Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day 1: The trip out

It felt stupid to have read Process: An Improviser’s Journey without having read its inspiration, An Actor Prepares.

Plus, though I know improv is acting, my improv training is far more extensive than my training as an actor—which was pretty much limited to what I learned in high school and through a couple of CommUniversity classes.

So, as STUPID and CLICHÉD as it feels to read Stanislavski on a flight to LA, I’ve had a couple of Miller Lites (with Bloody Mary mix, because it makes it like having a salad) and read.

As background: One of my more frustrating moments in an improv troupe has been waiting while a director stumbled around in the dark waiting to bump into something helpful.

I like books. And if there’s a book on something that will help me do it better faster, I will read it…fill the pages with sticky notes…underline the living shit out of it. When I read novels, I’m reading for the essence—so I skim. But if it’s supposed to be useful, then I’m going to treat it like a textbook. I may never open it again, but if I do, I’m sure as hell going to be able to find the important parts.

But at one rehearsal, we spent THREE HOURS while the director fumbled around with exercises before coming up with a GENIUS INSIGHT that probably showed up in the first 20-pages of Johnstone’s Impro.

Maybe it feels more like you own a piece of information if you come up with it yourself. Maybe I’m being overly critical. (This would not be new.) But it just seems like if you could read one of the 3-5 most important books about the work you’re charging audiences to watch you do AND GET BETTER AT IT ALMOST IMMEDIATELY, you might want to do that.

Am I little ashamed to have taken so long to have started reading this? Yep. You betcha.

Anyway, two things:

1. I’ve already run across at least a few insights that explain why I get frustrated with my work or feel authentic when I try to hit specific emotions. I don’t know if I would have been as excited by this without the Miller Lites, but there has been a lot of underlining in the last couple of hours. Like:
On the “art of representation” (or why I technically perfect work doesn’t always do it):
This type of art is less profound than beautiful, it is more immediately effective than truly powerful, in it the form is more interesting than its content. … Consequently, it is more likely to delight than to move you. … Your astonishment rather than your faith is aroused.
On why inauthenticity or selfishness in improv is so troubling:
Unfortunately, our art is frequently exploited for personal ends. You do it to show your beauty. Others do it to gain popularity or external success or to make a career. … you must make up your mind, once and for all, did you come here to serve art, and to make sacrifices for its sake, or to exploit your own personal ends.
2. My copy of An Actor Prepares came from Half-Price Books, so at least one person read it before me. There’s one line highlighted in the whole book. Here it is:
Every person who is really an artist desires to create inside of himself another, deeper, more interesting life than the one that actually surrounds him. 
I don’t know why, but the fact that this sentence—and not its context—is highlighted…um…creeps me way out.


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