Acting: Doing and Nondoing
– Sanford Meisner
The art of Acting lies in the reality of doing.
The relationship between the Alexander Technique and an Actor’s training should never be overlooked… Two years after graduating from a classical training in Professional Acting, I embarked on another three year process in becoming an Alexander Technique teacher. I was working as an acting coach and felt the need for some thing extra, something to further my understanding of performance. Perhaps it was the beauty of hindsight, a consolidation of my Actors training, but I am certain that I learned more about the ‘reality of doing’ through my Alexander experience than any other!
The key to a good training is the quality of your experience. When we talk about any performance-based profession the key ingredients are widely regarded to be experience paired with – something often described as – ‘talent’.
For today I think of ‘talent’ as something unlearned, a natural aptitude; an instinctive awareness that lends itself to a certain activity.
Experience is perhaps more complicated in that in encompasses many ‘types’; for today I’ll describe it as the ‘quality and time invested in a person’s practice’ – what they have done; alongside the ‘quality and impact of what they’ve been exposed to’ – what’s been done to them. In other words, experience is the embodiment of all that has been learned.
When it comes down to teaching, or delivering this kind of experiential training, it is therefore very difficult to find the right words, (if such things exist,) unless there is a context of mutual understanding, an experience, to back these words up.
When I approach a script for a character, the words I memorise are purely a vehicle for the character’s intentions. The same is true in life, although the difference is I haven’t got the luxury of knowing what I will say next, or what I will hear, and I don’t have time to think about any of it outside of my own context…
Whether ‘Acting’ or living, it is not what I say, but how I say – not what I do, but how I do – that makes all the difference; and the how is a product of my ‘talent’ such as it is, and my experience; a cocktail of thought, feeling, and action, awareness, imagination, hopes and fears, memory of past, experiencing present and concept of future. All that is learned and unlearned.
In an Alexander Technique lesson, the teacher is responsible for the quality of the experience for the pupil, and the same principle applies in Acting. For the duration of a play, the actor(s) takes responsibility for the quality of the experience of the audience. (Acting is a team sport however, the same principle applies across all aspects in crafting performance, although it is individually that we must take responsibility.)
If acting is the art of doing, then Alexander can be best described in opposition as the art of non-doing.
If acting is ‘re-acting’ (to quote Stanislavski) then Alexander is ‘not-reacting’.
Anyone who wants to ‘Act’, is training to pursue mastery in the art of doing, a significant aspect of this training must incorporate what it is not-to-do. To practice just ‘being’. To live truthfully in the given circumstances, imaginary or otherwise!
Patrick Macdonald, one from the first generation of trained Alexander teachers, puts it well in this:
Of course, non-doing is a kind of doing, but it is very subtle The difference is that, in doing, you do it, whereas in non-doing, it does you. Those who have never had any experience of the Alexander Technique will likely find this concept difficult to understand.
A rather formal, British greeting comes to mind, perhaps I’ll try to repopularise it…
How do you do?