explore my character at the same time.  I have to find out why I want to become an actor, find out why I want to become my character.  I have to find out why I like my character, I have to find out why I want to tell my character’s story, I have to find out why my character’s story needs to be told.  I have to be obsessed with finding out these answers, that it takes on a snowball effect of it’s own.  This obsession leads to more obsession and after fruitlessly struggling in this obsession you reach a moment where you start talking like your character, behaving like your character and you become your character.

You will then be put in the situation that your character is in that script, and you will want to respond with the exact same words that your character is responding in the script.  You will act like your character is behaving in the script.  At this point you won’t feel like you are acting, you will be your character.  Every response will just feel right.

“If the Actor is in a state of Beingness (the Role) and he or she is simply Doing (living the life of the Role), then there is no need to ‘Act’.”
– Earl Nanhu

Hint: If even a single response doesn’t feel right, then you need to go back to the slate and work on refining or redefining your character.

Go through the transition.  You may find out that your initial choices of what your character (let’s call it Person B) doesn’t carry you throughout the scene.  So, you go back and redefine your character.  You may end up with a slightly altered Person B or create an entirely new Person C.  You just don’t know.  You have an idea, but that’s it.  You may find out that it was actually Person G that you need for your responses to feel just right.  And the side upside to this; it is that now that you have explored a lot of possibilities, you may be able to follow directions from the director easier or may be able to adapt if you are given an unexpected stimulus from your scene partners.

This obsession is the key to you becoming your character.  To reach to the point of obsession, you have to know that you really want to act.  You have to want to be an actor so badly, that not even the most atrocious self-inflicted mental pain will stop you.  You really are giving yourself the pain.  Dumbledore had Harry to make sure that Dumbledore goes through with the work.  You are your own Dumbledore’s Harry. You just keep going through the muck and the grime of what seems like a frugal effort.  But once you make it, it’s like no other joy that you have ever experienced.

You fail constantly to succeed only once. It’s almost like what Thomas Edison said (don’t know if he actually said it, or not sure if he invented any of the inventions he is accredited for; regardless) “I didn’t fail 1000 times, I found 1000 times of how not to make a light bulb”.

PS: I have an excellent friend who knows this paradoxical limbo, and he pushes the shit out of me.  I also get to do the same to him. 👿

PPS: More discoveries to come, and I will be sure to share them.