Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nappy You Here--Part 3

In Constantin Stanislavski’s third of his so-called ABC books, Creating a Role, he includes a chapter called “Creating the Physical Life of a Role.” Here is the crux of the chapter:

“My system is based on the close relationship of inner with outer qualities; it is designed to help you feel your part by creating a physical life for it.”

Tortsov (Stanislavski’s fictional director who imparts the knowledge in these books) requires his acting students to play the first scene of Othello—without script. Merely by creating the action as they remember it in the scene. What follows are some muddled and rather humorous attempts at making a believable entrance and performing the actions required to awaken a household at night. Tortsov has to lead his acting students step by step through the physical actions they would go through to obtain such an objective. Slowly, as they delve into the physical movements, the actors begin to “get it.” They begin to feel more comfortable in what they’re doing, and in fact, begin to feel their roles.

It is only when you seek out the physical truths of a series of actions, says Tortsov, that “your . . . faith in the actuality of your physical acts will follow of its own accord. And faith, in our kind of work, is one of the most powerful magnets to attract feelings . . .”

In my own work—writing—I wanted not to just to portray, but to really again feel joy. But, as Stanislavsky points out in his unique way, any emotion—whether portrayed on stage or felt in real life—doesn’t always come by our focusing on and pursuing the emotion itself. Sometimes the emotion must arise from action.

Tortsov tells his students, “You did not feel your parts intuitively, so I began with their physical life. This is something material, tangible, it responds to orders, to habits, discipline, exercise, it is easier to handle than elusive, ephemeral, capricious feeling . . . The spirit cannot but respond to the actions of the body, provided, of course, that these are genuine, have a purpose, and are productive.”

If the nickel ain’t droppin’ for you yet, read that paragraph again. In fact, it’s so good, it’s worth reading in any case.

“One of the most irresistible lures to our emotion lies in the truth and our faith in it,” concludes Tortsov. “An actor need only sense the smallest modicum of organic physical truth in his action or general state, and instantly his emotions will respond to his inner faith in the genuineness of what his body is doing.”

And so, as I planned an all-out attack for reconnecting with the joy in my writing in 2006, Stanislavski’s teaching came back to me. I knew the “physical action” for me lay in how I structure my work day. My actions lately had not been “genuine,” had not had strong “purpose,” and were certainly not “productive.” As my ideas for my story waned, I found myself floundering in general. Floundering led to yet more unproductivity. Which made me feel miserable. And misery led to overall fear that I would fail. In short, everything Stanislavsky taught proved true—in the negative form.

I was determined to make it positive.

Tomorrow—the few "action" steps I set for myself, and have put into practice this week.

Yesterday two people made almost the same comment, basically hoping to see if what I’ve discovered can be applied to life “across the board.” Now you know the answer. I’m wondering, as I’m sharing what I’ve learned—to what struggle in your life should Stanislavski’s teaching be applied?


Robin Caroll said...

I wrote out THAT paragraph and put it on a sticky note over my monitor....thanks for passing all this along!

Cara Putman said...

I'm face with an exciting year of new opportunities (teaching law at a large university), writing, and of course the current day job. So this year's challenge will be to keep all the balls in the air while I see which direction/s God wants to make long term. I love the idea of taking physical steps to maintain control so my emotions fall in line. This really lines up with why God gave us a heart and a mind. The mind is to guide the emotions so we don't get overwhelmed by what we feel. Now if only that were easy to apply!

Domino said...

Hmm. Do something active to get your mind to participate in a different emotion? Learn to enjoy something by taking physical steps toward that enjoyment?

Instead of walking shoeless into the kitchen and getting frowny about last year's weight gain (easy to do this time of year), I will put on a smile and sneakers and take one of my kids on a long walk with me. I can enjoy the exercise instead of moping around knowing I have to do it and not wanting to. I'll look forward to special time with my kids three times each per week - or as often as possible. A sharp body will help me have a sharp mind - fewer worries. And a sharp mind will help me write better.

Thanks for the great hints on how to be more productive.

Lee Ellen said...

I am amazed at the timing of this post. I have a writing project due in 10 days. And, I am in the process of buying a house. What am I learning from this. Life happens, my writing needs to happen even in the midst of a storm. This project is giving me a lot of joy for the distraction it provides.

Thanks so much for sharing.

Stuart said...

Only one struggle?

Interesting insights and fancy way of saying "Motivation follows action." Or at least I think that's basically what you're getting at (on a basic level).

Can definetly apply it to many things I struggle with, from a steady, daily writing regime, to daily time spent communing with God through Scripture & prayer.

Lynette Sowell said...

If I 'get' what he's saying, it's turning our thinking around. Turning something from a chore or duty into a joy. Sometimes it is an act of sheer will, and not pretending to be Pollyanna, either.

Applying this to writing? well, instead of, "Sheesh, I've got to get this book done, I don't know how I'll do it. Aw, there's the stupid phone again. I'll never get this done. How come 1,000 words just aren't coming today? May if I type and--and--and--and a bunch of times I'll meet my quota."

I can say, "Lord, wow! I'm writing. Thanks for making me in Your image, a creative being capable of reaching out to touch others. I can see. I can hear. I can feel. Oops, better turn the voice mail on and the ringer off. Let me just start on this chapter and see what happens. If I don't get it right this time, I'll fix it."

This is very applicable to me right now. My January 31st deadline looms. But I'm okay with that.

D. Gudger said...

As others before me have said it, timing is everything. Writing was easier before I got a "job" as a writer. My writing is grant proposals, but hey, its a start in the direction of getting paid to write. I sit down and stare at the computer, or the few paragraphs I've written, never satsified or sure I can convice rich people to give money to missions. Fear binds me at times.
How do I make the actions lead the emotions? I start to write, then end up surfing the web sometimes. I believe so much in the mission organization I represent, but for some reason, the writing has become harder than it should be . . .
Can't wait to see what comes of this discourse :)