By Charmaine Bingwa
All that exists is this moment: my time at Atlantic Acting School
Originally appeared in The Equity Magazine, December, 2018.
The hustle and bustle of New York was the perfect backdrop for the intensity that was the 2018 Summer Intensive at the Atlantic Acting School. It was such beautiful opportunity to take a deep dive into the Practical Aesthetics methodology.
Such an esoteric article title, I know – but stay with me… The reason why I’m so drawn to the art-form that is acting is because it always gives back to your soul more than you give it. You get to explore the depths of human nature, what it means to be human and as one of our teacher’s Anya Saffir said “if you let the play in, it’ll take you back to yourself”.
It was a transcendent experience to be able to spend so much time soaking up great writing and exploring our artistic selves. Ultimately Practical Aesthetics, and any good technique simply offers you logical ways to be able to act truthfully in the moment.
Here are some of the brilliant truths that resonated the most with me:
The script is sacred
Great writers are like prophets who deliver the most sacred human truths. They encode the formula to bring it to life in text through what is said, and just as importantly what is not said. Reading is for amateurs, re-reading is for professionals. Be a detective, find the truth. One of the famous Atlantic maxims is “think before you act, so you can act before you think”
Receive as much as you give
“It’s important that performances show how much it hurts”
Listening is key. Especially in a society that is becoming more digitised and in a sense, making us immune to each another. Whilst it’s true we connect to each other through our glory, we mostly connect through our pain. Powerful performances connect us to each other and ourselves. As Oscar Wilde said, “we are all in the gutter, but some days you are looking at the stars.”
“Fictionalise your body”
You can’t prepare exactly how you are going to act a scene, but you can prepare the body and spirit. The most interesting acting happens on impulse and impulsivity lives in the body, so it’s super important to prime it. We were given tools how we can work on our voice, speech, body, movement and moment-to-moment specificity daily. Your inner life is like the ocean, when you breathe it opens you and takes you in another direction.
Live and die in the moment
“The acting goddess is with you giving you the right impulse at the right time”
Our guest teacher Felicity Huffman said she had to ween herself of being addicted to being good, so she could leave room for the unknown. And I concur. Perfectionism is the ultimate cockblocker of creativity. The most exciting performances come from discomfort, as not even the actor knows what is going to happen next. If you are in the moment, the audience will be compelled to watch it. Find your reactivity in order to release your tactical range.
The whole truth and nothing but the truth
“Invent nothing, deny nothing”
It’s not our job to bring life to the stage, it’s our job to bring the truth of life to the stage. Even the gory bits.
Guard your character
“Pretend your character is in the corner, would they agree with you say about them?”
Taking the characters side whole-heartedly helps you avoid playing qualities or painting by numbers; rather you can focus on their truth. I find it’s helpful to try and hear them. What do they want, need, desire? What parts of them are unfulfilled, what are they trying to hide, what would they rather die than have you see?
One of my favourite things to remember is not just to only guard the character you are playing, but guard your own character in your life. Guard the choices you make, the work you chose, who you choose to work with, what you stand for – because what happens off-screen, tends to inform what happens on it.
Talent is love
“Talent is liquefied passion”
If you we get to see how much you love something, then we get to see your talent. Work on what speaks to your heart and chances are people will love your work.
I’m not sure who I’m quoting, but “actors are the people that are elected by the public to represent their dreams.” It’s an amazing job and we are so fortune we get the opportunity to explore what it means to be human for a living.
I’m going to conclude with the sentiments of Oscar-winning F. Murray Abraham who spoke to us on our final day (and kindly let me hold his Oscar, which was very heavy!). Find your own way and become your own teacher. Because I believe acting is about finding a way back to yourself by honouring the experience of others.