Method Acting: the art of torturing yourself to prove you’re an artist. Just kidding.
This is the school of thought that an actor must always stay in character even after cameras stop rolling. Sort of defeats the whole ‘acting’ part in my opinion, but who am I to slam Daniel Day Lewis? Liam Neeson? I think that an actor should be able to turn out a great performance when it’s time, and then turn it off and return to their actual personality, beliefs, core values when the director yells ‘cut’. But perhaps I am just moody and bipolar enough that I can turn my emotions on a dime; the basic emotional trajectory of my day looks something like : Good mood, bad mood, GREAT MOOD, crying….it all depends on how pirouettes are going that class….kidding again, kind of.
If I were going to go method style in my approach to dancing roles you’d better believe I would stay the fondu away from Giselle or Nikiya from La Bayadere- which are roles I would otherwise love to dance. I would perhaps take on Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. “Ok cast and crew, I’m gonna be needing that castle and presents and that ambien right about now”.
I say that method is ridiculous but I noticed that I carry myself in a different manner, deliberately, even while in rehearsal. We at Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company are preparing for our show this weekend and I noticed during our last run how very differently I behave in the wings, or off-stage for separate pieces, and I don’t think I’m the only one. During the joyous, fun piece I saw myself and others watching and complimenting the dancers onstage (Yes Mariko! -I probably say this at some point every run) and while in the thick of a more serious piece, I could feel my facial expression take a furrowed and concentrated shape, I might close my eyes and mark an arm or go over a key phrase that I made up to aid execution during fast moments “up side down extend”- I say these things to myself until they become second nature
I think behaving this way helps me center my energy and focus on the task at hand. It’s funny that I feel more connected to my fellow dancers, even from the sides, during a piece that is so openly about communal spirit while I become more introverted and internally focused even off-stage during the other where I feel like something weighty and maybe even beyond my comprehension is going on.
If I’m totally honest though, I think that my changing sideline attitude reflects more how I want to appear to my coworkers and director. I do think concentrating or enjoying myself helps the dancing, but I do ‘act’ these ways deliberately and not because it really helps me. I feel that if I’m laughing or smiling offstage during the serious one, it will look like I in-turn am not taking the work seriously or understanding the intellectual and physical demands. And then if I mess up during a run, my lack of focus will be declared the cause. And if I am not overtly happy even on the sidelines during the happy piece, It will seem as if I’m not grateful for the gift to dance, or like I’m holding back emotionally and therefore probably physically too. Sheesh, what an exhausting game to play. Maybe the method actors are the most devoted and hardest working after all.
I think the true gift of a performer is that ability to successfully tap into the essence of a role- it doesn’t matter how long it takes for one to get there, but I think I can deliver without having to change too much of my outside lifestyle. The method stuff, at least in this experience, was more about convincing everyone else how fully devoted I am and didn’t really do much to change my actual performance. I think method acting is just covering your butt in case someone could dare say, ‘ they didn’t try hard enough, or do their research, or prepare for their role’.
For now, I’m just Jess– trying to create some art (and now, some dinner).