Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Right Choice and The Strong Choice

Actors spend a lot of time vetting over a single word, "Choices". For the lay person, a choice is a decision to due something. I'm standing at Starbucks and my choice is a Grande Vanilla De-Caf Latte. Sounds simple, right? However, the concept of Choices for actors is a bigger deal.

Let's start the discussion on a broad scale. You can ask a lot of actors a simple question, "As and Actor, what is your job?" You will get a ton of different answers, like: tell a story, be in the moment, create a character, etc. I have come to love this quote on what an actor's job is, "To Live Truthfully in Imaginary Circumstances." At the end of the day, actors are creating a false reality for the audience to engage. The 'realness' or 'truthfulness' of that reality creates an experience that is impactful for the audience. So, if we make choices in everyday life, those choices created onstage, must have the same touchstone real life quality. If they do not, then you have egg on your face, or worse, you never book work.

For some actors they can be pre-planned and carefully crafted ahead of time in rehearsal or in personal work (ugg) or they can be created within the moment of the performance improvisationally (yeah). They can be small, like whether or not to pick up a book and read it on stage briefly while in the midst of a dialogue scene. Or they can be Big, like deciding a character's preparation or global motivations for an entire play. Like I said, they're diverse, but in the end, we just call them, choices.

The Choices you make on stage are the art part of acting. Just as a painter makes choices on his or her canvas, the actor uses his or her body, stage, scene partners to make choices within the story. How good those choices are, how convincing they are, define your art in this discipline. Therefore, you can see why actors could get really worked up about choices.

Early in my career in Los Angeles, I joined a great theater group with a diverse set of actors. It was a membership group so people came and went every year. There were a lot of amazing actors who booked tons of work in the group, and people would always say, "Oh, So and So, makes such interesting choices," or "They're choices are so compelling, I'm jealous." I was young and despite having a degree, untrained, and I was easily caught up in this really important word, Choices. I used to agonize over whether or not I was making the right choice or a good choice or an interesting choice... it was demoralizing at times. I think a lot of actors can relate. They ask themselves the question, "Am I doing this right?" I think part of that anxiety stems from not fully understanding yourself as artist, which is a touch road to walk down, but it's also part of the world of comparisons that actors constantly engage in. These negative habits and lack of exploration personally create the life of anxiety surrounding choices, which affect how you rehearse and audition to be honest.

The worst part about choices is not making them. That's because the actor gets so anxious and in their head, they become wooden, stilted, false. I remember watching a play rehearsal once, and an actress was just standing in the scene, not moving. The director asked her, "What's Wrong?" She said, "I didn't make a choice here, did I?" He of course agreed. The question was, "Why?" Her response, "I don't know the right one to make." As I replay it now in my mind... I cringe.

So, here is your daily paradigm shift, There is no such thing as 'the right choice'. There is not singular perfect choice. It does not exist. This is what so many actors fail to realize. And the act of trying to come with "The Perfect Choice" is a process that for me looks like the marriage of banging the tv for a better picture and a Senate Confirmation Hearing. I worked with a director who was always after 'the perfect choice' in rehearsal, and he would have me a scene 27 times to find 'the perfect choice'. Then he'd find it, only to change it the next day after 37 times through running the same scene... that, my friends, is creative agony. I later came to the conclusion, through my own return to study, that there is no right choice. There are but a myriad of appropriate choices. Those appropriate choices become brilliant choices when the actor makes them strong... and thus, you have what all actors must seek to make... the strong choice.

The strong choice is the one hundred percent, stick your face in it, burn your eyes out, commitment to what you are doing on stage, 100% truthfully. This choice is the choice that books work, wins awards and furthers the individuals artistic journey. It's what lights up the room, makes a director feel he's found a budding star, and makes an audience member become a fan, buy the DVD or come back the next day to see the matinee at full price. The strong choice is what actors need to aspire to, not the right choice.

Why? Well, it's because the strong choice is so simple. It's the equivalent of me putting a ball on a tee for you, and saying swing as hard as you can. It's not effortless, but it's straightforward honest and pure. It simply take 100% commitment and zero fear of failure. However, you'd be surprised how many folks can't swing for the fences with a choice. I think it may be that word "Failure" that prevents them from letting it all hang out. "What if I embarass myself. What if I piss off the casting director? What if I don't book the gig?" The funny part is that by not taking a risk and making a storng choice, you are embarassing yourself, pissing off the casting director and you won't book the gig.

But, that's the process of the artist in end. The art should be a journey that changes you personally as well as artistically. I write this note, only to provide you with encouragement in your own discipline as an artist. I say this so that you will stop worrying about, 'screwing it up' and start doing the work without fear. If you find yourself paralyzed in making that kind of choice, and I meet plenty of actors who are, then get some help, invest in a community that supports you, go see a therapist, get into a class where you are encouraged to take risks. Sometimes the only way to swim is to jump into the water with both feet.

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