My New Favorite Book

Anne Bogart’s enlightening book, And Then, You Act, had me riveted from beginning to end. It would take way too long to discuss everything I found inspiring in these pages, so I’ll focus my attention in one particular direction.

In the chapter on Intention, one of the sub-headings is How do you proceed? Anne start this section off with a quote from Ortega y Gasset:

A man with a clear head looks at life directly, realizes that everything is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth, that to be alive is to feel oneself lost. And he who accepts this has already begun to find himself, to be on solid ground.

In my own personal experience here at York, I am in the midst of discovering what it is to be lost. I have made some major shifts in my approach to the work since first coming to grips with this concept in late January. The grad Acting class was given an assignment entitled ‘The Death Exercise’. I decided to perform my realistic death by enacting the experience of a fatal stroke. In rehearsing this, I found the experience so overwhelming that I would only go at it at about 30%. Even at 30% I was overcome with uncomfortable emotions. So I decided not to do it at 100% until my actual performance.

Well, the day came, I performed my stroke, and was thoroughly displeased with myself. It went alright, but I was no where near as connected as I was in my rehearsals. Melee, our acting teacher, questioned my ability to fully let go. At one particular moment in my stroke I lose my eyesight and my motor skills. Melee pointed out that I didn’t allow myself to be truly lost up there. I maintain a certain amount of control in whatever I do. I agreed with her and was devastated. She recommended that I swim in the feeling of being lost; begin to put myself in (safe) situations in which I don’t know where I’m going or what’s going to happen as a result. So I started by keeping my eyes closed for longer periods of time in class work- especially movement. Allowing myself to feel unsure and exploring the sense of falling has been imperative to my acting. To be human is to know what it feels like to be lost. I have started gently allowing this new insight into my acting work and I can solidly say that my acting work has grown and expanded as a result of it. I approach the work now with a sense of what I can share with the audience instead of a controlled sense of what I can show.

Anne Bogart writes, “I believe it is imperative to cultivate permission, to call upon the wild raging child that lives within us.”  This is another key discovery I made as a result of ‘The Death Exercise’. I believe we all have an inner artist child that lives inside us. I realized that I have been so incredibly hard on this child for so long. Encouraging her to come out and play, and then severely punishing her when she doesn’t do what I want. I have started my journey in repairing this relationship with her. It all starts with gentle compassion and forgiveness. Again, approaching her with softness and encouragement, not hardened control and expectations.

What are my expectations as an actor anyway? What do I consider success? That is a huge question I have had to ask myself. I have realized that I have had a desire to prove or show that I can accomplish certain things as an actor, and I’ve changed that viewpoint around significantly in the past few months. I now ask myself, what do I know about this situation? This state of being? And I now think to open my heart up and share that with the audience (instead of showing them).

“Art is an act of the spirit. It asks you to be a conduit for something larger than yourself.” Anne’s words here give me goosebumps. YES! It’s not about me. Who am I to be so self-consumed with ‘success’ and ‘fear of failure’? Art is not about that. “You listen to voices from the past in service of the common culture you share with those around you.”

And Then, You Act, has awakened me and my inner artist child. I am in search of what it is I, Kate Gordon, need to say. I haven’t found it yet, but I will not give up. I believe in embracing paradoxes, celebrating accidents, and cultivating permission for myself to make extreme choices and bold leaps of faith. I will continue to challenge myself to jump blindly into the unknown in pursuit of deeper insight into the notion of  what it is to be alive.


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