by R.S. Mellette
In a previous post, I wrote about an acting rehearsal that changed my approach to life, the arts, and everything, but I only told half the story in that article. Here's the most important part.
My acting partner and I had found what was missing from the Kent/Oswald scene in King Lear by getting back to the basics. Having done that, we worked on our monologues and sonnets. I had been having trouble with the sonnet:
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their bodies' force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away and me most wretched make.
The problem was it sounded like a monologue. I talked with my acting partner about it, ending my diatribe with, "I've been talking for more than a few minutes, but why is it that – if I wrote down, word-for-word, what I just said, and repeated it, it wouldn't sound like what I just said?"
In other words, why did acting sound like acting and not real life?
So I continued to talk about the sonnet, then without notice, changed from my words to Shakespeare's. The transition was so seamless that when I was done, my scene partner's eyes were wide with excitement. "Let me try! Let me try," he said.
He did, and it was much better than he'd ever done before, but it wasn't quite perfect.
We worked on this new approach until we had a method for getting rid of everything we'd ever learned. We let every acting lesson we'd ever had slide off of us. We didn't start our monologues until we'd forgotten we were acting – and forgotten we'd forgotten we were acting.
The next week, after we'd nailed piece-after-piece in our semester finals, our teacher looked at me and said, "if you can bottle that, you'll make a fortune."
I'm still waiting for the fortune.
What we had done was take the final step in training—any sort of training.
Today, when I'm asked to speak about acting, I show up with the makings of the perfect martini. I put ice in the glass and pour in vermouth until someone tells me that's too much—which can really backfire if you're teaching kids. I then cover the ice, pour off the vermouth, making a show of how hard I shake out every last drop. Then I add gin or vodka, shake, and pour the perfect martini.
I enjoy a sip while explaining that the tiny amount of vermouth that clings to the ice is the perfect measurement for a dry martini. You have to put in too much in order to reduce it down to the right amount.
Then I turn the bottles around. Vermouth is labeled TRAINING. The gin or vodka is TALENT.
An artist, or a Navy SEAL, or an athlete, must immerse themselves in training. They have to learn everything there is to learn about their specialty—not just in their head, but in their body. They have to become so trained that a reflexive twitch of the knee is a textbook example of movement in their discipline.
That's the first step. At this level, many people think they are done—and most of the world would agree with them. A great number of successful artists work at this level. Plenty of soldiers serve our nation well by relying solely on their training, and locker rooms are full of athletes who play the game exactly as it is meant to be played.
But there is another level beyond the training. There is greatness. There is the perfect martini.
You don't get there on training alone.
You don't get there on talent alone.
It's a three step process. Learn it. Forget it. Do it.
And, yeah. The olives are the balls—which apply to either gender.
Thanks for reading.