Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The need to keep learning

When I was young, beginning to work, and studying, I saw famous actors bring work into classes, because they needed to work on roles they hoped to play, or because they needed to work on a problem they had in their creative process. Because I grew up in that environment, I thought it was normal. Time has shown me that it was unique. At least, in the domain of acting. I've had Martial Arts masters who are up and practicing earlier than everyone else, know of the best artists, painters, writers, dancers, athletes, who need to work on their skills. Who work harder than the rest. Often, the more successful they are, in the world's eyes, the harder they work. Most of them always worked that hard. The love they have for what they do makes them want to work to be the best they can be. I was lucky to grow up at a time when this was true of acting. Now, while many actors have been through University programs, spent a lot of money learning some basic principles and techniques, once they finish their studies they are finished. There's nothing more to learn. They just want to work. The other day I heard William H. Macy say that he believed that actors were getting better. I wish I could agree. But, I don't. While there is a lot of good work being done, it is much less personal than the work I grew up seeing. And, which everyone wanted to do. The artistic movement centered in the Actors Studio in the late 40's, 50's, and 60's was unique. Whether one likes it or not, it has influenced the profession enormously. Unfortunately, most of the work we see today pays lip service to the deeply personal nature of creativity in acting. The work is competent, correct. But, it isn't what Tennessee Williams demands of his actors. Or, Eugene O'Neill. These are the writers who define what American actors believe they need to be able to do if they are going to be considered to be artists. When you watch wonderful acting, something deeply personal is revealed. It is what defines the art form. Certainly, intelligence is important. What we know, from Stanislavsky on, is that great actors share a philosophic point of view in their creative process. That, like all other artists, in all other artistic domains, the actor desires to be deeply, personally involved in his creation. It means that the actor must really live the characters life, not simply represent it. Any student of history cannot dispute this fact. And, if one needs to do this, one needs to continuously keep learning and practicing. While I see actors working, I don't see many of them who believe they need to keep learning.