The funny thing about acting is that it’s a sort of regression. The task it demands of a performer is to go the opposite direction of maturing, cultivating temperance and perspective. Children act out, have tantrums, spaz out, take up space, don’t mind their volume and have no care for how their words or actions are received because the only objective they have is to express themselves. When we grew up we were taught to control our tempers, to think of others before ourselves (I hope!), and to be aware of the impact of our words and actions.
It’s like, we could take up this much room, make this much noise, the degree to which we were a force to be reckoned with, all of it was pulled back.
Imagine a balloon inside a large glass bulb. Deflated, the balloon doesn’t take much space, but it also doesn’t have a shape. When we’re beat down in life and can’t find something to say for ourselves, we’re that balloon. Hopefully, we don’t spend much time deflated. Most of the time, it seems to me, we have a good bit of air, a good bit of shape to ourselves, we have a personality, and like a kid with a balloon we have fun out in the world. But the balloon isn’t at maximum. There is still room between the latex and the glass bulb.
The thing is, in regular, every day life, that’s enough. People look at us, glass bulbs with a balloon inflated to three-quarters, maybe four-fifths, and they like our sense of self. We’re fun. We’re funny. It’s enough.
However, on stage, it’s just not. That remaining space becomes a liability. It’s depressing, it’s vacuum. Something is missing and our audience doesn’t know what. They just see a shortcoming between the glass and the latex and it makes them feel let down. (OK, they don’t see it, this is just a metaphor. But they do feel shorted. Trust me on that.)
The task of the actor is to reinflate until his body of expression (the balloon) matches the full extent of his possibility (the glass bulb). To go back to that child-like state where self-expression isn’t the primary thing, it’s the only thing.
It’s a task for the heart, for the emotional center of an actor, because it sure as heck doesn’t come out of the mind. And for those of us who’ve spent decades suppressing our hearts, our emotions so that they wouldn’t get the better of us, this is a bitch of a task.