Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happy actors do it better

During this Italian adventure I have had conversations with more than one artist about mental health and acting.

There persists, among artists and non-artists alike, a notion that neurosis is indispensable to the actor's craft.  The play of identity, changing personas, embodying different characters and bearing witness to a wide spectrum of human motivation and behavior, continues to be treated as some dark, esoteric art.  Especially when it comes to madness, violence, rage, and all the dark spaces of the human realm.

One artist I spoke to, a former professional actor, claimed straight out that years of successful therapy and healing "fucked up [her] acting."

Many artists do suffer.  Among artists there are high rates of depression and other mental health challenges.  There is even a perennial notion that psychological health is a hindrance to artistic practice.  The artist must suffer to be effective.  Heal the suffering, and the artist will be unmotivated or unable to create. 

For so many years I hated acting and hated myself.  I had good teachers but I was depressed and drunk and afraid, and couldn't do what they taught me to do.  I sensed that I wasn't any bloody good at the only thing I wanted to do, so I hated it and wanted to die.  That really is the middle chapter of my autobiography, right there.  Suffering didn't help my art at all.

Acting requires free use of the self, an intimate familiarity with one's own emotional life, and some high-level social skills.  If an artist loses touch with these abilities, what makes us so sure they have finished the healing process?  What might be happening is that people change as they heal and mature, and the art of acting is simply not as compelling for them.  Nothing is wrong with their acting, they are simply evolving.

Imagine approaching the work from a place of wholeness and happiness.  Imagine being so at ease with yourself that you can use your body, look foolish, show yourself warts and all, using the ugliest aspects of yourself in telling a story and embodying a character, without shame or inhibition, because you are no longer afraid of anything in your head, or anything that has happened to you  or any of your own weaknesses and limitations.  Imagine feeling strong and united in your body during performance, being able to release powerful emotions, even very dark and painful ones, and emerge from the performance feeling exhilarated and at ease. 

Does that really sound like it would be bad for your acting?

[Image:  Yours truly having a wonderful time playing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet in Florence, Italy last month.  Click on it for a larger view!]

1 comment:

Adam said...

Right on. I agree with you Algernon on both counts.

A) there is a mistaken belief that you have to be screwed up to be a good actor-- that your special thing that makes you creative and wonderful is really the heart of all your problems.

B) That being a better person means being a better actor/artist.