Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On The Head

If the only tool you have is a hammer you tend to see every problem as a nail.

Abraham Maslow
I have been so tied up trying to unravel the mysteries of Face Book I haven't been reading your blogs much, but I will get back to it.
"Give it a light touch." That note was given to me one day by a director and it subsequently led me to a very important acting lesson.

I thought, as many young actors do, that I was a great tragedian. I could wail, rage and moan in the throes of death with the best of them. I never gave anything "a light touch." Heavy handed was my style. Give me a role and I'll nail it down, I'll pound it into the stage with a sledge hammer.

Well, I had a lot to learn. I wanted to do what Shakespeare said not to do, "tear a passion to tatters" and there I was being asked to "give it a light touch." What to do, what to do?

Fortunately I had three sources to draw from to find the answer. One was Shakespeare himself, the greatest acting teacher that ever lived. In the same speech he wrote "use all gently." I don't know. Was I capable of gentleness? I didn't consider myself a gentle fellow. I, after all, was a great tragedian. so I kept searching.

Another major influence and trail guide on my search was my teacher Edward Thommen, about whom I have often written. One of the fascinating things about him as a director was his ability to always know where the light source was coming from. Without light you have dark and darkness on the stage is boring. But with light you can have shadows and that's where the drama is. Just as in a landscape or still life painting it's important that the artist knows exactly where the light is coming from, so in theatre there is some quality in the scene that is casting the shadows.

Which brings me to the third lesson, one I learned from Michael Shurtleff, another acting teacher, who said 4 simple words "Look for the humor." There is at least one touch of humor in every scene, as there is in life, even the most tragic ones. Once I started looking for the humor, sometimes a shadow humor to be sure, every scene took on more dimensions and hence so did the character I was playing.

So with those three lessons under my wig I could leave my hammer in the wings, go onstage with an open hand and not a clenched fist, find the light touch and appreciate the irony of life as I roared into the final grasp of death.

DB - The Vagabond
(This is not a contest.)

In your opinion what is the most amazing thing that could happen during this decade? Make it as outrageous as you want but keep it within the realm of what you consider a possibility.

Only 8 responses so far.

Answers will be published the first day of Summer.

Thank you.

DB - The Vagabond


Liz said...

Looks in the toolbox...

Screwdriver, drill with numerous 'bits', plane, chisels, spirit level alongside what every girl needs ...

A large tube of 'No Nails'

Dadgummit! Where is that hammer?

Gerry said...

This quote was so apt for what I was thinking about I had to blog about it, using this quote as a lead-in. It can apply to a lot of problems besides acting, although I thought your description of 'heavy' acting was very apt as well as amusing. You were really quite frank about how you realized what you were doing and somehow or another managed a lighter touch with humor too. Some actors unfortunately never become so enlightened you will agree, but now try that heavy hand dealing with a whole bunch more problems and you have got war in some cases. A gun is even more heavy handed than a hammer!

krissy knox said...

"Look for the humor." How beautiful. And how ironic to have humor amidst tragedy! Yet, how utterly beautiful. Thanks for a lesson -- one I can use in my life, just as you used in your acting. "Look for the humor."

krissy :)