Friday, 8 February 2013

Drama, acting and performing

In the interests of mixing it up - as one does every now and then in order to make life more interesting, meet new people and to gain a fresh perspective - I've taken up acting. Or at least, I attend an acting class. 

To be honest, there hasn't been much acting, to speak of, so far...

However, I do know more about the art of acting than I did before I started. I've also learned a little about myself too. 

But perhaps best of all, some of the learning has had application in my work as a coach. 

In particular, I've been reminded that in class, as well as in coaching (and life), there's a distinction between acting, drama and performance.

Let me explain.

In class we have been exploring the way we move. To do this, we have observed movement in others, we have experimented with expressing an idea without words, we have tried out different ways of walking and considered what movement does for our energy levels.

This week our task was to come to class prepared to act out a scene of our devising based on the movement we had observed of another person - a friend, stranger, someone on a bus. Anyone we had observed over the previous week.

When the task was set, one of the group - a sort of Midsomer Murders character with some experience in amateur operatics - was anxious that her act might be satirical and unkind to her subject. Frankly, I should have hoped so. The teacher - let's call him Ted - a little patronisingly, explained that without an intention to ridicule, it would not be satirical or unmind. In the end, June, the anxious one, "did" her overweight food loving friend cooking dinner and watching tv.  Seven interminable minutes of tv watching. No satire at all. Ted gave her a huge clap.

Meanwhile, Rebekka, who really fancies herself as the next Marion or Charlize, and constantly dominates class discussion with a series of sounds that are words but actually say nothing - though perhaps epitomising the learning task as well as any of us might - with "I think that well, kind of, like, well, sort of, I mean, it did , rather, I mean , like what I should say is that yes, well, it was quite nice and meaningful, if you know what I mean..." did a woman on a train. She gets on. Sits there. Gets off.

We had another tv watching act - but with lots of facial expression and hand ringing.

Gordon, who thinks he's the next Ashton Kutcher, is the best of them. He could hold his own in any millieu in fact. He did an efficient and effective rendition of working through lunch in a miserable job.

We also had  a beggar, a fat old lady in the shops resting her legs and an old man waiting for a train.

Finally, it was my turn. I was getting edgy after watching 9 of these things. So I did a woman in a gym class who comes expecting yoga and ends up doing high impact aerobics and nearly passes out from exhaustion. The woman is young and attractive but not as fit as she thinks she is. She is annoyingly attention seeking and likes to have the mirror to herself. Even so, she barely keeps up with the rest of the class. It was slightly  facetious, but very "realistic". Believe me - I am expert in gym class personalities!

So we all did our acts. We all tried to be "truthful" (N.B. this means realistic but in acting we don't say realistic (!)).

At the end of the class, Ted dismissed us with our homework. He took a moment to point out that one or two of the acts strayed into "performances".

Silly me! I used to think that acting was performing. Now, not so much...

Clearly, he was referring to me. My act was a "performance" - ie - not a good thing. 

Ironically, it was funny, enjoyable, "truthful", easy to relate to and understand.

Ok. I admit it strayed into the area of parody. Possibly ridiculing the twenty somethings who think they own the gym but lack the stamina or grit to punch through the pain...

But, despite its flaws, it had some flair and panache. Compared to watching paint dry, anyway. 

Well, at least I moved...


So what's the point?

The point is that in working with coaching clients, coaches don't tend to tell the client they are "performing". We don't say they are "dramatising" things. Even though sometimes we might think saying so would create a "light-bulb" moment...

But we do help them to find this out for themselves. 

Equally, we appreciate, or should, that there is a reason the client is performing as they are, acting as they do. There is a reason why they play the roles they play. There is meaning in their dramas. And we let the client give us a role in that play. We aren't the director or the producer of their lives. We're mere players, facilitating the story telling, enabling the journey of the character.

Who said the world is a stage and we the players?

A truer word?

So yes, sometimes we act. Sometimes we perform. Sometimes we bore. But as long as we "star" in our own dramas, who is to judge? And your drama isn't mine. For mine may be a tragi-comedic tale of a hero overcoming evil. Yours - a romantic drama full of pathos and yearning. 

In my acting class there is an incongruity. We beginners are being held to a standard. A standard that isn't written or spoken. Not even hinted at. None of us have been initiated into the secret expert world of acting, in which we would never be caught "performing". 

Thankfully, in life - the standards are more realistic

The key is merely to be truthful. For your drama may be your truth. Your melodrama may be your reality. Your boring monologue may be the essence of who you are.

Just do this - in acting out your drama - give a performance that is engaging, communicative and entertaining. Don't worry about whether you're acting well, so much as whether you're taking part.

Hold your head high when asked to walk around the room in different ways. Be brash and brave when everyone else is self-conscious and fearful. 

Oh, and don't be deterred when after walking the boards, someone tells you not to do "ministry of silly walks".

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