Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ri-Ken-No-Ken (An Actor's Mind)

We are in tech rehearsals for Crime and Punishment at the Blackbox in Las Cruces. We are merging the technical elements of the production with our performances and, at the same time, honing our performances as much as can be done with no audience present.

So I may be offering lots of posts on acting this week, if I may beg your indulgence.

Ri-ken-no-ken is a concept articulated by the theatre master Zeami (approx. 1363 - 1443), a founder of Noh theatre. This concept of how an actor's proper concentration during performance has been revived in recent years by Yoshi Oida, an actor and teacher frequently quoted on this blog.

Ri-ken-no-ken evokes two distinct facets of looking: looking "outside" and looking "inside." What kind of looking is it that burns away "outside" and "inside?"

Somewhere between the subjective and the objective, another element is born. The artistic sense is not from inside or outside. As an actor you look at every aspect of yourself (thought, emotion, movement) from the inside, but at the same time you look at your image from the outside. Then you can act. When you do this something emerges, a strange psychological state. This phenomenon is beyond logical explanation. It has no logic, no words, no intelligence, but with experience you will start to understand.


Yet I wonder, is awareness a "psychological state?"

If you try too hard to look at yourself, you cannot become the character. Your emotions will not be true, and your movements will be controlled by your intelligence and will create a cold performance. This isn't useful, because you do have to live the role completely. On the other hand if you go too far inside the character it can lead you into a trance-like state, which is equally unhelpful. In addition, when you do this it is easy to lose awareness of the audience and perform only for your own satisfaction. This in turn creates a barrier between you and the audience, which is not something you want. Instead, you want to maintain a natural, dynamic flow between you and the public.

A Samurai warrior once asked a Zen Master about where he should place his perception and concentration. The Master replied, 'Not on the tip of your attacker's sword and not on the tip of your own. You should also not focus on your hands or the movement of your attacker's feet. Instead, you should focus everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and keep your perception moving. Like a mirror, which reflects everything, but fixes on nothing.'

Quotations from Oida, Y. (2007). An actor's tricks. London: Methuen.

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