In this Masterclass lecture, we open class with a very raw discussion about what it means when it comes to “life or death” stakes in the work. Our very talented and brave ensemble is working on a play that demands each member to viscerally understand and endow what it means to fight for one’s survival in the name of life and love without it being diluted by “ideas” of what that fight really entails. On a personal note, and to be quite frank, this was not an easy week for me to teach. In fact, I felt quite exposed. I felt quite vulnerable. I even felt quite isolated in my experience. And because of those feelings, I knew this was exactly what my heart was asking me to reveal in the lecture. So I needed to face all that and use it as the fire to my own breakthrough as well as in service of the work. Ya gotta practice what you preach, right? Otherwise, ya got no right to ask the equivalent of others. It is not the “easy” that makes us artists. It is not the “easy” that makes the difference. It is our complexity. It is that stuff that we feel we may need to hide. It is all those things that make us feel broken. It is that deep, messy and sometimes even shattered truth within all of us that is called for in the creative process. It is all that stuff that has the ability to open hearts and transform things for the better. It is all that stuff that brings us closer and closer to the ultimate truth. In preparation for this class, I had to do a lot of soul-searching to be able to reveal what I really wanted to teach on this very human and dark subject. I also wanted to be able to teach this part of the work with the utmost integrity and respect that it deserves. In my own life, I have had to fight tooth and nail in order to stay alive from a very complicated illness that has tried to take me out on multiple occasions. And for the most part, I have had to do that alone. When all known treatments have failed me, I had to take it into my own hands to find the answers to this crazy chronic illness that we still just do not have enough research for or answers to. And to this day, I still fight with all I have to make sure that I survive. So having tasted this notion of what it means to really survive based on my own circumstances, I wanted to substitute that experience to be able to share some kind of insight in a way that it can relate somehow someway to the extreme and horrific circumstances of the piece we are working on. We hear the words “high stakes” so often in our work but rarely do we take accountability to truly define what that means in relation to the circumstances and life of the character. We tend to go to the “idea” place of what that means…and even the emotionality of those circumstances…without realizing that in such high stakes, those ideas and all that emotionality may very well be the thing that gets in the way of the character’s survival itself. We have to understand that in those circumstances where it is “life or death“, there is something primitive that kicks in with laser focus to be sure that we survive. Sometimes all that emotion is a luxury that we just do not have in such extreme circumstances. It does not mean that all that emotion and feeling is not present. Because it is. And it is there deep down. And it is complex. And it is painful. And it is scary. But do we have the time and place to reveal it? To feel it? To go through it? Or do we need to refocus that energy, conserve it, and use it as the substance, the gasoline, the useful energy for survival? You see, there is something else that takes precedence. And that is that fight or flight instinct within all of us. It is that something instinctual within that works overtime to constantly figure out what can be done to survive life-threatening circumstances even if it means taking what may be considered outlandish risks just so one can stay alive. And we, as actors, have to find a way to understand and justify such actions without judgment so we can truly live them in our work. And we have to be sure that we are not playing all that emotionality thinking that it will somehow someway gain the compassion, love or sympathy from the audience. That is not the story. That is not our job. That is not what the character has to do to stay alive. If we do that, we lose the very action necessary to fight for survival. We need to stay the course, using all that emotion and feeling as the driving motivation to the do what we have to do in the scene, based on and in line with the text, to try to get what we want based on the circumstances and elements that we are in, the relationships that surround us, the obstacles standing in the way of those needs, and all the actions (spoken or unspoken) that we are willing to risk to accomplish what we are setting out to do with the intention to survive “life or death” stakes. And so we, as actors, begin this brave journey exploring and revealing the human spirit’s fight for survival in the name of life and love. And we honor the lives and stories of those who have suffered such atrocities throughout history. And we shine the light on such darkness that is still happening today with the hope, even if as a small part, of ending such suffering.
I hope you enjoy this lecture.
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