Wednesday, October 11, 2017


AK in the center.  I'm leaning on the trellis.

We didn’t call acting class “acting.”  We called it “B43” because that’s how it was listed in the catalogue.  One could justify that it was an exploration of consciousness: awareness of sensory input from our environments and our bodies; grasp of how a culture shaped sensory ecology into patterns; and the meaning of a “spine” (identity core) in oneself and in others, so that one could use one’s own life to interpret another.  One’s sense memories reveal connections if you can remember the right moment to summon.

One develops a character in acting by beginning with their spine/core and how it drives them through their culture.  With AK teaching, it was mostly a matter of Chekhov and Ibsen, but also period drama.  She herself was shaped by being short, Edwardian, and, well, whatever lesbian is.  More a matter of not submitting to male domination than desiring females for their returned desire.  (She admired big handsome guys but tried to dominate them.  Charlton Heston never figured it out.  Benedetti did.)  In Edwardian terms, it could be interpreted as a kind of religious conviction, belonging to oneself and propriety.  Idealistic — maybe over-idealistic.

In the end we were all dealing with consciousness, which is of great fascination to researchers today, particularly given the micro-bio-knowledge that is developing through highly technical means.  It is no longer a matter of introspection.  And it becomes less and less a matter of logic or philosophical systems (including Freud); more and more a matter of science research, observation and experiment.  

Also, there is growing interest in what we as actors called “transfer of emotion”, the ability of humans to share their mental/emotional states, simply by close attention to each other, as that between a speech therapist and a lisper.  One exercise was to sit across the table from someone and try to beam your feelings over to them.  

We never knew quite how it worked — eye contact?  story-telling? — but we could do it and it was very hard to block someone else from transferring to you.  Many scientists say this is the growing edge of evolution, not wheels for feet or a third arm, but deeply bonding with other humans.  Maybe even animals, as when a really good rider is mounted on a responsive horse or a person merges with their dog.

In the past decades we’ve given a lot of attention to “frakking” consciousness with drugs or practices that will break up our assumptions or feelings of being trapped.  But maybe we’ve underestimated the power of such practices to disable our consciousness instead of releasing the energy from underneath it.  We’ve let ourselves become numb enough that it takes extreme stories to touch us.

Some people in B43 were a little out of control.  We were not drunks, because that means losing consciousness as well as control.  Drugs were uncommon.  We closely examined our suffering.  If one’s body is one’s instrument — and we frankly said that — then one protects it.  So, maybe singing lessons or some kind of physical development.  AK had started out teaching gym in high schools.  She put a high, even ultimate, value on work.  We each kept a journal of what we had done for the week to learn and to develop ourselves.  She collected them all, read them and annotated them.  My notes from her say over and over, “You must WORK!  Why aren’t you WORKING?”  

I’ve never known how to “work”.  This is a central issue of my life, because I watch, I analyze, I am the cat, but no one sees that as working.  There is no product and nothing is finished — the dresses I sewed hung on a hook, never worn, because they had no hems.  It’s partly that I think as long as I understand, envision, I feel no need to go on; but there’s something deeper, like a refusal to end.  (I should reread Frank Kermode’s “Sense of an Ending.”)  The quality of the ending is one of the secrets to satisfactory drama — a resolution.  Somehow to me ending feels like loss.

Even when I was preaching, people were really “with” me, sometimes on the level of empathetic transfer, but they never commented during the talking feedback traditional to UU’s.  They said the concept didn’t seem complete, still on-going.  They weren’t finished thinking about it.  This is not the end a director or a book-writer wants.  

But now we all seem to be rejecting endings — we’ve had enough of endings — so we marathon series on TV or discs. We want books in sequences that continue the story.  (Which can drive some authors crazy because they’d like to think they could start something new.)  In terms of politics, some are not only resisting the end of the Post WWII old-white-man military hierarchies, but even trying to turn everything back to what they knew fifty years ago, denying that the world has changed.  Their emotion-transfer, so successful for winning elections when at hysterical pitch, doesn’t work for international diplomacy or even national governance that depends on sharing and understanding.

The overarching theme of Chekhov, probably of Edwardians in general, was that their day was over, so that in comic sadness they search for ways to renew or to at least share the universal tragedy of Time that means we all die.  Maybe the renewal is doomed to trigger holocaust and genocide because the new consciousness has to break its way up through old rot and rust, domination and perversity, in order to grow the new story.  Certainly our dystopic stories of the future (thinly disguised versions of our sub-wars around the world) illustrate that.  Portrayals of what is beyond the rubble almost always revert back to old times, not products of new terms or identity spines, but vague memories of Eden or at least country life.  We wait for Godot but He's dead.

We were not so explicit as that in B43.  C11 (“Styles in Acting”) came closer.  The limits of my capacities came clear in the scene from "Medea" when the messenger (me) arrives to tell Medea about the horrible result of the poisonous dress she sent to her rival.  My powers barely went beyond learning my lines.  AK  tried hard to break through to me, even had Paula Prentiss act Medea for me, but I wasn’t scared of her.  I had shut off all the scary stuff and it left me without the ability to portray horror/evil.  

The realization that this was true, which happened in that moment, has been a driving force ever since.  I will look squarely at everything — every ghastliness — never turn away.  I’m not sure what to do after I get the measure of Evil, because it is human.  It’s this vision of dimensions and renewal that we all need in our films and writings, which in my case is on-going blogging — no ending, no closure so that I have a new chance to get closer every day.  

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