Today I want to explore this ephemeral thing called impulse. Sometimes when I bring it up in class, actors have no idea what I’m talking about. Especially beginning actors. So I’m going to try and explain it in a way that you can understand. And, believe me, I’m not insulting your intelligence. There are just some things that you have to experience. And are almost impossible to put into words. This is one of them.
I almost drowned when I was two. We were at my sister’s sleep-away camp and I fell off a pier into the lake. Someone jumped in and pulled me up out of the water, then handed me to someone else, who pulled me out by my wrists. As a result, I can’t wear anything around my wrists because it stimulates gasping, chills and other impulses. At best, I just feel uncomfortable. And I’ve never been a swimmer; I’m not afraid of the water but I just don’t think being in it is a frolicking good time like some do. I also had to work extra hard to jump off a diving board or swim underwater. It’s just not my thing.
What I’ve just described is a bodily impulse stimulated by a traumatic sense memory. Placed in a similar situation, the body remembers the feeling, emotion or actual pain of the incident. As I got up to return my lunch dish to the kitchen just now, I felt a sharp pain in my right wrist. Even talking about the event may bring on the impulsive parameters of it.
These impulses are all wrenches for an actor’s toolkit. And that’s all well and good. But how do you begin to connect the body or voice to some living impulse that forces it to react a certain way? Just like my body reacts organically when being confronted with something that reminds me of my near-drowning.
Just watch Ryszard Cieslak, Grotowski’s premier actor and co-formulator of his acting technique, on this video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRyLLTvs00c if you want to get an inkling of what I’m talking about. Someone commented that it was the “Worst breakdance workshop EVER” but, if you watch closely, Cieslak is using the plastique form, a type of acting exercise that he and Grotowski developed, to get in touch with impulse. He’s teaching a specific physical gesture to the other actors; his hands flutter in undulation and then take off like a bird. Only to return to the form again. And wait until another impulse strikes. Only to soar again.
Cieslak starts a repetitive movement and his body . . . not his mind . . . feels the need to change it. This is the best illustration of using theatrical form to connect with physical impulse that I know of. And the reason why I teach this work. It connects body, voice and impulse faster than any training I have ever done. So that you can begin to understand your own unique acting process. Which is vital if you want to begin your life as a working actor.
If you still don’t understand what the heck I’m talking about, come take my class. I give a 50% discount for the first month. Visit this page for more information or go right to my store to sign up! Just use promo code ACTING.