The Body Barrier Chronicles: Channeling Spirits

A character is the heaviest burden in the world to carry. It’s someone that sometimes thinks and moves and feels things that you have absolutely no reference for, that you need to empathize with and cater for and allow to move through you. That always creates some room for some awkward moments, for the performer that is figuring out how someone else can move in their body, and for the director, who almost always sees something get to someone in a serious way. I’ve dealt with a lot of folks who have personal issues that they were afraid to reveal, or had some hangups about revealing too much of themselves in a character or getting into a character that was so far removed. I’ve had people cry big bad tears in the middle of rehearsals and not be able to truly stop crying until the entire play was over. And I’ve as of recently, had some folks who couldn’t make a single step into character.
Now, that’s pretty bad, when you’re looking at a piece as a director. After all, your vision is kind of predicated on the idea that your actors perform. If they can’t embody the character assigned to them, then there’s a certain amount of the energy and atmosphere and even situation of the play that becomes so much less believable. But it proves a perfect point about how much the body is a barrier…
There’s a literal, physical barrier that we need to cross to let a character in. No matter how badly we want to play them, or challenge ourselves, or think that the character’s easy, there’s a point where we have to cross the threshold with a new spirit in our hands, and it’s awkward. In some cases, depending on the spirit, it gets even more screwed up – when the character is close to the real you, it feels like there’s more spirit inhabiting your own body. When it’s someone that you truly don’t ever want to be like, the spirit clings to you like a child. As an actor, even I have never been ready for all that drama, no pun intended. But it’s necessary. If you don’t feel that spirit, moving around and through you, and you don’t figure out how to move with and for them, there’s only so far that your character than go.
A friend once told me that acting was evil, because it involves channeling spirits that are not yours. It’s only as a director that I discovered how close to the truth he might be. Not that I think that acting is a weapon of The Adversary in the slightest. But the truth is that you’re asking a spirit of some sort to come and spend time with you. To learn from it, or let it live vicariously through you. The actor that discovers that, I think, is that actor that goes far in his career. But it never really gets easy. And maybe that’s for the best…

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