“Live in your light.”
I began my studies as a student obeying rules and meeting teachers expectations of me. While this certainly helps a student to progress from one grade level to the next, it doesn’t necessarily help them move from one stage to another as an adult. The actor who is transitioning from youth into adulthood is developing a newer awareness of themselves than when they transitioned into puberty and solidifying who they will become in relation to the world around them. It is for that reason that my teaching is based on the fundamental question of “Who are you?”
The late acting master Uta Hagen’s “Six Steps” are a profound way to develop a fundamental understanding of a character: Who are they? What are their circumstances? What are their relationships? What do they want? What are their obstacles? What do they do to get what they want? I seek to expand upon this analytical preparation by adding a pre-cursory part: applying these same questions to the actors themselves. An actor is already rich as a human being with life experiences, genetic proclivities, and ingrained values which life has wrought in them. Additionally, I value the cultural insights that an actor can bring to their process. Before an actor can truly understand the humanness of a character, they must have a full understanding of their own. Through personal study that enables an actor to employ “substitution”, an actor can then empathize with another imaginary human being.
As a person of Yoruba descent, I am intrigued by the practice of theatre within that culture and seek to incorporate it into my years of studying acting as a general art form and the sub-genre of African-American theatre. The use of masks, in particular, as they are used in theatrical Yoruba festivals as well as ancient Greek theatre, is a useful approach to acting because it causes the actor to investigate where the essence of the character comes from. After completing mental analysis, the next level is exploring the spiritual body of a character and here is where the acknowledgement of one’s own culture as well as the culture of an imaginary character come into play. This approach is more suited for adult actors as opposed to young actors because matters of the spirit and things we cannot easily see with the eye are more easily understood after acquiring some life experience and developing a strong heart.
In my past experience as a teaching artist, I have found that no two students are alike in their pathway to learning. The emphasis in my teaching on the question of “Who are you?” allows students the space and time to explore themselves, thus creating the confidentiality and trust within a shared space to share these revelations. My approach reveals proof of its impact when students display an authentic confidence in portraying imaginary characters written by authors other than themselves and they are empowered to create their own material as an act of continuing the creative process in their careers.