The Wild Art of Performance

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Drama (general) By: Tutor no longer registered
Subject: Drama » Drama (general)
Last updated: 02/07/2016
Tags: acting, imagination, performance, talent, wildness

What is it that sets a performance apart? That appeals to us so urgently that we find ourselves unable to look away? Think of Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, or Leonardo de Caprio. Actors that seem to reveal depths to us that defy us not to be moved, or at the very least reached. What is that thing? That magic spark? Is that what we call talent? Can it be taught? Or are some people just born with it? 

During my time running Shootstraight, an outreach programme that engaged young people form challenging backgrounds in screen acting workshops, I discovered something I found fascinating. I had started the project on a hunch; that the kind of behaviour that can get a young person excluded from the classroom; exhibitionism, energy, anger, might be readily channelled into performance and storytelling. The hunch bore itself out wonderfully, but there was more. Given a group of young people who had been excluded from school, say, and working with them regularly over several months, one or two would stand out from each group as having what appeared to be a startling natural talent. Invariably these young people would turn out to be the ones growing up in local authority care, with the hardest stories, having been through countless foster placements and set apart from their peers by the level of their exclusion.

The way that I work with actors is very much connected to freeing imagination from such inhibiting concepts as ‘getting it right’ or doing ‘good work’, and valuing what is unearthed in its rawest form. When an actor is working in this way, alone or with a partner in the centre of a circle, there is a moment when that thing is there. That elusive flash. And then it is gone. It is something like when a fox crosses your path on a city pavement late at night. For a moment it stops and looks at you, part of you responds to the exhilaration of contact with a wild creature. Too soon it turns and is gone. So it is working with actors.

Marlon Brando said, remembering his difficult childhood 'When what you are is unwanted then you look for an identity that is acceptable.' Our identities are carefully constructed. What we say, what we wear, how we present ourselves. These things are choices we make and over time they harden into a mask, veiling our wildness, protecting us from the unknown and allowing us to live in our own safe and manageable worlds. For small children the process is still soft and make believe is easy and natural. Imagination operates before this constructed identity. It is instinctive, spontaneous, surprising, beyond our control, impervious to our moral judgements, at times frightening, and always accessible. If we can only drop the mask. Easier said than done. Especially if the constructing of that mask has been affirmed and validated by our loving families and communities since childhood. Yet, if we are willing, for a moment, to set the mask aside, either out of necessity, like Marlon Brando, or the young people in my workshop, or by the force of an intention, born out of an understanding that this way lies our wild heart, this way lies a spark that connects us irresistibly to the rest of humanity, then I believe all of us, without exception, have talent.

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