Actors sometimes ask me about the relation between their conscious choices made in rehearsal and the eventual performance. “I’ve done the work,” they’ll say. “I’ve sorted out my given circumstances, my animal, my Laban efforts, my elements, my objectives. But how do I keep all that going in the performance?” Their worry is that they’ll lose spontaneity.

The performance can and should still have spontaneity, but within the discipline of the framework you’ve worked out for yourself. In performance, the framework needs to be so ingrained into your muscular memory that you should no longer need to think about it. Nor should the audience, because they must never be able to see your process or the exercises that you’ve used along the way. They should just be able to enjoy the ride.

It’s like riding a bicycle. When you’re learning, you’re concentrating fully on the technique that will keep the damn thing upright. It’s conscious competence. It’s also hard work because there’s a lot of inefficient, clumsy effort involved and frequent falls, and with that the possibility of getting hurt.

Later, after months or years of cycling, you never give a thought to the technique, yet it’s invisibly there. The bicycle stays effortlessly upright and you’re able to concentrate on your destination. Now you’re moving forward more smoothly and efficiently, and you can even afford the spontaneity of improvising a flashy turn, or a slowing down, or speeding up, just for the fun of it. With your technique in place, you can play a little. It’s still relative though, because you’re sometimes peddling away only to be overtaken by another cyclist, with better technique, gliding effortlessly past you.

Effective performance, whether acting or cycling, is about momentum with economy, which in turn leads to grace. Rehearsals should be clumsy. Performances should be graceful.

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