This is a drawing from the front page of my Blithe Spirit script, noted there on our second day of rehearsal. While this photo gives you some idea of my questionable artistic ability and the unfortunate note-covered state of my script, it’s also pretty indicative of my acting process.
As an actor, I’m drawn to homonyms – words with multiple different meanings and uses – because I feel like these words are often the most true to our human experience: contradictory, potentially confusing, layered, complicated, in need of more attentive deciphering. I’ll admit that while “needle” isn’t the most exciting of homonyms, it does present a few particularly interesting layers, especially after consulting Miriam Webster:
nee·dle \ ˈnē-dᵊl \
a: a small slender usually steel instrument that has an eye for thread or surgical sutures at one end and that is used for sewing
b: a slender hollow instrument for introducing material into or removing material from the body
c: a slender usually sharp-pointed indicator on a dial
d: a slender rod (as of jewel or steel) with a rounded tip used in a phonograph to transmit vibrations from a record
e: a teasing or gibing remark
a: to sew or pierce with or as if with a needle
b: to tease or torment
c. to incite to action by repeated gibes
A needle can sew together – can fix something; it can also be used to inject, causing irreparable damage. It can be a type of bellwether or indicator of measurable fact; or it can be a comment that totally knocks you off your rocker. It can be the vehicle of vibration and sound – both beautiful and grotesque; and it can lead you into action – both positive and regrettable. Ruth Condomine, to me, is all these things, and this tiny metal object offers me both a physical touchstone and a wealth of psychological baggage – through these multiple definitions – for building her character. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
The main vehicle for tying all this “needle” business together in my brain and body is the Michael Chekhov Technique, which, in its most crude, stripped-down definition, is a psychophysical approach to acting. I can take on the physical qualities of a needle (straight, pointed, unbending, can be “threaded” if caught at exactly the right angle, etc.) while also taking on some of the more psychological and physical actions and implications of what a needle does (prick, torment, damage, indicate, inflate or deflate, etc.) – all of which completely serve Ruth’s role in this story and the way she manipulates the action on stage.
Is this what all actors do?
Is this the only technique I use?
Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Is this process the way I always work?
A resounding “no”.
But part of the beauty of making theatre is the fact that no process is ever exactly the same, and we as actors are always challenged to use the skills in our proverbial “tool box” in different ways and combinations. Come see where this particular journey has taken all of us, won’t you? I promise that you’ll laugh a lot – and not just at the concept of imagining me trying to “be” a needle. See you at The Vault in May!