Use the Difficulty!

Acting Classes at NASA

17 Sep Use the Difficulty!


We’ve all had those moments when things don’t go to plan G in acting class, in an  audition, on set, on stage… in life! In training we like to call these ‘complications’  and wherever  possible  utilize  them  constructively  to  deepen  the  character,  the  scene and the learning.

Complications come in many shapes and forms. Most of the time they arise in the  form  of  challenges  or  difficulties  that intrude  upon  the  flow  of  the  scene. They  can be introduced purposely by a trainer or director to charge the energy of the  scene. They  can also arise from  the  people we are acting with, their actions  or  errors,  lack  of  experience  or  difference  in  interpretation.  They  may  be  unexpected events due to a prop, animal, environment or accident, or they could  occur  from  a  mistake  we  make  ourselves.  Whatever  the  cause  of  the  complication  there is  one  way  an  actor  can  respond  that  will  always  open  the  door  to  creativity,  expand  the  experience and  sustain  emotional  truth in  the  scene – ‘Use the difficulty’.

‘Use  the  difficulty’ is  the mantra  of  Sir Michael Caine  both in  acting  and in life  (see  his  comments  in  this  short  excerpt  here).  As  he  suggests,  rather  than a  difficulty presenting a block to  getting the most  out  of  a  character  or  scene  or  class, a difficulty presents an opportunity.

We  talk  a  lot  about  ‘making  offers’  and  ‘accepting  offers’  in  acting;  the  introduction  of  a  complication  or  difficulty  is  essentially  an  offer.  Rather  than  shut  it  down  we  can  expand  from  accepting  the  offer  and  using  it.  It  may  not  always work but that is not the point. The point is to use it in a constructive way  that creates choices, connects with character and can sometimes generate gold!

At  its  height  remaining  open  and  creative  in  the  face  of  a  complication can produce something wonderfully unexpected, surprising and exhilarating for both  actor and audience. At the very least it can help us learn more about the craft and  about ourselves as actors. Are we able to stay present in a scene and respond in  the moment in character? Are we ready to take responsibility for everything we  bring into a scene no matter what happens, how things change, who we are put  with, what  script we  have? Or  do we  discover  that we need to further develop  some of these aspects of our relationship with the craft?

Next time you find yourself in an acting situation where a complication has been  introduced  take  the  challenge,  see  what  you  can  create  from  it. Whether  it’s  a  complex task added for your character to complete in a scene, a prop that falls or  spills, an actor who is less experienced or making an unexpected offer, an on set  technicality or any other of the myriad of things that can go awry – stay present,  remain open  to the moment and use it. The worst  that can happen is you learn  something.

Please feel welcome to share any experiences with ‘using the difficulty’ that you  may have had or heard about or observed in class, on set, in the industry. Even  better, if you have experienced your own situation where you could have ‘used  the  difficulty’  but  you  didn’t  at  the  time  – think  about  your experience, how  would  you  use  the  experience  differently to  the  advantage  of  the  scene,  your  character  or  your  learning  if  it  happened  again? Feel  welcome  to  share  your  thoughts.

Those of you who do watch his comments will I’m sure also enjoy the final words  Sir Michael has to offer!

Enjoy the ongoing journey into the craft!

Written by Shanta Surendran, (NASA Teacher)

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