07 April 2009

Point & Counterpoint

Yesterday I worked at el day jobo, taught the second half of my workshop at CCNY, attended an acupuncture appointment, made leftovers into dinner when I got home and watched the movie Bolt before climbing into bed. The only part of that which was unplanned was the movie, but we'd gotten it through Netflix some time ago and some priorities get shuffled aside when one wants new things through one's Netflix queue. By that time, at any rate, I rather felt that I had earned 90 minutes of recreation. Paid for it on the tail end, of course (or would that be the head end?) when I snoozed through my overly optimistic 6:00 AM workout alarm this morn'.

I've written about how busy I've been lately, so yesterday didn't particularly stick out for me until I considered it today. At the day job, my energy is very focused on getting things done and put away, streamlining and being efficient. The class I taught was fairly chaotic; there was a lot to cover, and it was mostly about cultivating an energy of play and exploration as we raced along. Then, at acupuncture, I continued my work on letting go. LET GO ALREADY. It's funny to think of it that way, but somewhere between my tendency to be utterly tense and power through challenges and my inclination to completely veg out in front of the tube a la bewbs is an alert relaxation that I'm trying to cultivate for acupuncture.

Every time I try to teach building a physical character to actors, I include a little gem from my first acting teacher in college, Gary Hopper. It's called "active neutral," and it serves as a kind of clean slate from which to kick into a character. The idea is that simply moving from your daily self directly into a character might permit personal idiosyncrasies to carry over, especially when you're in the delicate process of beginning to develop said character. In addition, when playing many characters, active neutral helps keep the choices distinct backstage (assuming you have time enough between changes to enact it for a moment). An active neutral state is one in which the body is set to basic, balanced and erect, face blank, but the readiness to perform, to act, is cultivated and kept at the ready inside. I can be a bit of a phallus (What? It's Latin!) when it comes to enforcing this state in class -- if I see students picking at their clothes, or zoning slightly, I'll test them all and make sure they're snapping to it. Clap! Active neutral! Clap! Relax. Clap! Active neutral!

Today it occurs to me that I'm trying to make them switch roles as quickly and completely as I often have to in my daily life. Projecting? Perhaps. But I also consider it good training for future professional actors.


Patrick said...

I think the proper Spanish expression is "el jobo de day".

I don't think I've ever come across the concept of active neutral before, though there are things like it in mask-training, even the clown-work. It's a good concept to have. In daily life though, I think it's all right if one's foibles bleed a bit from one 'role' to the other. I like having active neutral be one of the tools that creates a sacred space for acting. I don't know that I want it to be a way of life. But that's me.

Jeff Wills said...

Don't get me wrong: I'm not espousing a life philosophy of any sort. Far from it! More observing my own behavior as a teacher a little more objectively than I normally do. I think the way we blur and ooze between different aspects of our lives is part of what makes it all so interesting.