As a working actress, I would see so many actors that were truly dredging up deep, painful emotions, but whose work seemed self-indulgent. I realized that having deep and profound feelings didn’t necessarily make me a deep and profound person. I saw that coddling one’s pain – in life and on stage — creates almost the opposite effect. It seems self-involved, self-pitying and weak, the key characteristics of a victim. Not the most compelling choice for an actor to make.
An actor who merely feels tend to turn his performance inward and does not energize or inspire himself or an audience, whereas watching someone do anything and everything to override pain in an attempt to accomplish a goal or an OBJECTIVE puts an audience on the edge of their seats because the outcome becomes alive and unpredictable. Taking action results in risk and therefore, an unexpected journey. It’s not enough for an actor to be honest. It’s the actor’s job to make the kind of choices that motivate exciting results. You can paint a canvas using real oil paint, but if the final painting isn’t a compelling image, no one will want to look at it.
Aristotle defined the struggle of the individual to win as the essence of all drama more than two thousand years ago. Overcoming and winning against all the hurdles and conflicts of life is what makes dynamic people. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stephen Hawking, Susan B. Anthony, Virginia Woolf, Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandela all had to overcome almost insurmountable struggles in their lives to achieve their goals. Indeed, the greater the obstacles and the more passion these people brought to overcoming their obstacles, the more profound the achievement or contribution they made. They didn’t become amazing, accomplished people in spite of their challenges, but because of them. These are qualities we want to duplicate in characterizations.
It’s much more captivating to watch someone try to win against the odds, than someone content to put up with life’s travails. A winner doesn’t have to actually win to be a winner — A winner tries to win, a loser accepts defeat.
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