Thursday, 22 March 2012

"Are you a real actor?"

If you're a regular reader, then you'll know that one of the things I do on a regular basis is work as an actress in an educational context.  This means doing everything from making films and being in still photographs to playing a particular character in a scripted scenario, playing a character within a specified context, or playing a role that a course participant describes on the spot.  In this last case it is usually someone with whom they work and want to practise dealing with.

The reactions that people have to this situation vary widely and are fascinating.

Earlier in the week, I was working in a different capacity with a group of executives at an organisation I've been working with regularly.  I usually remember the faces of people I've worked with before and they certainly remember me.  I recognised a particular man when he walked in the door and he confirmed that he'd previously been in a course I had facilitated and also played a particular colleague for him in a role play.

On the last day of the course this time he came up to me and asked me if I remembered playing "a particularly difficult Turkish man".  I confessed that I didn't have a specific memory and asked whether it was useful for him.  His eyes lit up and he said that he was a bit freaked out at the time because I was spookily like the difficult Turkish man.  He wanted to tell me how useful the opportunity to practise had been; he'd had the conversation he needed to have and was much better prepared as a result of our interaction.

I felt very happy.  I'm nothing like a "difficult Turkish man".  It's quite common for people to stop in the middle of one of these simulations/role plays because what they see before them is so like the person they have in mind.  This is one of the most creative aspects of this work - creating a character out of a few key pieces of behavioural information.  I've only once had someone complain that I was nothing like the person they'd described.  I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often, given what it is that we're doing.

Tonight I was working with a group of medical professionals who have been trained overseas and are preparing to qualify here in Australia.  I had to play a woman with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.  At one point I was asked about my family and whether anything had happened and I spoke about the death of my father.  The character I was playing was still grieving and as I spoke about my fictional father, tears started to well in my eyes.  I could feel the student I was working with, and the other students who were observing, look on and wonder whether what they were seeing was real.  When the scene was over they were very concerned to see that I was all right.  Naturally, I was.

In the debrief afterwards, I was asked whether I was really crying.  This is such a hard question to answer.  Physically I was crying:  there were tears in my eyes, my heart rate and breathing changed, my facial expression changed.  What I was crying for is a much harder question to answer and is one of the great mysteries and magical things about acting.

As I left for the evening, I ran into a couple of the students outside.  They wanted to know whether I was a "real actor".  I thought that was an interesting question, given what they had just been part of.  If they saw a plumber do a great job, or another doctor do a great job, I doubt they would ask whether the person was really what they seemed to be.  I don't think it was malicious; I think that good acting is a powerful and mysterious thing when you witness it in a theatre or on screen.  Imagine its power when you witness it up close and unrehearsed!  It's wonderful that this power is now being realised to provide profound and transforming educational experiences.

No comments:

Post a Comment