Informant Bio and Context
My informant is a first year drama student attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood, California. This student has described his classmates as being dramatic even in their day-to-day lives, placing equal importance on weekend partying and writing character bios of their characters for plays in classes. The informant considers himself to be a writer, rather than an actor and speaks cynically of some aspects of the acting community.
At the Academy the students exclusively study acting techniques for the stage and screen. At each semester’s end the students are cast in “final exam plays.”
Before each play, the students gather on the stage and perform warm up exercises. This student described to me one particular exercise that was used before his play that was not directly related to limbering up the body or warming up the vocal cords.
The first thing we would do typically is just free stretch, standing in a circle. Has to be a circle because if its not a circle you can’t, “feel the love.” You do a free stretch and you crack your neck, and your back a little bit. And then you hold out your hands [he stands with his legs spread and hands out at his side, as if to grasp the hands of people standing on either side of him] like this and everybody joins hands, so we’re in a circle, holding hands. First thing you do is you close your eyes, take a deep breath, connect yourself to the earth. Feel grounded. And you’re constantly aware that at the center of the Earth there is a great, glowing ball of fire. And you can feel that energy radiating through the surface of the earth. Whenever you’re feeling low energy, or negative, or making negative choices – character choices, not like “don’t do drugs” those kinds of choices – you just pull on that energy and you can feel it, lava, moving slowly like sap, through the surface of the Earth, into your body and out through your hands. And send that energy out your hands and into the hands of the person next to you. So you can send that energy so they can feel your warmth, and your energy, and your love.
Last thing you do, you close your eyes, and picture a blank white screen right behind your head. And whatever you’re feeling, whatever problems you have, emotional issues going on in your life, you can always go back to that white screen. It’s all that matters; its your emotional center point. Picture a star in the center of that screen, and the star is in complete focus. It is the termination of your energy, it is where your energy is going, the same energy you’re drawing from the Earth, which is that whole ball of fire. Yep. Okay. And then, open your eyes and picture in front of you a person, place, or thing that you love, just without reservation, that fills you love and joy. And look at that thing as you love it and now look at everybody around you in the circle and send them out, with your eyes – not sarcastic, warm, unmedicated, positive eyes – send them that love for that person, place, or thing. Any time you have to stand up and act, if you are in any way troubled, go back to that white screen, and white star and look at people with love and they will feel your love and your energy, and from there you can give them whatever emotions you need. [This last sentence means that the other actor will be receptive to you if you look at them with love, and that they will then be able to convey the emotions that you need from them to play your role.]
Then, give everyone’s hands a reassuring squeeze and radiate out that love, so that the person next to you knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them, that you are there for them as an ensemble, as a cast. Then you let go, take a deep breath… and then we typically do articulation exercises.
My informant explained that this exercise is meant to ensure that every actor is connected to the other members of the cast prior to the performance. When asked if he felt that the exercise worked in this way he responded: “Not in the slightest. Total waste of time. Probably works for most actors and not me. I am a writer. I feel more connected to a character when I’m an actual person doing things that normal people do and this isn’t something people do. Well, it does create an emotional connection, its a fake emotional connection, but its there.”
This ritual, whether the actors feel it is silly or not, is a transformative one. The group performing it when they enter the stage are individual actors preparing to play roles. The ritual links each actor purely by virtue of the fact that everyone performs it together. As the last act of the group before they perform together, it allows everyone to cross the liminal threshold from actors to characters, and individuals to ensemble. The meditative quality of the ritual would help to clear the mind of concerns brought to the stage from the actors’ lives outside of it, bringing each person into the mindset of the job, so to speak. The individual is set aside to that that the actors can now act as a collective.