FOREWORD Katie King I was seated near the back row of the Gielgud Theatre and crammed behind a pillar because tickets were cheaper that way. My diet was mostly rice and beans at that point during my London stint. I don’t remember much about Equus, really--even the naked Daniel Radcliffe part. Blame it on the pillar. What did stick with me was a particular Peter Shaffer line written for the psychologist:
―The normal is the good smile in a child's eyes. There's also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills, like a god. It is the ordinary made beautiful; it is also the average made lethal.‖
I was nineteen at the time, and still as idiot curious about everything as I always have been. I understood this stare, this blaze of nothing that happens at some point between dead dreams and desire, some rest stop between eager and apathetic. The exact moment when it does happen was the core of my worry. I knew that one could still classify me as a child by my stare, if we were, say, having a staring contest and the judges were all Peter Shaffer clones. But I knew it was only a matter of time before the dead stare became my default and, as usual, I dreaded it. I am a dreadful, eager thing. I think by now I’ve probably finally got it. There are too many factors in life that I don’t fight against that I should, and too many that I do fight against which I should let go. I still couldn’t tell you exactly when this occurred. Probably some point between the rice and the bean. I remember watching my mother drive as we would run errands across town when I was a child. It seems that any woman over the age of 30, not just my mother at the time, has stress hovering around her forehead like an unwelcome angel. I questioned this as well, perhaps creating the first early furrows of worry on my own brow--when did it happen, and when would mine come?! Would it arrive as with bells and whistles or more casually in a wrapped package with the return address of ―hopelessness,‖ ―adulthood,‖ or worse? Yes, instead of thinking of regular childlike worries, I pondered this issue and stared at my own reflection in the driver’s seat window. I liked that it often wasn’t myself staring back at me. Depending on how the light was shifting, I could turn into a city, or the zoom of another car, or a whiz of traffic lights, or the southwest desert sky or--swish, back to me--that freckled thing with a Ukrainian nose and somehow permanently seeking expression. Things were way more exciting this way. Zooming. Years later, I was at a high-school house party. It was the time of your life where you call things a ―house party‖ because ―hanging out at someone’s house‖ just sounds lame. We were watching Metamorphosis with Meryl Streep playing Susan Orlean
―It's over. Everything's over. I did everything wrong. I want my life back. I want it back before everything got fucked up. I want to be a baby again. I want to be new. I WANT TO BE NEW.‖ I knew that was a good quote at the time but didn’t understand why. I just remembered it being the only part of the movie that I could stand and coming to the conclusion that it was still a good movie simply because of that quote. We want to break the stare. But often, as artists, we want to become the stare. For a bit.
After studying acting for over ten years, I’m surprised to report that just about 90% of what you learn as an actor is how to relax, how to clear your mind, and how to let go (which, side note: I could probably use another 50 years of training on.) You may envision musical theater conservatories or acting BFA majors to spend lots of time thinking about being angry, or expressing joy, sensuality, etc. Such is not the case. We literally spend hours and hours on the floor. Doing nothing, which, if you haven’t tried it before, is quite hard. We practice relaxing every muscle in our body until we are at a place which some call ―actor neutral.‖ This is my theatrical nod to the blank stare, artist’s gaze, however you want to phrase it. Actor neutral is home base for the performer. It is the sweet spot in which all of your physical habits, stature quirks, bodily strengths and weaknesses fade to the sidelines so that new choices can happen within you to make a character. It sounds nuts: people who get paid to play with the medium of personality and emotion spend years on how to express, well, nothing.
It is the form we pass through to get to the beginning. Our reset button. The pose before the punch, the cleansing of the palate. In dance, it is the basics that greet us at the barre. In writing, it becomes more literal, as we stare onto blank pages, computer screens, whatever. It has a negative rap, and for a good reason. People usually stay in this phase for far too long, drowning in the I don’t knows of a project, getting drowsy in the dull of blankness which is supposed to be a peaceful passageway on the road to making. It is best to say hello to the blank stare and to return to it at the end of each creative phase where we can learn the cleansing truth that before we can create anything, we need to practice creating nothing, if only to know the difference between the two.
6 method press
Published on Apr 13, 2011
The debut issue of Method Press. Method press is an independent art-filled quarterly celebrating low-fi thinkers. If you would like order yo...