MOTIVATION – “Find it within yourself” – A Theatre Lesson

As a theatre actor since 1968, I have worked with several groups.  For over 15 years how I have been working mainly with a challenging and experimental group, led by an extremely demanding maverick director who can be brutal with his feedback and criticism, harsh, and even crude.  Even so, actors who have worked with him once stick on and do not find working with other directors as exciting.  The reason for this loyalty is that with each play, in fact even between shows he can push you beyond all your comfort zones, beyond all you thought was possible.  At the end of all the shouting, screaming, and tantrums, the group celebrates that they have grown and evolved and there is a sense of gratitude to each other and to the maverick.

He taught me one of the most important lessons I have learned as an actor and as a human being.

There is a scene in one play that we have been performing across the country where I am stripped on stage by a group of blood-thirsty bandits led by a vicious female leader.  As my clothing is ripped off one by one – jacket, shirt, shoes – I keep trying to escape and each time am pulled back violently.  Finally I am asked to remove my trousers.  The character that I am playing pleads for mercy unwilling to surrender this last bit of dignity.  He turns back for some understanding from the leader who at that point looks away.

This was a very uncomfortable scene for me, and several times I asked the actor who plays the gang leader not to look away and instead to look at me more threateningly so that I find the motivation that would compel me to surrender this last item of clothing.  For some reason this actor was not willing to do so.  Finally, I approached the director with my problem.

“Why don’t you tell her to look at me at that moment in the scene?”, I asked him. “It will make it so much simpler for me.”

He looked at me for a moment.  Then he said those magic words,

“I understand what you mean, Paul.  But if you are not getting it from the other actor, find it within yourself.”

That made all the difference.  Find it within yourself!


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