Successful artistry is also a form of self-discovery - it is the discovery, in the lawfulness of one's actions, of the innermost character of one's intentions.
Every actor has theatre stories, which they will tell on a moment's notice. The longer an actor stays in the business the more stories he will accumulate. This one happened fairly early in my career so I'll call it Theatre Story Number 27.
Acting is doing something. An actor is one who does something. An action is something that is done. It all seems so simple and logical. Right? Then why do some people have such a hard time learning that?
This took place on the stage during a performance of The Seagull, by Anton Chekhov. It was at a moment in the play when most of the characters are getting ready to return to Moscow after having spent the season in the country. The main action was going on in the center of the stage. I was sitting in a chair in the corner near the front. At one moment a servant girl came in, brought me my overcoat and walking stick, I rose, she helped on with the coat, handed me the stick, I thanked her and sat back down. It was a simple moment and didn't detract from whet else was going on.
One night I turned, looked her right in the eye and said "Thank you." she smiled and left. When I sat back down it was one of those moments of realization when your life goes from black and white to technicolor. What had happened?
Wht happened was that she really helped on with my coat and I really thanked her. She didn't pretend to help me with the coat and I didn't pretend to thank her. I really thanked her, genuinely. It was a moment of real contact between two human beings. This flesh and blood was talking to that flesh and blood, person to person. And it was, for that moment, the only thing happening in the universe.
I don't remember the girl's name. In fact I don't think I ever knew it. She was probably a student brought in to take care of a few simple tasks during the play.
What that experience taught me was that acting is doing something. Not pretending to do it, not acting as if you were doing it, not showing the audience that you're doing it, but actually doing it.
Naturally, on the stage we shoot blanks and choreograph fights. But the real intention to kill or harm has to be there to make anything real.
After that experience I was able to play any scene with the honest intent to act out the events. And when I worked with other actors, particularly older, experienced actors. I could actually look them in the eye and genuinely talk to them, genuinely listen to them, genuinely respond to what they said, genuinely feel the intensity of the emotions and let the audience eves drop on the event. I'll never forget that moment, which happened every night after that, and that girl, whoever she was and wherever she is, who helped me learn a great lesson in acting, and gave me Theatre Story Number 27.
DB - The Vagabond
Tomorrow: A desperate tug of war.