by Yimei Chen
What is acting? What is an actor? To use one analogy, in trying to capture the effect on the audience, it is like the moment when the flower blossoms. The flower opens and the audience experiences it. They feed its blossoming with their attention. How does an actor prepare him/herself to reveal this organic unfolding of life, so that when the audience experiences it, they feel its beauty?
As an actor, it is important to be able to receive; that is, to receive oneself, receive partners on the stage, the audience, and the field of their work. It is like you cast a net of awareness to cover all of this. Inside this net, all happenings unfold, everything is possible, including surprises and serendipity. The beauty that reveals itself is not just within the context that the actor created, but also something more than this. It happens in the same way that surprises meet us in daily life–surprises which usually bring us joy.
It is a conscious exercise. A capacity for active imagination. Something the body can touch and sense, not an idea. We need to taste the sensation from the body. For example, when we are in love, there is a simile that says, “like deer rushing into the heart.” What does that mean? Perhaps, some sweat on the palm, faster heart speed, faster breathing, unstable mind because there is another person in the heart. It can be expressed from the body level, instead of an idea. Then, how about feeling proud? How about feeling shameless? As an actor, we are able to express and convey this to the audience through our imagination.
The work as an actor is to capture the essence of those words, the reality at the body and soul level, and, when it is possible, the audience can feel it.
“Acting” is a misleading word with the connotation of becoming another. However, the ideal work of the actor is probably more about presencing–being available in our humanness to receive another possibility of the human experience by awakening a sensation and imagination of it. We don’t become another; we reveal, through our creative freedom, another possibility of being human.
In order to do that, it takes lots of inner work from the actor’s side. The sense of shape, the form, the body, the voice, has to be penetrated, to be felt, enlivened. The active imagination includes inner presences or aspects, such as earth, water, air, and fire; qualities of movement such as molding, floating, flying, and radiating; living gestures like to push or to pull, falling and rising qualities of experience, different colors – all via the body, the facial expression, and the voice, which all shape and reveal the character on the stage.
Each character is not fixed. To my surprise, it is not about my original assumptions about imagination of certain emotions, instead, it is a state of flow. In a big context, any change of one inner element or aspect affects or changes others, creating a constant state of metamorphosis and surprise.
It takes a lot of trust in order to be that flexible. Trusting oneself, trusting others, and a willingness to adjust and be open.