“Be” – that’s the keyword for actors. Not “Do”.
This is my first ever acting workshop and I am thinking, OK, after the limbering up exercises, we will be asked to practise or perform some test role or something.
But no. Hale is not interested in getting us to “act” – not just yet.
What he is talking about is something deeper, more fundamental, that elusive, can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it thing called “stage presence”.
Sure, actors can “do” – perform lines, emotions, action and all that. But is it something that the actor is just “doing” externally or is it coming from within?
“The actor’s inner personality must come through (on stage),” explains Hale. “The audience can feel the inner vibes you are giving out.”
And so… how does he workshop this? The Neutral Mask.
About one dozen of us sit on chairs as an audience and each one us is asked to just come out and BE ourselves, alert yet relaxed (like what they told me to do in my yoga classes).
Just walk onto stage, BE, look everyone in the eye, and then take a bow. That’s it. Don’t try to be clever, no twitched eyebrows, no suggestive facial expressions are required, just BE.
It is a fascinating exercise. Even in neutral mode, the participants’ personalities are visible, peeking out at times, or rearing to be unleashed in other more exuberant characters.
Some dominate and boss the audience, some look confused, one guy tries to be funny… each time this happens, Hale tells the actor try again and be neutral.
Perhaps this is the ultimate test of an actor. When you have nothing to do, you can only play your unadulterated self. And that’s what the audience sees.
Even when you are doing stuff, it’s YOU that the audience sees beneath all the lines and action.
And that’s the job of an actor – just to be “seen”.
- Andrew Sia
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