"The Master Key to Acting Freedom"
By Graham Dixon
Extracts of the book:
From Chapter I:
"So the questions is: What is the difference between Michael Chekhov and all other theatre practitioners of the 20 century?
Let me try to answer that question my using the jargon of computer technology: Many of the practices available to actors and directors are based upon ‘closed systems’ that look inside one’s own psychology to create a character and to find feelings.
Chekhov’s approach is different.
On you computers or smart phones you have applications that have been programmed to do something: find a hotel, find a restaurant, calculate currency, how to get from one place to another, and so on.
It’s obvious that a map app wont allow you to divide 456.72 by 37,21! Nor the food app to tell you the best way to the workshop studio.
Apps only output what has been inputted by the programmer. No more, no less. It’s called a closed system. Similarly, we are told we are also a closed system. You can only get out of you what has been put into you: your memories, your education, the nation and culture you were born into, your gender, your deep seated disposition, your DNA, and, maybe, your karma.
Now, Michael Chekhov talked about an open system that we can access without having to fall back into our own past experiences which are, naturally, very limiting. He called this open system: The World of the Imagination.
It is an ‘open system’ that enables the actor to ‘tap into’ or access directly an objective creative world using a heightened ability to imagine and sense. And the resultant feelings, thoughts and will impulses will be natural and unforced and true - and joyous!”
From Chapter XI:
Then Sarah, quite spontaneously, when she was a little way from us sitting in the semi-circle, hesitated, paused and looked rather uneasy, as if something was preventing her from moving further forward.
We, sitting in the semi-circle, sensed it as well. I looked along the chairs and all were leaning back as if Sarah were about to invade our private space.
“What is it?”, I asked her.
“I don’t know.” She groped for words which I intuited was a new experience for her, trying to access another part of herself that she was not familiar with. “If I go further then…something will be broken…something will be…lost.” She then blurted out: “I don’t want to cross the boundary…I’ll just be in ordinary space again, in the ordinary world.”
I could see she was visibly moved, her eyes filled with tears and the in-control Sarah, the young, smart, confident, intelligent, trainee director was overcome by something she had never experienced before.
Then Samantha rather hesitatingly said, as if she was revealing something deep and sacred from within, “I felt it too, it was an almost unbearable moment.”
And now she said directly to Sarah, “I didn’t want you to come any further, Sarah. I didn’t want you to cross the line. You looked so beautiful when you were walking, moving so slowly towards us, and I didn’t want you to lose that….that beauty.”
Tyler rather broke the atmosphere with: “I felt that she was just getting rather too close!”
That did break the atmosphere which was rather a good thing, as a genuine and true feeling can become sentimental and schmalzy, if it is held for too long.
From Chapter XII:
I quickly focused back onto John, who was half way between the ordinary and the extraordinary, standing at the side. He had, as yet, not crossed the magic line, the threshold between the two worlds; had not entered the “in-between” realm. He looked a little like a sore thumb, as my grandmother used to say.
“So, John, on emerging from the comfort of the semi-circle, what would be the first thing you would do?"
"Connect to a principle?" he said rather sheepishly. He looked so sweet and vulnerable that my heart went out to him. On perceiving closer, something quite important was happening to him: a softening, a loosening, an opening up, an inkling of a wound deep down that had the potential to be healed.
There was a moment's pause, not in time but in the space. I intuitively allowed that moment to do what it had to do for John and, in a way, for us all in that shared space.
When that moment had passed, I asked him, ”And what principle would you like to relate to, to work with you, so that you can navigate the ‘in-between’ without hiccups, without baulking or retreating?”
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