Monday, February 4, 2013

The "boredom" trap

I was teaching my beginning acting class last week and I was surprised by an answer of "boredom" to the question: in your daily life, what most gets in the way of your concentration and focus? Usually when I ask students this the first answer offered is "distraction." When we tease that out, we discover that the listener can find ways to block out distractions, or put them on the back-burner in order to focus on the matter at hand. But naming "boredom" as a reason is shifting the burden from us ("I need to try to make some connections so I can concentrate") to others ("if the speaker is boring I lose interest.")

It is true that as an acting teacher and a speaker-trainer, I tell my students and clients they must Never Be Boring. Giving listeners even half a chance to be bored can block effective communication. And so it is up to actors and speakers to make sure it never happens. But I also know that the excuse of being bored is one that comes too easily to many folks who expect to be constantly entertained and stimulated. As I used to say to my kids (and as my mother said to me), "You can't be bored; find something to do." Or as I told my acting students. "if you're bored, that's on you." And I am in good company: I heard legendary jazz musician Wayne Shorter say this in an NPR interview over the  weekend: "When you say something's boring, that means you haven't even scratched the surface of something. And boring is a trademark of being arrogant and complacent."

Onstage, you can never be bored! To successfully portray a character you need to think like that character. Get inside her skin. And go even further - be aware of even his subconscious thoughts. You do this by surrendering your immediate (actor) needs to the character's needs. And for that, you need to be able to identify the character's objective (what she wants) and how she fulfills it (what she does to get what she wants). It's not about you, you see. You are embodying the character, and playwrights never create bored characters (boredom may be a secondary emotional state but it's never a primary one).

But we know sometimes we lose sight even of our own objectives, so isn't it that much more challenging to stay on track with the objectives of a fictional construct? Yes. That is why you need to constantly find something to engage in: a memory, a smell, a reaction to another character.

Mothers are right. Don't fall into the trap of lazy excuses; find something to do (and mentally exercising definitely qualifies).  That's a lesson for anyone who wants to be an effective communicator - onstage at a theatre or on the stage of Life! 

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