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Why Spirituality Isn't the Same as Acting: A Discussion of Method

Thomas Constantine Moore describes how an actor can balance the intellectual, the physical, and the spiritual. logo

"I'm sure there's something spiritual about kaleidoscopes. Right?" Generated using "Kaleidoscope Painter," Created and Programmed by F. Permadi

If you are currently going or have at one time gone to school for acting, the association of spirituality with acting probably doesn't strike you as overly strange. If it does, let me just say that I have spent hours in a classroom trying to move energy between chakras to achieve specific psycho-physical sensations. Still confused? Probably.

Spirituality is a purposefully broad term that essentially refers to any belief or consciousness of immaterial forces or essences. It is easy to see why spirituality and acting are so easily tied - acting is a mysterious process by which we manipulate our bodies, minds, and emotions… and emotions are generally thought of as immaterial.

Whether you consider yourself a spiritual person or not, this aspect of acting is undeniably, well, there. It would be folly to ignore it, but it would be an equal folly to think of spirituality as equivalent to acting. It's a blurry line that's easy to cross. Feelings are untrustworthy no matter how strongly you feel them. They will destroy or dominate you if you let them. And nobody wants to work with an out-of-control actor.

To my mind, the most difficult and best acting represents a balance between the intellectual, the physical, and the spiritual. If you're like me and the word "spiritual" can kind of turn you off because some deeply rooted intellectual part of you says, "What?" then just think of this last category as the "indirect" method: tackling physical and intellectual elements in a way that circumvents our own subconscious barriers. Below, I'm going to talk - briefly - about some of my favorites.

1) Text-work (intellectual) The most obvious intellectual acting method is this umbrella term for research, text analysis, and preparatory brainstorming for objectives, tactics, and other playable terms. It's really important and should not be neglected.

2) Rasaboxes (physical/spiritual) Originating from the Indian art concept of rasas as emotional themes--one of the basic ideas here is that through physical manipulation of breath-pattern you can achieve a corresponding psychological effect. For example, when people get scared, they tend to breathe quick, ragged breaths. Artificially forcing this breath pattern does, in fact, begin to induce an actual feeling of fear. So cool! It's a physical approach that produces an indirect emotional (immaterial) response.

3) Laban Movement Analysis (physical) So there was this Hungarian guy named Rudolf von Laban (with a name like that, it's no surprise that he made one of the greatest contributions to movement-based art in history) and he systematically documented and described the ways in which the human body moves, creating a whole language for physicality. It also happens to be really fun. I'm serious; I did some Laban work last year, and it was the bee's knees. Heck, it was the bee's elbows. It was all the bee joints. Laban noticed that based on different "effort qualities" such as space, weight, and time, it was possible to subdivide movement types into recognizable patterns such as "wringing" or "gliding." These make for excellent building blocks in the construction of a character. It's also worth noting that LMA is the only item on this list with a decent Wikipedia page, so feel free to check that out.

4) Imaging (intellectual/physical/spiritual) I'm going to cheat here and lump several things together. That doesn't mean that they are the same, but I think it is fair to group them under this heading. Michael Chekhov's psychological gesture, embodying the psychophysical essence of 'blue' or 'fire' or 'blue fire', and the Chakras I mentioned earlier all attempt to engage all three of these categories through imaging. What I mean by that is literally imagining that something exists and committing to that imagination in order to live fully in it. They tackle physical and intellectual qualities both directly and indirectly through the power of imagination.

These are just a few examples, but hopefully they indicate the incredibly vast array of tools available to actors. As you discover new methods, try not to get too caught up in the schism of spirituality vs. discipline. Humans work surprisingly well through metaphors, and regardless of what you personally attach to the word, spirituality is a great metaphor. It allows you to approach problematic roles in new ways and some of it may just inexplicably work for you. That's the fun of discovery. As a general rule, don't second-guess a method before you try it. They function in mysterious ways.


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