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On Acting

[A 2011 post from Algernon's personal blog...]

Many people believe that acting is about pretending to be someone or something that you are not. Plato believed it: he wanted to kick poets and actors out of his ideal republic. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha warns us to avoid actors. Actors are often disparaged, psychoanalyzed, or infantilized. We are reduced to organ monkeys or barking seals in order to make a living, balancing beach balls on our noses. A few old monks and dharma teachers have shaken their heads ruefully about theatre work because they associate acting with fantasy and delusion. You can't entirely blame them for this. They can believe this because many actors believe it, too. The best acting, however, comes when the actor realizes that the characters that populate our mythologies are part of the atmosphere. Any role we may play - Hamlet, Medea, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mother Courage - anything is present in our own karma. You can play King Lear only when you understand that you are King Lear. When you say his words and play his actions, King Lear is you. Good acting means digging into our own compost fearlessly and using it to tell these stories from our heart, using stories to connect all human beings. I have not always been successful at this - not always brave enough or meticulous enough; but it is always my aspiration. Why be an actor otherwise? What would be interesting about it? We blow our spirit into mythologies old or new, and the song is a call to wake up and consider the true source of human suffering.

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