RUSSIA: PART II

I didn’t quite beat the system, but I sure as hell learned to work with it. In my final scene at the end of four ridiculously exhausting weeks, I went from laughing, genuinely and joyously, to crying, genuinely and terrifyingly, in the course of our seven minute scene. How?

In my last post  I was frustrated, doubtful and above all stressed because I didn’t think I was willing to give myself over completely to my art the way the Russians were suggesting. I didn’t want to sacrifice myself for my art! At the end of the day, I want a personal life, and more than that, I don’t want the lines between my private life and my art to blur.

How can a person keep sane under those conditions?

….ok I wrote that and really debated deleting it, but I decided not to. The line is worth debating. As I reread that I suddenly didn’t feel like an artist. Maybe an artist does need to give himself over completely. Surrender is where expression comes from. Aaaaaand I’m back to the frustrations of a month ago. I think it’s something that I’m going to be struggling with my whole life.

Why do we put ourselves through surrendering? It’s painful. In my scene, I was a child-like wife to a suffering man, played by Matt Clark (go read his blog posts!). He comes home and I am absolutely giddy to see him. At the turning point, he gets fed up with my ignorance and lashes out. When we got our scene right, Matt literally picked me up and threw me on the ground. It was this great rhythm we had found where I figured out how to push him and he would push back; we ended up really falling into the moment, and just living. When the scene finished, I felt every bit of it on an emotional level, and it hurt. So art is not only the pain expressing the intense emotions, it’s also about carrying them with you at the end of the day.

We had a few long discussions in our classes about how to keep safe.

Our director told us there has to be a psychological gap. That space between us and our character would allow us to walk offstage and shake it all off. When you leave the theatre, you leave as yourself. Ok, but how? They didn’t have an answer. Everyone has a different techniques. That was not the answer I wanted, and it was the question that I most needed answered! All of us were struggling with it as we went to dark places… the boys who played Platonov, the main character, had to find in themselves very dark corners.

I’ll never forget one of my classmates standing on a stool in the kitchen, a bottle of vodka in his hand, yelling “I don’t want to feel anymore!”

How much is art supposed to become us, or we become our art?

Of course I’ve used myself in my roles. Every choice I make about a character is me. I influence them. And of course I’ve reached back into my past to pull an example of emotion so that I can empathize and find a way into the character. I think that’s what the Russians were promoting. Less reliving your own experience, more learning to relate to your character. We had the same technique all along, I’ve just never broken down what I’ve done onstage. Hearing my “technique” explained sounded so foreign! But at the end of the day, I just did what I usually do: live the moment onstage. The reason my performance was so charged was that I understood my character more deeply on an emotional level. Not just backstory, not just the lines, I really took my time to consider how I would react to what she was going through. That’s how I fell into her.

I’ve always liked the idea that your character becomes your best friend: you know about every event in their lives and you know all of their secrets. Because you love your best friend, with everything they go through you’re taken along. But at the end of the day, you’re still you. In Russia though, I put so much of my understanding of myself into Sasha that I was her. You pour your heart into a character; it’s heart and personality that bring them to life!

But if you do that, I feel like one of two things can happen: you either leave yourself empty, or because you’re empty there’s room for your character to take over and you lose yourself.

Wow. The idea of character now sounds like this horrible demon. Body snatchers!!! I like my body and my individuality THANK YOU. The only way I can think to fight it is to be so sure of who you are. To know yourself so intimately that no character can shake it. What an exhausting thought. We’re constantly changing, and for actors, I think you change a lot as you work on every role. So you change as you work on a role, but you have to be sure of yourself every step to stop from losing yourself. Vicious cycle.

Now do you see what I mean? Art is all encompassing. There’s no screwing around, you either are committed or you aren’t. You either surrender or you don’t.

Am I willing to?

Russia just opened my eyes to how much is actually being asked of me. It’s exciting when I’m in the moment, working on the project, but in that interim between projects when I start to have a personal life again, I kind of realize how far on the back-burner I had left myself. That’s a lot to ask; to place yourself to the side to discover someone new…

I decided to pursue this life because in the moment, there really is nothing better. I have no problem with 14 hour days because I just love so fully what I’m engaged in. I just have to make sure that I don’t lose myself along the way.

Just some thoughts…

Sam Kamras
Sam: When the scene finished, I felt every bit of it on an emotional level. It hurt. The idea of character now sounds like this horrible demon.
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I was so encouraged to follow my creative instincts that I abandoned my plan to become a Journalist and ran to the UK to get some training. I have absolutely no regrets.