(Cross posted on The Truth & The Signal.)
Back on Monday I pre-recorded an interview for Skeptically Speaking that will air this Friday... hence the post title... I haven't publicly said the things that this post is a development of....
It was a fun interview, though plagued with technical difficulties - if you are a regular listener of the show I should clarify that I don't mean that in the sense of how the show is infamously plagued by technical difficulties. We (by which I mean Des, the host, and I) evaded the typical difficulties by pre-taping the interview. Des is going to be at Dragon Con, so both of us would have been remote... it would have been too easy to lose both of us.
The technical details we had were more due to the fact that by not being live the pressure was off so neither of us was as 'on' as we might otherwise have been. As a result we ended up re-recording an awful lot. I even deliberately said 'fuck' once so that she would have to start again when her tongue was getting tied. We also got into a lot of laughing. I'm hoping that the final edit will be as fun as we had.
Fun or not I did have some staircase wisdom on the matter.
One of the things that we talked about was how saturated the acting community is with new-age thinking. Ugh. The answer is "Far too saturated." Which is not to say I am alone as a critical-thinker in the acting community. Whew! But lame-assed hippy-dippy earth-mother beliefs are far too common.
I've been in far too many productions with people who wanted to "share our energy" on stage. Whatever. Yeah, I know there is a rush that we get when a show is really clicking. It's a lot of fun. But that's not 'energy' - its endorphins... or some other chemical in our body. Okay, I don't personally know the exact hormone that is triggering us. Adrenaline maybe? In any case, not knowing the specifics doesn't actually make me wrong and the woo-eaters who thrive on building our collective conscious on stage correct.
I've heard it all.
The 100 monkeys theory has been brought up as an explanation for shows really working. Huh? Not only is the 100 monkeys effect bullshit in the first place, but even if it were... the cast was considerably short of 100 people. There were three of us, and sadly even if you counted the audience there were too few. But even so... how the hell do monkeys downstream learning a task through spontaneous telepathy explain actors clicking on stage? AUGH! I nearly married that woman... sometimes I am an idiot too.
I do have my own set of flakiness I admit. When I'm doing a really intense role I prefer to be left the fuck alone. I'm one of those annoying pricks who don't want to be disturbed. Don't talk to me, don't bother me with stuff that has nothing to do with what is about to happen on stage, or after the show. I also tend to live bits and pieces of the character in real life. I once played a serial killer (in a comedy, no less) for a summer, and by the end I was not a pleasant person to be around... though no bodies showed up.... yet. I played a Jew who was ostracized in Nazi Germany and I ended up ostracizing myself from the rest of the cast. I played a simple minded and insane chicken farmer... my already teetering relationship at the time didn't survive that one - though I ended up being nominated for a local award for the performance.
Once, in a particularly complex and intense show - George F. Walker's Theatre of the Film Noir - I was playing Bernard, a homosexual who had pushed his mind past the brink while narrowly surviving the Nazi occupation of Paris; one of my cast-mates decided that everyone of us should hold hands and stand quietly together through intermission in order to (you guessed it) preserve our energy. I lasted about as long as it took for him to suggest the idea. The best way for me to 'preserve my energy' was to stand in a dark corner alone and spit venom over his stupid idea. I got the impression that me walking away was all it took to trigger at least one other cast member to follow suit. (I am not entirely alone.) I took great pleasure that night in "killing" his character. Ah, method.
Amongst the worst... or best, depending on your interpretation... examples would be my first acting teacher in university, Linda Hardy, Assistant Professor and flake of top-degree. I recall a class where she told us with great reverence how important it was to the world that there were Universities that were granting doctorates of parapsychology. That it was such a coup that the paranormal had finally gained academic respectability. Is it any wonder that so many artists are woo-munchers when this is the kind of mentors they have?
I was always a little incensed that I was expected to pay money to sit in this woman's classes. We spent weeks of our first term exploring how acting through our various chakras affected our performances, and character presentation. It was this that I glancingly referenced in the Skeptically Speaking interview.
There was some severe priming going on in these exercises.
Linda would talk about our fight or flight response and then we'd "breathe through our solar-plexus chakra". The class would then walk around and respond organically to whatever was on their mind... and no one would turn their back on another unless it was to bolt to the opposite side of the room at top speed. We hardly needed any priming beyond our natural 17 year-old associations when she told us to "breathe through our coccyx" and before you knew it class members were rubbing up against each other in the biggest theatre-school cliche since Fame. Who was I to scoff at that particular part of the exercise? It was ridiculous.
I just did a quick back of the napkin calculation. If I took the same course today I would be paying nearly $300 worth of my tuition to play imaginary games for the first third of my semester. What a rip-off!
And what practical purpose were we to put this to?
"Well, dearies..." (I am channelling Linda through my asshole chakra right now - that's where the energy for total crap comes from.) "...say for example you were playing the part of Prospero, a richly spiritual and wise man. You could channel your performance through your brow and crown chakras to bring into your spirit the energy of magic and intellect that form the core of his being."
Yeah... or you could act.
"Using your chakras you can bring the embodiment of any character you desire into yourself and find their voice within you."
So why then, Linda, is it that every time you act you perform in the vapid and shallow voice of the lead character in a Shirley MacLaine auto-biography?
I think next time I get cast in something, I'm going get my inspiration from science to create a performance of infinite depth and mind-boggling complexity by basing my character on the Mandelbrot Set.
Postscript: I actually did a lot of reading into math when at university. I have an incident seared into my memory where when playing some kind of "Who am I now?" type party game at one of our theatre department parties that someone in the department got angry when I 'was' Rene Levesque. "You can't always be obscure mathematicians Kennedy!" For those non-Canadians and for those too young to recall who didn't click the link, Rene Levesque was a (pretty much, THE) prominent Quebec Sovereigntist leader of the 70s.... sigh no joke that you have to explain is funny.
In the previous round I actually had been Benoit Mandelbrot, so apart from not knowing her Canadian history she wasn't exactly wrong.