Thursday, July 29, 2010

The AHA! Moment

One of the things I love the most about the rehearsal process is the arrival of AHA! moments. We all get them...those bursts of clarity that explode in your head and clear the fogginess of a problem that you were musing on, revealing a golden light pointing out the new direction.

I live for those moments of creativity and clarity.

Sometimes, I feel both good and foolish when I catch myself literally saying "aha!" in that moment of discovery. I feel foolish because it's such a cliche, and who goes around saying "AHA!" any more outside of a melodrama?

But then I feel good, because cliches come from somewhere. The AHA! moment is a timeless connection to artists and great thinkers throughout history. Socrates or Aristotle probably said it first, but I can imagine Da Vinci...Michaelangelo...Shakespeare...Moliere...Mozart saying AHA! just before they put pen in hand and started creating their masterpieces.

My most recent AHA! moment on The Case of Humanity vs. Pontius Pilate came during a phone conversation with my good friend Rachel. Our relationship began when she wandered into one of my acting classes nearly 15 years ago, and since that time, she has taught me far more than I ever taught her.

When in doubt, call a friend.

So I've been working thru some of the blocks I've been running up against in the play, trying to really understand and feel the strength of faith that Joseph must have had to get Jesus' body from the cross, clean his body and prepare him for burial in his own tomb.

There are so many layers of human emotion running thru that act, and I'm trying peel each layer back to feel the deepest possible truth of what motivates Joseph and what his personal perspective was on the series of crucifixion events.

My biggest obstacle and challenge has been to find the love of Jesus that Joseph must have felt. An extraordinary love for....*something*....that made him risk his reputation and welfare by doing something that could cause great harm to him and his family.

Now, Rachel and I talk maybe every couple of years, usually when one of us is doing a play or needs someone to bounce some creative thoughts off of, so it was time for a check-in. I needed some help.

And Now, A Few Words from our Master

I mentioned my difficulty feeling what Joseph must be feeling to Rachel, and once again, her response was an example of the student schooling the teacher.

She reminded me of the teachings of Stanislavsky, and the "magic IF". I laughed as soon as she said those words--those are the same words that I teach in every acting the very first class. I was the first person to introduce Rachel to Stanislavsky...and here she was re-introducing him to me for the first time again.

It's funny how things work like that.

You Can't Always Feel What You Want to Feel

In the theater, I believe that it's always better to actually feel what your character feels. I like it when a character takes over my body--I get to see the world thru a whole new set of eyes and experience things that I wouldn't ordinarily do.

But hit a block. You're not feeling what the character is feeling...what the script says he's feeling. What to do then?

The Magic IF

You break out the "magic IF". The power in the magic IF is that you don't HAVE to feel what the character is feeling. You just have to act AS IF you were feeling what the character is feeling.

As Stanislavsky explains, that little "if", makes all the difference in the world. The actor playing Hamlet has probably never killed 3 people in real life, as Hamlet does in the course of the play. So he can't really feel what Hamlet does with each death, yet he must act AS IF he has killed these people.

The "if" allows the actor to go to those hidden places in their soul--we are all human, and therefore we come hard-wired with the same set of emotions. Which means as humans, we can ALL kill. Feel lust. Feel rage, jealousy, hatred, intense sorrow or joy, etc.

And as Rachel pointed out...that "if" makes it safe for us to live in those hidden places inside ourselves in the's not really 'me' doing those things the character is...I'm just doing or saying those things as if I were that other person.

The beauty of a play is that the lines stay the same every night and the story always ends the same way. The actor keeps his (or her) identity...their own sense of self strong, precisely because they know that they can give over to the 'if' and by 10:30, its over. That other person leaves and you return to yourself again.

It's an out of body experience...a trip, if you will. Except you know how it will go every night, so you can just ease into it and let it flow.

The AHA! moment is...

All a long-winded way of saying...I don't have to love Jesus. I have to behave AS IF I love Jesus. Now I have a starting point and lots of thoughts, feelings, and choices suddenly spring to mind.

(and yes, I did say "AHA!" when that light bulb went off)

Don't you just LOVE that feeling of clarity? Do you have a story to share about your last AHA! moment?

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