Relaxation. Concentration. Willpower.
These three are the ménage a trois of acting. In order to concentrate, I need to relax. In order to relax, I need to engage my will to do so. Or, in order to engage my will, I need to relax. In order to relax, I need to concentrate upon some task. These three work together — a package deal. You can’t have one without the other. Try. Try to separate them; it’s an illusion. (Yeah, I went there.)
But what do these words mean? They’ve become so antiseptic, medicinal, clinical. In short, uninspiring. The death knell of the creative act.
Usually, when the standard terms and techniques of acting fail to serve me, I try to reinvent them in some way. Recharge the batteries, so to speak. For instance, the actor’s definition of relaxation is the necessary amount of energy to complete or perform a required task. And that task exists within the context of specific circumstances. So an expanded definition of relaxation could be the necessary amount of energy to complete or perform a required task within the context of specific circumstances. But, once again, what the hell does that mean, and how does it serve the actor?
Think about when you do something you like to do. It can be anything, any activity, any task, as long as it’s something you like to do. There’s always a sense of ease and a sense of engagement in this kind of activity. There’s both a desire to complete the task, to reach the goal, as well as a feeling of contentment with the moment-to-moment doing of the activity. There’s no stress, there’s no tension. There’s a wonderful sense of relaxation. (Using the necessary amount of energy to perform a required task!) There’s also a keen focus upon each step along the way of completing the task fueled by a growing sense of accomplishment – of getting something done and getting it done well. (Concentration!) With each successive, successful step along the way, the desire to carry on and complete the task increases effortlessly. (Willpower!)
Tension – the opposite of relaxation — is the insidious occupational hazard of the actor. It’s always there. It blocks impulses and creative expression. However, if the actor can engage himself in an activity that stimulates his imagination, he will begin to overcome the harmful impact of tension. The key for the actor is to engage in something that stimulates the imagination. And there’s the rub! Because there’s no one thing that can do this for everyone. There’s no paint-by-numbers solution, no magic bullet, no quick-fix.
Lee Strasberg would encourage his students to ask when working on a scene: What one thing needs to be created or imagined in order for the scene to come alive for you? There’s no one answer. There are many things that might work, but what stimulates someone else might not stimulate you. That’s okay. Each of us is an individual and has a uniquely sensitive imagination.
This is your daily homework as an actor: To discover what things – stories, circum-stances, songs, images, people, places, etc., etc. — excite you, fire up your imagination, and move you!