D.W. Winnicott might be the best expert at talking about the “space” that forms between two people intent on each other while engaged in a common subject or pursuit. It becomes a living entity in itself. He talks about the exchange between the mother and her child as they play. The rest of the world disappears as the focus encloses these two, creating something larger than either of them, or both of them, something emergent, something synergistic, something “more.”
We say we “connect” with someone who offers absorbing conversation or maybe flirtatious body language. It’s as though filaments weave us together in that moment, something emergent. Hard to describe. You had to be there.
When the theatre succeeds, the actors and the audience weave that space between them. When I used to preach the magic space didn’t always form, but when it did, the feeling was transcendent, the sharing was intense, the time was memorable. Speech coaches will say, a sermon is something created in the sanctuary BETWEEN the congregation and the preacher. It is not words on the page but something living. It is different from reading and having the ideas come alive between your eyes and the page. It won’t: it will be all in your head. I’m a manuscript preacher -- if I handed you my text, it wouldn’t be the same. When I was circuit-riding, I preached each sermon four times: it formed something totally different every time.
This seems to be close to what Victor Turner means when he talks about “liminal space.” It is one of the secrets of the “creativity” everyone obsesses about so much, but it cannot be achieved by “trying.” It’s about attunement, participation, engagement, exchange.
When David Press tried to interview Alvina Krause about her teaching methods, she often found it hard to explain why she had done what she did. “It just HAD to be,” she would say. Of course, everyone makes decisions and takes actions that are based on thinking down below the water level that marks consciousness, but there was something more than that. I often saw it when I sat in the back of the auditorium, tne one now named for Alvina Krause -- though Annie May Swift Hall is now occupied by the Performance Studies department. It was partly eye-contact and body tension, but more than that, it was the empathy between the actors on the stage and AK just off the apron. She was feeling them.
“Feeling” is often put down. When I found Suzanne Langer’s “Feeling and Form” and went head-over-heels for it, I was quickly discouraged by my advisors. (I snuck around and read the rest of her books anyway and now she is respected! So there!) She is a good guide to Krause‘s thought. In a university environment, one is supposed to be rational and NOT touchie-feelie. Fine, but not when ACTING, when so much of the thinking is IN the body. Like love-making, though I hesitate to say so because in this culture so many things are defined by sex that it has lost most of its meaning.
In 1957-61 the terms of “liminal” or “emergent” or “whole body thinking” or “mirror cells” just didn’t exist yet. AK didn’t have the terms for what she was doing. But she wasn’t about to give up the idea that she was definitely doing SOMETHING and the inability to explain made her fierce and stubborn. Neither did David Press -- writing his thesis in 1970 -- have terms, except through the theories of Stanislavsky and the Method. But no one likes to be defined by the work of someone else. AK resisted.
Let’s go back to babies. It’s clear from videos that very young babies gaze into their mother’s eyes and try to imitate their expressions. At the very least, the warmth of the maternal gaze makes them kick their feet and blow bubbles. A baby who is not moving, who is not looking, is in big trouble. But an adult human, not obviously in danger, may freeze while thinking -- all energy going into the thinking, but not necessarily the brain. Maybe the gut. Maybe a clenched muscle group. Maybe that stare is covering for a kaleidoscope of remembered sights. The paused moment can contain a flashing multitude of thoughts. Then comes the decision and the inevitable action.
Part of expanding consciousness so that one can participate in shared exchange is making it safe. Can any taped or footnoted interview ever be safe? In the classroom the teacher has much more safety than the student, but also needs more internal space because of layers of consciousness: awareness of the student’s history, considerations of style. The student needs to be in the “now.” This is very hard to convey but once you’ve hit it a few times you know the surge of energy, the vividness, a kind of light that comes. Then you can feel for it again next time. So AK would push until they got it through trial and error. Then she would recognize and mark it for the student.
So much of acting is about the management of one’s consciousness. As I understand it (and I have not studied Stanislavsky so I’m coming off of counseling and general life), this is what the Method amounts to. If one can transparently produce the authentic conscious feeling the character has, maybe by remembering one’s own, then the audience can see it and feel it as well. What makes the technique so difficult is that it is the water in which we fish swim. It’s always there, but usually beneath consciousness.
Both the neuroscientists (the real ones like Antonio Damasio, not the pop writers) and the Internal Family Counseling experts say that a person is a active process that can handle several personas or parts or layers at once: you as actor, you as character, you as student, you as guy-who-heeds-to-remember-to-pay-a-bill. Onstage some of those must be put on hold, self-protective as they may be, so there is more room internally for the actor and the character. The teacher or director merely stands in for the audience. An actor freely and confidently moving through the feelings of the character will cause the audience to do their part in creating the actual play in the space between the proscenium and the back wall of the theatre.
This quote is from Winnicott’s “teddy bear” book: ”Playing and Reality.” (Technically, it’s object-relations theory.) “Psychotherapy [acting] takes place in the overlap of two areas of playing, that of the patient [actor] and that of the therapist [audience].
Psychotherapy [acting] has to do with two people playing together. The corollary of this is that where playing is not possible then the work done by the therapist [teacher or director] is directed toward bringing the patient [actor] from a state of not being able to play [act] into a state of being able to play [act].”
(This post was also put on www.thesilvercomb.blogspot.com.)