Part Three: The Performer/Audience Romance
the need for love, talent & skill, the total act, No-Form
FALLING IN LOVE WITH WHAT
The torrid romance of audience/performer dynamics is fraught with mystery, anticipation, and insecurity. The tremulous rush of stage fright does not come from any promise of long-term relationship but the spine-tingling prospect of an eternal one-night stand. Theatrical conventions of distance (the fourth wall), talent, and skill naturally separate actors and audience, a separation sealed by post-performance audience applause. An audience never applauds itself. They applaud the performance. The audience/performer power dynamic tips and sways with kinetic charge and fickle electricity; one night we're up and on, the next night we're down and out. As with any one-night stand, the audience/performer romance remains unpredictable and I think most performers would not want it any other way.
Can any real connection be forged between actor and audience in such inherently imbalanced dynamics ? Yes and no. Real connection between audience and performer may not be possible through any direct theatrical attack. "Direct attack" refers to any presentational confrontation where the performer directly manipulates and/or emotionally assaults the audience. Whether it's via seduction from performer charisma or the performers' insecure "need to please and be liked or to impress others" -- or the more aggressive "in your face" assaults of Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty or Julian Beck's Living Theatre -- direct attack theatre often fails to achieve any real connecton with an audience beyond sledgehammer dents and crushes. Though this direct attack approach can sometimes be effective as political theatre, historically it has consistently failed to achieve its core aims of "awakening the sleeping masses" or "saving or changing the world". Such great passion may be better served by saving ourselves from ourselves.
THE NEED FOR LOVE
No matter how great a given performance, an audience can only love the performance and not the person performing it. Expecting any satisfying "real" connection with an audience is a little like believing our need for love can be fulfilled by their applause. Everyone needs and deserves love but that's not what the audience offers or can offer. With very few exceptions the audience has been conditioned by centuries of theatrical tradition to act as passive, receptive vessels for the influx of their own impressions, emotions, ideas, beliefs, and reactions to the dynamic stimulus presented onstage or onscreen. The audience applauds a performance for arousing their own passions, thoughts, views, and sense of identification -- in short, for arousing their own humanity.
When any performance achieves this arousal, the audience responds with adoring applause, praise, admiration, and respect. But not love. Oh, we can hear them say, "I absolutely love your show" and "what an amazing performance" and "I LOVE you in your show" and so on, but all these affects quickly fade. Audience is fickle by nature; one night they're warm and the next night they're cold and aloof and then, we never hear from them again. Those who fall for "audience love" are shadowed by the dark nights between productions, that bardo interzone where love-starved actors get by on the hungry ghost high of leapfrogging from production to production without any significant breaks where they can breathe, live, and be truly loved.
Attempting to meet the human need for personal love may be perhaps the worst reason to become an actor or a performer in any audience-defined medium. Find someone to love (and to love you) and then, decide why you want to perform. If you can't find someone to love, love yourself like there's no tomorrow. Or if you are so graced, turn to God for the unconditional love no human can be expected to provide and then, share this presence with the world. Become the love that you seek. Love is never what we think. Love is the law and the crime that created the law.
The W.N.S. (Wayne Newton Syndrome)
The audience/performer dynamic expresses an inherent imbalance. As performers, we're onstage because we exhibit, or should exhibit, more talent and skill than the audience that has paid to see us. To ignore this simple fact, in the name of some populist ideal of equality or of destroying audience/performer barriers, is to court delusion. The audience pays to be entertained and enlightened to some aspect of their lives and of humanity itself. The audience arrives expecting to be informed, stimulated, and amused. Performers are paid to control the communication in whatever medium they're working in; performers call the shots, must call the shots. When the actors take charge and do their job, theatre happens. There is a difference, however, between theatre that just gets the job done and theatre that changes lives.
Performers of the theatre that changes lives must continually work their craft in very specific and precise ways. Though these ways differ for each actor and performance medium, their common challenge starts with finding whatever stretches and expands our skill sets and talents. Without consistently challenging ourselves in this way, we can easily slip into redundancy by repeating our most familiar repetoire -- what we know and what we do best. Without consistent challenge, we can easily stagnate in a quagmire of inertia and become the last ones to know about it. Unless we consistently take on roles, skills, and subjects that stretch our capacities, our existing talents can easily wither, corrupt or fritter away into a blitz of glitz where we become more tourist than artist, more mimic than creator, more spectacle than substance. The Universal Patron Saint of Show Biz Glitz, Wayne "Mr. Las Vegas" Newton, is a living example to performers everywhere of the fate awaiting those who only perform what they know and do best. Don't get me wrong. Mr. Newton is a wonderful performer doing what he knows best. He just does it over and over and over, again...
“I’m still doing the kind of shows I’ve always done
and I can tell you one thing: people may leave one of my shows disliking Wayne
Newton, but they’ve never walked out saying, ‘He didn’t work hard for us’ or
‘He didn’t give us our money’s worth.’ " -- Wayne Newton
ON TALENT AND SKILL
Talent demonstrates a capacity for accessing and expressing the internal landscape -- of making the unconscious, conscious -- in a spontaneous spirit of self-discovery. Skill refers to the dexterity for articulating the internal landscape through externally recognizable forms, symbols, images, and structures. Skill shows precision and clarity of form; talent shows “spirit” in action. Through talent we experience the presence, spontaneity and force of an artist; in skill, we experience their virtuosity, technique, and sense of form. Too much spontaneity can overwhelm skill just as too much structure can crimp talent.
