There was a time when actors were taught to pose in a particular way to depict grief, arch an eyebrow to portray doubt, and shift the weight from here to there to express haughtiness. That sort of thing has no place in the technique of today’s enlightened actor.
The emotional scale is not played by moving from one specific pose to another. An actress like Judith Anderson doesn’t portray grief the same way Audrey Hepburn does. Katharine Cornell-or, for that matter, any actress worthy of the name-does not delineate grief exactly the same way in two different characterizations.
Since different people have different ways of expressing emotion, the actor must develop understanding as well as technical acting tools-for flexibility and control-which will enable him to portray emotion in many molds.
These acting skills are the same for everyone. The end result of their use is individual. Through training, your voice, body and mind can become so flexible and so well controlled that they will automatically obey your commands without conscious effort. Bit by bit, the science underlying the actor’s art will become concrete in concept, defined in detail, and clear in purpose to you.
We are all creatures of the habits and characteristics which influence our personality pattern. Our own personalities are made up of habits, fears, gratifications, inhibitions, complexes, personality mannerisms and traits, etc.-most of which are subconscious.
We all know there are two parts to the mind-the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious is your voluntary mind. Your aware mind. The mind that functions when you’re awake. The subconscious is your involuntary mind. It functions without your knowledge and control when you’re asleep, as well as when you’re awake.
You can use your conscious and subconscious mind as skills of acting to develop, heighten and enhance your own personality by making this mental image. Picture yourself in a sailboat at night, floating on a dark, uncharted ocean. On the prow of the boat, put a searchlight.
The person in the boat is you.
The boat is your conscious mind.
The dark ocean is your subconscious mind.
The beam from the searchlight is your aware-beam.
The size of your sailboat can be compared to the size of your measurable, conscious mind-and the unmeasured ocean to your subconscious mind. The subconscious-ocean conceals many things of which you are not aware. But they are there. Anything you can think of is there-and everything you have ever known is there.
A fraction of all this passes through your aware-beam. Good habit-waves and bad habit-waves. Destructive floating mines and beautiful colored-glass fishing floats.
Let’s say you’ve focused your aware-beam on a live, floating mine (which is just our figure of speech to represent a potentially dangerous fear). As soon as the mine is in your aware-beam, you can cope with it. After focusing your aware-beam on the bad habit, you can use what is called:
THE LAW OF SUBSTITUTION
to correct the bad habit You start by constructing a good habit pattern in the conscious mind. By your conscious perseverance the new “good habit” pattern will be absorbed into the subconscious, replacing the old bad habit.
You can also use the law of substitution in dealing with undesirable personality traits. While fears, bad habits, undesirable personality traits, etc., are within your aware-beam, you may know they’re there-and yet refuse to recognize them. Figuratively, you hold your hand up in front of your eyes, like a blinder, to hide from yourself whatever you don’t want to see.
We will refer to this, figuratively, as a hand-inhibition. It’s up to you to overcome and consciously dispense with your hand-inhibitions and look squarely at what is within the focus of your aware-beam. By using the law of substitution, you can transform your liabilities into assets.
To ring true, a character’s “personality” should be made up of habits, fears, gratifications, inhibitions, complexes, personality mannerisms and traits, etc. These should consciously be built into the character’s subconscious by the actor. Use this technique and acting skills to enhance your ability as an actor.