05 March, 2014

Ask Al: Results

Last semester, I had a student who was working on the powerful penultimate scene in The Children's Hour, and came across some of an actor's most common and frustrating challenges. She had done all of her homework, research, written a kick-ass biography, and identified deeply with the character. There was nothing left for her to "do."

But once she got into the scene itself she was confronted with a problem: how do you divorce yourself from what you consider to be the "best results?"

Often, when we are acting, it is difficult to lose your inner critic; to turn off the voice that is cheering you on as you cry real tears, or beating you up as you deliver a line in a less than convincing way.
Sound familiar?

How often have you been in a scene and self-edited by damning yourself with internal thoughts such as, "Wow. That sucked..." In that circumstance I like to try a little tactic called "That sucked BECAUSE."



"That sucked," (you actor-brain says,) "because..." (your character's brain clicks in) "because I really wanted to connect with Astrov and to have him see that I love him."

"That sucked... because I don't think I got through to Orsino..."
"That sucked... because I don't think Torvald understood me..."

See? You are thus empowered to turn your self-editing into a positive force! You can use it to not only help get you back into the play, but reignite your motivations two-fold!

That said, here is a snippet of correspondence with my student working on The Children's Hour:

Dear Al,
I'd like your help with a few things...
So, the first time we went all the way through, I felt my feelings. It didn't even feel like I was saying lines.
However, the second time we ran the scene, I think I was trying too hard to re-create that same emotion. I was almost forcing myself to cry. I kept hearing this voice in my head saying, 'That was so good the first time, why aren't you crying?!!? CRY!!"' I guess it relates back to the, "You only have 100% of what you have today." What can I do to get out of my head? I was trying to achieve what I had just achieved, but that resulted in disconnected failure. 

This is a totally common habit/error even in professionals. Don't beat yourself up, let's just learn from it! 
I could try the "That sucked… because…"?
Absolutely! That is absolutely the first option I would try. The other thing is simply to remember that the first time you did the scene, you weren't connected to Evie's outcome of "crying, and feeling the feelings." You were actively pursuing Martha's outcome; you were living her truth, relieving Martha of all of this emotional pressure. You were actively confessing your lifelong secret, your forbidden love for Karen, and proposing the possibility of trying to get Karen to make a life with you! Ultimately: you were too busy living Martha's life to worry about Evie's tears!

You must be so focused on pursuing your objectives as Martha, that you don't care whether or not you cry or laugh or scream or turn purple as long as you are truthfully pursing your goals. Some rehearsals you might cry, some you might laugh, some you might do both at once, some you might be extremely confident and at peace... Who is to say that any of these are "wrong" as long as they are exactly the truth of that moment? That is what 100% of what you have today really means. That as long as you are 100% rooting for and fighting for MARTHA, and do not give a shit about E "crying" wowing the audience, and winning the Tony for her tears, you are going to be just fine.

Because my doll, it is not about you. 

It is ABOUT Martha.
You must SERVE Martha.
You are up there to tell her story
     and Martha doesn't need your tears for her story to be told.
She needs your truth!
No matter what state the truth is in.
(In fact, Martha probably doesn't want to cry! She wants to be strong. She wants to say all of this with as much composure as she can muster. Martha would want to fight the tears!)

So the next time you find yourself in that internal monologue saying "Cry! CRY!" Take a minute, dig deeper, and say "No! Convince Karen! Rouse Karen! Go to Karen!" 
Go get what you want with even more necessity!
Because what you want? Is Karen. Not tears.


After our next rehearsal Evie wrote back with the following.


Before class today I thought about how I was going to serve Martha today because her story deserves to be told; told through my truth. While I was up there I cleared my mind and let myself forget about wanting to "win a Tony" or please anyone. I told myself all that matters is that I give 100% of what I have today in this moment.

The first time we ran the scene I felt the guilt and the shame. I tried to remain strong, but I broke down in the end. It felt so good to get my secret off my chest. I wanted peace. My order of objectives the first time: make the best out of what we have, to get Karen to talk to me and to look at me, to comfort, to forgive, to tell Karen the TRUTH; to be strong, to please, to convince, to persuade, to love her, to want her; to make everything go away, to free myself, to relieve myself.

The emotion that came out of my body when I pursued those objectives was just heavenly. I didn't once think about needing to cry! Martha didn't want to cry at first, she wanted to be strong! I wasn't even trying to recall lines because they just came out. The emotion I was putting out facilitated the correct words. I rarely found myself saying, "Oh crap, that line sucked..." but when I did, I used the "that sucked because..." and it TOTALLY WORKED! 
The key moments are in the silence and stillness. There were so many words being said without speaking. It's funny... I felt a perfect parallel with the end of the scene and my dinner exercise. It was the exact same feeling of relief. How neat that I was able to experience that feeling through Martha!? Through another person.
I was honored to know that I SERVED MARTHA with ALL my truth. In the end, I was MORE happy that Martha's story was told truthfully than I was happy about MY performance as an actor.... It is not about the actor's results... wow... It's. really. not.  

So. After that extremely successful first attempt at the scene, we made a few comments, observations, adjustments, and we almost instantly started the scene again.

Now... I didn't even think we were going to run the scene again after all of THAT. But.. well, we did. YUP.
My initial thoughts were, "Okay, don't try to recreate what just happened. Just go with the flow, and if needed, choose a different objective. Well, that is exactly what I did. I suddenly felt myself getting mad that Karen didn't feel the same way as I did! Thoughts were running through my head: "How could she lead me on like that all this time?" "Why is she turning away from me?" "Why is she being so crass?" "I need to physically go near her to prove my point!" and "Why can't she just say she loves me too?" And that last questions was the moment when my objective changed. I realized that Karen loved me, but she didn't love me. From then on it was a completely different scene, but equally as  truthful. 

I was more concerend about serving Martha. It was my obligation to serve her. To tell her story.

And oh: did she ever serve. 


  1. Thank you so much!

    I can't remember if i commented before.. i've been reading your blog for a while, i live in Paris so haven't seen you perform yet (except in l&o), but i really appreciate your blog, and your advice (i'm a lyrical singer).

    This post is exactly what i needed to read, as i've been struggling a bit with a part that i've done several times - because i've done it several times...
    I will think about this advice a lot in the next few days :-)

    So thank you!

  2. Merci mille fois Starfish! Je suis heureux de savoir que mes mots font une différence, même à travers l'océan Atlantique! Bonne chance avec votre art!

    Alexandra x



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