An Idea or a Notion…

Recently I have been traveling across the eastern half of the United States, meeting with various theatrical minds, students, their teachers and practictioners in residence at some of the more respected Theatrical training programs. One of the more interesting and beneficial conversations, up to this point, was with a man who is not only Faculty in the Carnegie-Melon Drama Dept, but also has a lengthy resume of professional experience.

Primarily it was a discussion regarding the work of the Director, but as the Director sits atop the body as it’s head, the conversation encompassed nearly every aspect of the Theatre. We were discussing a certain play and my ideas regarding its significance, the themes at work etc and my vision for production. I produced a sketch of the set for the play and proceeded to explain the various elements, why the ground plan was laid out as it was, this character’s space in this place and another character’s space in that, what the spacial relationship defined between the two etc. When that portion of the discussion was over, and the gentleman had genuinely and politely praised the work, I felt obligated to tell him something regarding the development of the sketch/vision.

I only understood the design, after I had sketched it. There was nothing conscious in its development. I read the play, as I always do in an initial reading, just to get a sense of it, purely for enjoyment really. Then I read it again, this time with an open mind to whatever the playwright’s work evoked within me, emotionally, visually, spiritually or otherwise. There is no set order to these things, sometimes several of them come together in one sitting, other times it takes a reading with each one specifically in mind for anything at all to be sort of conjured up. In the instance of this play, and as I told this gentleman, upon reading the play a second time a clear physical world for the play existed in my mind. I quickly sketched it before it could slip away, no doubt to never be brought up again with the same visceral and organic vitality as the original. Days later I looked back at the sketch. This time I could see, clearly, the meaning of every character’s space. Why I had placed it where I did. What the intangible significance was of specific elements, the imagery I was attempting to create for the audience with suggestive elements rather than literal ones. This is the way it usually was for me and it was something I longed to understand.

With a smile and a nod the gentleman said to me, I am not surprised by this at all. Do you know the difference between a Notion and an Idea? I responded by saying, well I would think I do, but tell me… …a Notion is just what you had when you made this sketch. Something unfounded, a “wouldn’t it be cool if”…when you came back to it later and could support it, could back it up as not just being cool, but being meaningful and effective, a truth…then it became an Idea. Not all of our Notions become Ideas. Some of them are really nothing more than, wouldn’t it be cool if… …because, while it might be cool…if it can’t be supported, proven as doing service to the telling of the story, then it would also be ineffective or even detrimental to the piece.

This conversation has been rattling around in my brain for the better part of two months…and it has impacted a great deal of the small projects or developmental work I’ve been a part of since then. I find myself even more liberated than I was before. Open and available to every Notion that presents itself. Not bothering to judge them in the instant I have them, as being good or bad, right or wrong. Simply allowing myself to “have the Notion”, perhaps make a note of it. Then come back to it later, test it against the text or other elements of the work to determine if it was merely a Notion…or if it could in fact be fully developed into an Idea.

Notions keep us interested, searching, longing…hungry. Developing them into Ideas, that keeps us sharp, teaches us to be appropriately critical and makes your work as an Artist effective to your Audience. There will no doubt be further posts exploring this concept of Idea vs. Notion. As it has caused me to have a rather large notion regarding its meaning on a grander scale. I am excited to find out if it’s merely that…a notion…or in fact…an Idea.

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The Nobility of Acting

While I forever preach the teachings of Gordon Craig and Robert Edmond Jones and Harold Clurman…the concept that the Theatre exists as A Body…I also believe the profession of the Actor, to be one set apart from all the rest.  A profession that requires the Valiant quality I speak of so often, to be present in such a large quantity that I would even go so far as to call the profession of Acting – a Noble one.

The Actor speaks a truth that the majority of us never experience in any sense.  A small percentage of us know it in our hearts, a slightly smaller percentage speak it in our minds and the smallest percentage of all, will at times, let it slip from their lips.  But the Actor, to fulfill his duty to The Body, to truly be effective in his art, must speak the truth from deep within, and speak it with every fiber of his being.  The truth must come in his delivery of the text, an unaffected, organic, visceral and emotionally vital evocation.  The truth must come from his posture as it must support his character and say something to us about him, without hammering away at our skulls about it.  It must be in his movement as he walks his staging for the 147th time on opening night…not as though it were by rote.  It must be in his gesture as it supports his delivery of the text and aids in his relationship with the rest of the world of the play…without indication.  The truth must come from his eyes and bore into the eyes of his scene partners…his fellow Actors, who’s truth should be boring back at him.  We should witness a collective truth on the stage, summoned by this group of Actors, this ensemble of Truth Tellers, and put on display before us so that we might allow our own hearts to have that truth embedded within them.  We should carry however large or small a piece of their work as we can, out of the theatre with us.  Then the truth can live on.  The truth the Playwright put on paper.  The truth the Director so carefully coaxed from the Actor. The truth that exists only in that special world of the play as constructed by the team of Designers.

We may well study to be Directors or Designers or Stage Managers or any of another dozen specific professions of the Theatre…and while each requires a certain set of indelible talents, it is my experience that the Actor is the most truly born to their profession.  Training is still necessary.  Technique is not something we are born with, it must be learned.  But I have found the other professions to be less dependent on something you are “born with” than that of the Actor.  Perhaps that is because their work requires, in order to stand on a stage emotionally bare, metaphysically naked, a level of courage…a Valiant quality all their own, to which one cannot be brought.  One cannot be handed that quality in a classroom or discern that quality from something read in a book, not in the amount it is required to be truly effective as an Actor.  In my opinion, and experience, there is no other profession that requires such a large amount of such an intangible quality as the work of the Actor.  Why do you think so many of us begin as actors, only to take up residence in other portions of the Body?  Because we lack what is truly necessary to be truly effective.  We see a large number of great Actors cross over into other segments of the Theatre with great success, usually while they continue to perform .  But it is rare to see an Artist begin in another area of the Theatre, only to later take on the task of the Actor with any reasonable impact.

There is nothing at all wrong with this.  The Body needs all of its parts.  ALL of them to be truly effective.  But let us not forget, at the end of the day, the Actor is on the front line, the Actor is in the Infantry of the Theatre.  The Actor my very well be the Heart of the Theatre…as we must always remember the Audience is it’s life blood.