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  • Sonya Cooke


We are not all that honest. Consider your life: How often are you fully candid about how you feel? Are you aware of how you edit your reactions? When and how do you sugar-coat, change the subject, circumambulate the topic, veil your feelings, grin and bare it, stifle an impulse, diminish a thought, throw one away, or lie point blank? Are you even fully cognizant of what you are presently experiencing? To what degree? It just doesn't happen that we reveal our entire inner life. And yet, actors are so quick to emote, shout, bare their fangs, unleash their rage, burst into tears, lash out, roll their eyes, expose their vulnerability, cut and tear with their words and tone of voice whenever the opportunity arises. Actors blow their load way too often and way too early. Yes, the stage is where we get to see drama enacted, but the drama must be earned. The same can be said of truth. For it to be worth anything, as it very much is in life, it must be first lost in order to be found.

There are many reasons for this. On a very basic level, there is too much in our heads in order to be totally candid.

According to philosopher Daniel Dennett in Consciousness Explained, we don't store a lot of information in short-term memory because it isn't necessary and would take up valuable computing power. Our brains, therefore, siphon out the unnecessary in order to make room for what we need to cognitively carry. Beyond this initial sieve of consciousness, we also are sparing in what and how we express. The ratio of what we are thinking/feeling to what is communicated is easily 10 to 1. This isn’t because we are lying; it’s simply a bottleneck situation! If we exported every thought and feeling that floated through our psyches we would surely catch fire from all the rapid activity. (Been there, done that.) Instead, we consciously and unconsciously prioritize our thoughts. While you are reading this, you may be simultaneously battling with an itchy sweater or debating whether or not to message so and so…All these inner dialogues are running concurrently down the stream of consciousness; some are bottom-dwellers and some bubble up to the top. These thoughts and feelings, although not shared in word or action, are important because they make up the acting EXPERIENCE. They are the river on top of which our words and actions float, lending richness and depth to acting.

We handpick our feelings and sensations, whether we know it or not.

Scientists have proven that a human emotion has the natural lifespan of 90 seconds; it is the individual who draws it out or extinguishes it entirely. It may be infuriating to believe, but “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet, Act II, ii.) What makes someone angry barely phases another. Actors are often deeply emotional people, but they must realize that they are portraying characters who may not be as emotionally connected as they are. We certainly are not wired the same way. Each person has connected the dots in his or her own life, circumstances are wedded to certain emotions. This is why some people are crazy and some are less so.

Truth can build, but also burn down bridges.

Stanislavski said that 10% of our thoughts are expressed in text and the other 90% is all subtext. This isn’t due to pre-Soviet era stoicism. It’s just true! We disclose only a portion of our inner life because it’s worth its weight in gold. Truth is impactful and potent and can reward you plentifully. However, the truth may cost you your dignity, comfort, rapport, and identity, among so many other things. There are ramifications for candor. Therefore, when actors expose all that they feel, then it seems that there is nothing to be lost, which reeks of inauthenticity and is simply less interesting. The art of social and inter-personal manipulation is ubiquitous, necessary, full of wit and mystery; all in all, it is dynamic. Truth, when unbounded, is banal; whereas, artifice is artistic.

Your partner is watching you!!!

Therefore, you mustn’t wear your heart on your sleeve in your acting. There is a boundary between what you are feeling and what you are doing. You must draw that line very clearly. If you blink an eye, your partner will catch it, so be wary of how you are behaving and how much you are sharing, as it will have a deleterious effect if you do not take ownership of it, first and foremost. The most common symptoms of “truthful” acting are quick to anger behavior, full of shouting, huffs and puffs and eye-rolling, or woeful complaining, random tears and meaningless sentiment. Another term for this is simply BAD ACTING. (I’ve been guilty of it myself, so I know it when I see it.) Give up the emotional free-for-all, and in its place consider how you want to impact your partner with as much or as little truth as you can afford, given that relationship. Then, when full-frontal truth is revealed, it is like a shining star in a black sky, brilliant and illuminating.

When in doubt, again, consider your life. When have you laid down your armor and told the truth? When have you dropped your mask and allowed someone to see how you really feel? What was the price? What did you stand to gain? We are manipulating each other’s thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. We are performing for each other all the time. Let’s make no qualms about that and embrace all that goes into furnishing our actions, behaviors and words to what we want the other person to see, hear and experience of us. Until you absolutely need to tell the truth, please, PUT A LID ON IT.

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