Week 11: Chair’s Blog – Acting and Connection

When you watch a film or go to see a play, what is it that connects you to the story? Unlike fictional (and indeed some factual) literature, where you primarily use your imagination to stimulate the pictures in your head, live theatre and (to a lesser extent) film and TV shows provide you with the visual and aural stimulus already.

After many years doing unpaid community theatre (or amateur dramatics as many people still think of it) I decided to go on an acting course which, at its core, sought to convey the simple message that when you’re on stage (or on set) pretending to be someone else, it’s really just you there, trying to embody a different character.  And that means it’s your emotions on show (not the character’s).

When you are moved by a production as an audience member if you believe in the emotions then you will generally be carried on by the story.  Film and TV often adds incidental music to guide you (and on stage musicals, opera, and ballet obviously do the same thing) along with clever editing, but where there’s none of that the audience just sees you and your fellow actors on stage – exposed.

It may seem obvious to some, but if your emotions as an actor are not convincing then the audience will switch off – or worse still, laugh, which if it’s not a comedy can be excruciating!

The course I went on therefore spent a huge amount of time getting the actors to get in touch with their own emotions, the theory being (broadly) that if you didn’t understand your own emotions, then how could you possibly convince others.  It was an eye opener for me and made me feel very vulnerable in class which is exactly what the course was aiming to achieve.

But I can honestly say it was one of the best years of my life. Sadly, before I was able to take the advanced course, lockdown happened and the company went bankrupt. And whilst I did some online acting stuff it wasn’t quite the same.  Like so many people at this difficult time, I had mental health challenges which led to the counselling I’ve mentioned before (a story for another time).

However, looking back, the course was transformational. It was also helpful in working with my son (who has an Autistic Spectrum Condition) on completing his own more conventional acting degree.

To some extent the counselling helped substitute a little for the acting course. In hindsight it might have been more helpful to just go and find a different course when things opened up, but I didn’t.  However, I did get back out on the amateur stage.  And for me the process of rehearsal, as well as performing, has brought me more joy than anything else in recent years.

I continue to question myself why and the reason I think comes back to connection. There is of course lots of other stuff involved in acting, not least learning the lines – the course also taught me a completely new approach to that. But at its core it was about trying to embody another person, getting into their head, absorbing their emotions and connecting to the people opposite you.

The reality I’ve found (and to be fair they drummed this into us on the course) is that the technique needs practice, over and over again. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this and to me it’s essentially the same as developing your emotional intelligence. I’ll be the first to admit that in years gone by my Emotional Quotient (or EQ as it’s known) was not particularly high. The course, in my view, undoubtedly helped develop that, but one’s EQ needs constantly refreshing.

And so, we come full circle. Emotional intelligence is, in my view clearly linked with the ability to engage with the people in front of you, not just what they say, how they say it and how they present themselves when they say it (body language). Really listening and observing. And that isn’t just an acting thing. It’s something we all owe to one another, as I’ll try to explain next time.

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