Reaching the Actor’s Cross.

To be an actor we need to be so in much with our emotions that we can access any of them at any time, organically, “in the moment.” We must be free, like a blank page, ready for the character to be written on us and in us. The most valuable asset we actors have is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To move an audience, to really affect an audience, we have to let them in. We have to share a part of ourselves. Our acting has to cost us something valuable, that is, a piece of our heart.

The idea is that as we speak and hear the words, we allow them to affect us. We allow the other actor(s) in the scene to affect us, and, when we are free we allow others to see our emotions. In this sense we are ‘emotionally naked’. Usually we only let our close friends into our deepest heart but as actors we need to let not only our fellow actors but an entire audience in.

 We must, as Shakespeare’s Iago said, “wear our sleeves on our hearts, for ‘daws to peck at.” We must let everything affect us, and as we feel emotions welling up, be it pain, joy, fear, anger, we must embrace it, and most important of all, give ourselves permission to allow it. We must be totally aware of ourselves, of each other, and of the audience. An audience will only be truly moved if they see that we, as actors, are moved. For this we must be completely in touch with our emotions.

In order for us to be in touch with our emotions we must first of all explore them, from frustration to fear, from excitement to ecstasy, from pain to anger, from rage to despair, We must create a supportive atmosphere where each actor is allowed to express every emotion to her fellow actors, without being judged, and without condemnation. It is no good faking emotions. No modern audience will fall for cheap acting tricks. Every human being has an innate ability to discern true emotion from the vibrations and intonations in the voice.

This is why breath work is so important, in order to connect, through our diaphragm, with our “centre” – our gut. When our emotions are true, they come from our “heart.” Our heart as metaphor isn’t the organ that pumps blood through our veins, but our centre, our deepest innate desires, our basic instincts, our raw ‘gut’ reactions, or in Freudian terms, our ‘id.’ The id is the unfettered part of ourselves, free to do as it pleases without censorship. As actors we must allow our id to express itself. We must allow our heart to reveal itself.

What comes from the heart, goes to the heart.

– David Mamet, True and False.

In her book To Be a Playwright Janet Nepris implies that it is when we cannot keep inside of us what we truly feel that we reach the highest point of drama in a scene. Repressing our true emotions becomes a hard task. Yet as we fight back the tears, keep a lid on the anger, disguise the pain, the audience feels these emotions for us. Just as we suffer for our audience, so our audience suffers for us.

The story becomes an emotional transaction between the actor and audience. The real drama takes place in the ‘psychic space’ between actors and the audience. Each audience memeber has a personal reaction to the story depending on their own life experience. And as the audience member makes herself open and vulnerable so reaching the point of vulnerability becomes our duty as actors. This is this highest point of our craft. This is the top of the actor’s mountain. This is our personal cross.

It is finished.

– John 19:30

As we climb our mountain towards our cross, and the storm of change churns up our emotions, painful parts of ourselves are set free, some come crawling shamefully out, others erupt like a volcano. Yet as we release our emotions from the dungeon, our heart of darkness, they are bought into the glorious light. And only after reaching the top of the mountain – sharing with each other who we are as broken, sinful, human beings – can we climb onto our cross, naked, battered and bruised, and say with Jesus, from our heart, “It is finished!” – I am an actor.

The acting space is our mountain. In “the space” each actor must be completely supportive of each other actor, in order that we may create a safe, trustworthy environment in which we can explore who we are. It must be a struggle, we must battle through emotional storms, and be breathless, drained, exhausted, when we reach the top.

Who cares if someone climbs a mountian in fine, sunny weather in daylight? But if someone climbs through storms, in darkness, broken and bruised – for the sake of others – then we care. For we have seen the strength of the human spirit, admirable and inspiring. It offers the audience hope. “If he can face the traumas and tortures of life and survive, so can I.”

Jesus made himself completely vulnerable on the cross – naked, abused, tortured. As actors we must also be nailed to our cross. As Christian actors we rest in the assurance that nomatter how much it hurts, being crucified ‘in the space,’ we know that God loves us and will rescue us from our pain. He will heal us and make us whole again.


2 thoughts on “Reaching the Actor’s Cross.

  1. That was so very beautifully written. I like the correlation between actors expession of emotion and heart compared to how Jesus at the cross Finished all pain and suffering…so now as we experience these we look unto Him.
    Not sure if I captured fully what your writing portrayed but that’s what I pulled from it.

    Thanks Steve,
    Really enjoy reading your writings



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