Friday, 25 October 2013

The wholeness of the performer and the reality behind the accusation of narcissism

The art of performing requires a certain amount of rootedness within the self. Those who have psychological disorder are not good performers, contrary to received wisdom. The best peformer needs to be relaxed with being seen.

One of the most powerful exercises developed by Stanislavsky is where one member of the group takes to the stage in front of the rest of the troupe and just 'is'. They just 'be'. There is no further instruction other than to exist as oneself on the stage. The art of it is not to try to perform, nor to try and hide oneself. One must cultivate an ease with being seen, with being observed, without any restlessness or desire to problem solve or create a drama or narrative.

Initially, this is the most uncomfortable task. Because much of the time we can use performance as a way to avoid looking at ourselves and avoid being seen. But that kind of performer will never be able cultivate a presence.

Presence emeges from having cultivated an inner reality, an internal dimension to a character. The charcater then becmes more than just a character but a three dimensional entity, with universes hidden from site. This is the quality that makes us drawn to the performer, that gives us the sense that there is something they know that we should be paying attention to.

The heart of that quality is what Stansilavsky called 'public privacy.' The difference between a real person and a character is that a real person has an internal, independent and private universe in which they spend most of their time. The trick then is to create sense of that dimension, or set of dimensions, in a character drawn from the page of a writer.

The point is this: To have the command and relaxed artistic equipment to be able to that is extremey hard, and for many centuries probably appeared as a kind of magic. You are imbuing with life that which has no life. The poet makes you see the wars and the death and tenderness of love that are evoked by his words. Thoseimages must become as real to your subconscious as they would be if you were really encountering them. Or as close as on can get. The advantage is that the subconscious really has no prejudice towards reality or the imagination. The both of them exist on an equal plain, and both of them have th sme causal impact. To the subconscious, the distinction between reality and fiction is crude and irrelevant.

It's normally assumed that the performer is someone who must take to the stage to dispell his or her demons. That there is a kind of narcissism involved, a desire to win love from one's parents, a way of dealing with neglect and lack of love and all of these sorts of disorders. It may be that the instinct to perform first exists as a way to win love. But that really doesn't prove anything about the nature of the caft of performing. Every child will assume a role, a character, in order to find his place in the world, and to negotiate the emotions of his or her parents. This is not a disorder. If anything, it is probably the norm.

If this is the case, then a desire to perform is really very healthy. And the desire to experience the emtotion journey of a performer is also very healthy. What it boils down to is a deisre to heal. The experience of being is a alive is necessarily a fractured one. Performance art, for both the artist and the artist is a search for wholeness.

What do we admire about our favourite performers? How d performers describe the joy of performing. The answer to both question has something to do with the claiming of a place in the world. As Joseph Campbell points out, the hero's journey follows a universal template for a reason. Ancient stories and myths are nonsensical unless we give them a psychological and theraputic dimension. Unless we see the cacaters in these stories and songs as aspects of the human psyche. When looked at in that way, then the context of mythology makes profound and very useful sense. They become more thn moral tales, they explorations into the inner world of the human mind.

They are therapy, but that does not mean they are in some way medical. Therapy is a craft and an art, much like performing is. A kind of exorcism and ritual, a way of giving life to the multi-dimensional truth of the human imagination. If this is true, then our forebears were infinitely wiser than we are. They had an intimacy and a disciple towards their imaginations and subsconsciousness. The knew of its power and they knew of the responsibilities associated with it.

A true performer is someone who is at ease under the gaze of a thousand eyes. They have disciplined their soul in the same way as an athlete will have disciplined their body. That is, they will have a command over it. They will be in control of its impulses.

The significance of this cannot be dismissed. In order to reach the mastery of ths kind of craft, a performer must have no latent ego issues. Now, contrary to what most people think, I regard a pathological ego, not as someone who has too much self-regard, but as someone who has too little. The arrogance associated with this kind of disorder is just a way of compensating fo an emptiness, a lack of integity. In order for a performer to exhibit real power, they need to command the place in which they stand. They need to fully occupy their existential space. They need to have no doubt that their place in the world is righteous, that they have a God-given right to exist, and that people ought to, and must, listen to what they have to say.

If a performer does not have this 'essence of self-command' as Bob Dylan described it, then they will be a fake and a liability. They will buckle under the pressure of their power, and they will try to use their power as a way of compensating for a lack of wholeness within them.

A true actor and performer does not act. A true actor imbues life with being. They bring unspoken and buried emotions of life into the full light of the midday sun. In doing that, they are healers. But a performer that does not use their gift to first heal themselves, who instead uses that power to get one over on others, or to elevate their egos, is not really a performer. The are disposable, and they are a psychological disorder waiting to happen.

How do we know the difference? Longevity. A true performer exhbits presence, and presence means resonance. When a performer has that command of their 'instrument', they will offer no room for doubt to those who encounter it. Only the narcissist is suspicious of a performer, because the narcissist is jealous of that level of exposure. They know in their heart of hearts what that exposure means. It means having a certainty and an unequivocal relationship with oneself. It means casting away ambivalence about one's own existence and simply deciding to possess one's space and place in life unconditionally. Narcissists will themselves brand this kind of behaviour as exhibitionism and narcissism, because the cost of not doing so is unbearable.

To command a place on stage means to have no doubt about one's right to be there and that means being relaxed within the sphere of complexity and distortion of the human subconscious. It means being comfortable with discomfort, at ease with the uneasy balance of being of observed in one's privacy. And to do all of this, one must be comfortable with the gaze of one's own conscience. One has to make peace with one's limitations, to stand naked in the mirror of the inner eye, and to not seek to wriggle free from that gaze.

The instinct toward performance, is the instinct towards integrity. The desire to void it, the discomfort with performance, and the sideliners that condemn it, are the real narcissists, because their pontifications and their gossip and their self-righteousness betray a petulance resulting from self-hatred. Performance is an athletic feat. It means optimising the psyche. Those who cannot get comfortable with the instinct to perform are those who are not comfortable with being naked within themselves. They canot afford to dismantle their egos.

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