• John Vessels

Pick a Team?

When I was coming up in theatre, I worked with two women, great friends, one of whom was fiercely "method" in her approach and the other who was fiercely "technical" in hers. And they both extolled the virtues of their way of acting; and while they enjoyed each other's work, they made a point of explaining to young, green me the pitfalls of the other's approach. Here's where I landed: why pick? I was looking at two approaches that served each actor to a point. But where one excelled in REALLY experiencing the moment, she had a little trouble consistently conveying her experience to the audience. The other did a fantastic job of clearly stating to the audience what she meant to state, but the feel of it was often mechanical and produced.

Over the years, I've become an "and" kind of person in an "or" kind of society. Many of my students would make 180 degree turns in lessons when I made a suggestion of an adjustment. "Try this." Complete change. I've gotten smarter. Now I say, "Add this."

I find actors to be the ultimate multi-taskers. We have to FEEL the thing, we have to CONVEY the feeling, we have to NOT DROP the props, we have to DODGE the furniture, and--in the context of musicals--we have to do it all while SINGING and DANCING! In a perfect world, you're doing all of the things. In a realistic world, sometimes you bump into a coffee table. But think for a moment what a complex thing it is to pour a cup of coffee while getting bad news with an audience watching. Mechanically, you have to transfer a liquid from one container to another--successfully. Emotionally, you have to take in and process new information AND be affected by it. Technically, you have to make sure your body is open enough to the audience that they'll see and understand what is going on in the story you inhabit. For the moment to appear real, all three things need to occur to some degree of success.

Between, Mechanics, Technique, and Emotional Method, most people have a favorite. The favorite isn't the one you do. The favorite is the one you do first. Then, you move onto your next favorite. Then, you finish off with the one you've now had the most time to think about. Picking only one oversimplifies complex emotional moments with necessary theatrical considerations. The longer you combine the three approaches, the better you get at arriving at all three nearly simultaneously. But there's real value, early on, in noting to what you are attending and by what means. So be intentional about the separation of tasks. Then be intentional about combining them into a seamless whole.

Understand the steps. Do the steps. Do the steps so many times they're second nature to your character--so that you, the actor, don't have to think hard while doing them. This kind of intentional preparation and sufficient practice make for a seamless, real-to-you & and realistic-for-the-audience moment.

Tough choices are sometimes tough because we could have chosen both.

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