Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Artist Evolves...

Today I'd like to talk about evolution.  Specifically, artistic evolution.  I find that as I go through life, my ideas and attitudes change as I have new experiences, especially those that change my world view.  For example, my philosophy and beliefs were originally shaped by my parents. As I've lived an adult life, I've altered some of what I believe in, and have thrown out other misconceptions that I used to think were true.  While there's a part of me that has remained unchanged -- the mutable part of my personality has evolved over time.

So it is the same with my artistic pursuits.  As a teen actor, I hadn't lived long enough to experience a lot of life's profundity.  Sure, teen angst is pretty prevalent, but the challenges and triumphs I've experienced up to this present moment give me a much richer outlook and understanding.   I try to incorporate this into my performing.  There's more of a Zen calmness, even when delivering an emotionally charged scene.

It also carries over to the martial arts.  I'd like to share an example of what I mean by evolution.  Below is a YouTube video of me performing an Okinawan bo staff kata.  The first clip is of me in 1990 as a brand new black belt performing in my backyard in Hawaii (yeah, shirtless and in shorts, but hey, it's 80+ degrees over there!).  You'll notice how much effort is being put into showing the "power" behind the staff techniques.  There's a lot of energy being wasted.  At the time, I considered this to be a strong performance.  Especially noteworthy is how I have my head down looking as I deliver the first two low strikes.

The second clip is me doing the same bo kata in the present day.  There's a marked difference in 22 years of training.  The first strikes are quick and smooth, and I'm looking at my imaginary opponent.  I'm not trying to put power into the bo, rather, I'm letting the momentum take care of itself.  One thing I've learned in practicing with the bo over years is that speed is much more important than power.

As a young black belt, my experience with the bo was limited to kata and tournament competition.  So everything was about showing the movements.  Several years ago, I had the opportunity to practice sparring with karate weapons for a possible reality show pilot.  The details of the show are still confidential, but I only share this anecdote to tell you that I discovered quickly that much of what I was taught about the bo didn't really work in real life.  The deep and deliberate sweeping motions were too slow against another weapon.

I quickly adapted my stance and technique while sparring (this was with real bo, not foam padded kid's stuff), and threw out about 90% of the techniques I knew.  That left me with thrusting, and  sideways strikes without winding up.  Those techniques scored on my opponent 100% of the time, because they were too fast for them to react to.

Consequently, it's affected my kata practice.  In all the bo forms I know, my motion has eliminated much of the wasted movement.  While I still perform the same movements, my understanding of how a bo behaves in real life has modified my technique.  I no longer cling to old preconceptions just to hang on to "tradition".

When I train in the martial arts, I don't practice the same way as I did in the 80s, 90s, or even ten years ago. I've learned new concepts that I've applied to my training, and expect to keep evolving over time.  Though my core style is Okinawan Kenpo Karate, I also train with elements of Tae Kwon Do, kickboxing, boxing, Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, and Kung Fu.

It's the same with acting.  A young actor first tackling Shakespeare will spend a lot of energy "showing" the Shakespearean style -- caught up in the trappings of "looking good" and being "true to the Bard".  But as an actor matures, and experiences other roles and life in general, they learn to find the intent behind the dialogue.  The technique becomes invisible, and all you're left with is the drama.  When I watch video of renowned English actors in their youth performing Shakespeare, and then watch them now (doing a different Shakespearean role of course), I see an evolution and deeper understanding that can only come with experience.

Have you evolved?  Are you still in the same acting class after several years?  There are some great teachers out there, but if you stick with them too long, you won't evolve -- you'll hit a plateau.  As great as a teacher may be, they can't teach you everything.  Most of what will make up your acting ability will come from your own work, not a class.  Classes are great to teach you new concepts or aspects of the performing arts where you may not have experience.  Improv, voice, scene study, audition technique, etc. are all skills that a performing artist should be well versed in.

Running water never grows stagnant.  Make sure you never let yourself grow stale.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Art of Acting, Without Acting...

A lot of times on an acting gig, whether it's a movie, TV show, or stage play, I find that a lot of times the subject often turns to acting training and "what's your method?"

I always find that question to be amusing.  It reminds me of the scene in Bruce Lee's most famous movie "Enter The Dragon", where Australian bully Peter Archer smugly asks Bruce "What's your style?" -- as though labels and styles actually mattered.  Bruce's response of "The Art Of Fighting, Without Fighting" is a nod to an old Zen proverb that plays out almost exactly as the scene does.  If you're not familiar with this movie, then you must check it out to find out what happens!

So, going back to the idea of acting methods -- or "styles" as you could call them (using a martial arts analogy) -- It really shouldn't matter what method you use.  As an actor, I use whatever method works for me at the time.  I'm not above borrowing from whatever teachers I've read up on, or stealing a good technique.  If it helps you perform a scene effectively, you should use it.  If it instead gets you into this tangled mess of "organized despair" (to borrow another Bruce Lee phrase), you should discard it.

Acting should be invisible.  Take a look at your favorite actors in TV and film.  When you watch them perform, do you forget who you're looking at?  They don't have to completely disappear into a character -- not everyone is Daniel Day Lewis.  Even if they're playing "themselves" -- if you're totally suspending your disbelief and going on the ride with them, then that's what I call Acting Without Acting.