27 February 2011

James Cromwell on acting

Several years ago, when I was taking an improv acting class, the teacher sent out this James Cromwell quote:

Basically, what you are doing out there is you. When it comes down to it, what the people see, what they want to see, is not a role or a character or a piece of work.
What they want to see is you. Your breath, your thoughts, your laughter, your violence, your pain, all of it.
What you have to ask yourself is, "Where am I in all of this and how am I going to communicate that?" That's when you notice that you flinch, that you duck and pull away from those parts of yourself that you are unwilling to have other people see. But that's where the gravy is, where your talent is, where the life resides. You have to keep going back there, to trust that the terrible has already happened, that you've survived and that you're okay, exactly the way you are.
You have to walk toward the demons, not run from them. And you'll find that if you put out your hand, not as a fist, but palm up, you'll go right through them like tissue paper. That's when you can be in the moment, any moment.

When I read this seven or eight years ago, a light bulb went off for me: acting meant putting yourself out there - letting go, as it were. As an introvert (albeit one with extroverted tendencies), that was quite difficult for me at first to do on stage, as it was difficult for me in real life. But the thing about acting? Everything is "safe"; there are no repercussions (method acting aside, perhaps?) to cutting loose and letting everything hang out on stage. Why not? What have you got to lose? It takes time, though, to learn as an actor of how to get to that place. Of practicing enough to train your brain that it's okay to access that color or pursue that emotional response. It's very odd, strange and wonderful thing to be onstage, but I digress a little.

Last month, I had the pleasure of singing on a fantastic flamenco-themed concert. I love any kind of Latin/Spanish/"exotic" sounding music, and this was a super fun gig for me. However, that said, it took a great deal of focus for me to get out of my own head and "let go" into some of the parts of the concert...namely, the Carmen excerpts I had to sing. Not only was this all "concert style" (read: no sets nor costumes to fall back on), but I was the ONLY singer. That was a first for me...thrilling as it was, I knew I had to bring my "A" game to this one, and quite frankly, Carmen's naked sensuality - naked in the sense that her sensuousness is so open and public - scared me a little. I - in my own life - definitely have that side, but am not quite so laid bare in public, as it were. (Ah - the introvert strikes again!) So, I was mulling all of this over one day on my hour-long drive out to rehearsal...really trying to get inside of my head and Carmen's psyche, and seeing where the twain should meet up - or not, perhaps, and a few things dawned on me:
1. It had been a LONG time since I had had to play that particular seductive color onstage. Mostly? I am the old ladies; the nurses; the crazy folks; the best friend...all those characters are close to my surface, ready to be brought forth fairly easily. Carmen? She was in there somewhere - I just had to dig her out from under all those other people.
2. A word of advice from my voice teacher: just let go. Just let go! Let go and don't watch yourself - just - sing the hell of it.
3. A word of advice as posted on my facebook: "Say yes, to everything"; so I said yes to Carmen, yes to taking the time to envision the life of an olive-skinned gypsy; yes to spending time with a fringed mantilla, learning how to not get it tangled on my head when I swished it around; yes to walking around my home with flamenco music playing until I could easily transition my walk from blond-blue-eyed-protestant-raised-opera-singer to a more earthy-gypsy-pelvis-driven-cigarette-factory-worker's sway; and yes to finally letting go.

And I had SO much fun come showtime.


Bag Blog said...

I love it! Wish I could have seen you! Very few people have the chance to try their other self and maybe never know who they really could be. Hmm, I might have to do a post on this subject myself.

Mezzo CO said...

Thanks Lou!!! Hope you do write about it, as well. I can imagine that perhaps you get to live somewhat of a double life through your visual art as well, perhaps?