Striking a dynamic balance between talent and skill must be the aim of any committed artist and/or performer. The more exceptional the performer, the higher the integration of talent and skill. Though talent cannot really be taught, it can be nurtured by encouraging spontaneity and freedom of self-expression. Skil can be learned by consistent application of method and technique to clarify the form of whatever our talent can access and express. Whenever talent and skill come together at higher and higher levels, something miraculous occurs: Art is born.
Talent in paratheatre refers to an elastic capacity for accessing sources in the body itself, of sourcing or mining the body for veins of autonomous forces, images, emotion, sensation, and the deeper complexes and numinous archetypes of the personal and collective Unconscious -- the inner actions of what can be called "source-work". Skill in paratheatre refers to the dexterity and precision of expression and articulation of the source-work accessed by our talent. Paratheatre skills can be developed by an ongoing practice of the trigger methods innate to this medium.
THE TOTAL ACT -- THE CAPACITY FOR RESONANCE
It is crucial to know our motives for performing onstage and onscreen. Why do we perform ? If we are to make real connection with the audience, our will to perform must first be liberated from all externally-driven considerations such as seeking acceptance, pleasing others, trying to impress the director, getting attention, love or approval, or seeking external acceptance for our talents, skills, and abilities. Only when the will to perform is emancipated from external social approval mechanisms can we become unified behind what Jerzy Grotowski has called "the total act".
Performance of the total act requires the development of an internal faculty of resonance, i.e., the intuitive capacity for knowing truth. Resonance requires no understanding, forethought, or plan. We either resonate with a given direction or state or we do not. When we lose this resonating capacity, it's easy to suffer indecision or be plagued by vagueness of direction. Whenever we can fully commit to the visceral and spiritual resonances within us, a ripple effect occurs. Like a stone dropped in a calm pool of water, our personal resonances indirectly stir similar resonances in others and in the audience. This mutual interaction of resonances relies on the performer's total commitment to their own visceral and spiritual sources which, in turn, trigger audience resonance. In this way, the audience experiences an amplification of their own presence and not just the impact of a performer's force, or will or charisma. After such a performance, the audience leaves the theatre exalted and amplified - rather than dented, assaulted, exhausted or drained.
How can we cultivate a deeper capacity for resonance? A violin produces its beautiful resonate tones due to its empty chamber; stuff the violin with cotton and the violin becomes mute. To increase our internal resonating capacity, we must learn to cultivate within ourselves this kind of "empty chamber" within the instrument of the self. If we are stuffed with ideas, beliefs, techniques, and knowledge, our capacity for internal resonance quickly diminishes. The creation of internal space requires a process of "undoing" or emptying. There are many ways to initiate this process of undoing. The most direct and simple approach I have discovered, and use in paratheatre, is borrowed from Zazen meditation practice. In paratheatre, I refer to this method as "No-Form", a technique practiced in a standing posture, rather than traditional Zazen sitting mediation. One cannot move very far while sitting. The aim of this No-Form stance is to cultivate enough internal receptivity to detect and then, be acted on by autonomous forces in the body/psyche. By surrendering to these forces, we allow their expression through us as vessels in spontaneous movement, sound and gesture.
THE UNDOING TECHNIQUE OF NO-FORM
The inner action of No-Form cannot be taught. Though No-Form represents a very direct and simple process, it can also be difficult and frustrating for anyone burdened by over-thinking, compulsive rationalization, and excessive self-analysis. The Inner Critic or the Ego Ideal may not allow the prospect of being nothing. Other impediments to No-Form include: identification with self-images, preconceptions, ideals, beliefs, over-confidence and excessive certitudes. No-Form can be experienced as a kind of intimacy with Void, a comfort around being nothing... of being nobody.
This No-Form technique can be approached in any standing posture of balance resulting in a position of vertical rest -- of standing with minimal effort -- and supporting a state of emptying or internal receptivity. The breath is focussed on the exhale, allowing the inhale to occur by reflex. Mentally, we relax the desire to control and the desire to control the outcome or any appearance of our expression. The intention here is to relax identifcation with any image or idea towards simply being nothing.
No-Form: The On-Off Switch to Creation
No-Form acts to charge a ritual to engage the body's vital forces and then, to discharge these forces after each ritual or performance. In this way, No-Form serves a double function as a receptivity point to creative energy and then, as a discharging point to release whatever enegries were engaged. It's like an on/off switch to our creative engines. Some performers seem to be "on" all the time, as if they never found the "off" switch. No-Form practice allows us to turn the creative engines on and off according to our needs. In this way, we are free to use our talents as tools. When we're done, we put the tool down. We no longer need to fear losing access to our creative sources or diminishing our talents when we know how to turn our creative engines on and off.
Click this for how No-Form is used in Paratheatre
Part One: Orientation
culture, paratheatre,verticality, the asocial climate
Part Two: Integrity Loss and Recovery
sacrifice and increasing the force of commitment
Part Four: Self-Observation and Ego
function of ego, embracing contraries, emotional plague
Part Five: Self-initiation
on the bridge between the worlds and
what drains the power of dreaming
Part Six: A Cultural Overview
a mass hallucination of a society gone mad