Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

A few months ago, on The Huffington Post, I read an article by the media maven herself, Arianna Huffington, about the crisis in our country and how politicians want to be “caught trying” to do something.  That is, they want to talk about the problems, “seem concerned” and leave a paper trail to prove it.  All without actually doing anything to deal with the problem but in order to save face for the next election cycle.

In the article, she compares the politician’s actions to that of somebody who sees a drowning child.  “We all know what the difference between taking action and being caught trying looks like. If you saw a child drowning, your first thought wouldn’t be, ‘I probably can’t do anything to save him, but the important thing is just to be caught trying.’ No, you’d take action and dive in.”

This cuts to the very core of what it means to be a Performer.  “Performer, with a capital letter,” writes Jerzy Grotowski, “is a man of action.  He is not somebody who plays another.  He is a doer…”

As with the drowning child, action requires heroism.

Being a director, I encounter actors who try to stall “doing” by talk.  It isn’t because of an inability to do, instead it’s related to fear.  Fear of not being able to do.  Fear of making a mistake.  Fear of our own limitations.  Fear of judgment.  Fear of ridicule.  Fear of rejection.


Renowned mythologist Michael Meade believes the ego is born when “the soul, in the fullness of itself, can’t be seen for what it is– its essence.”  Though it takes many forms, it is often experienced as a moment of, usually unintentional, rejection between a parent and child.  Ego, a block, is formed to protect the wound.

The moment takes place while we are too young to remember.  However, subconsciously we remember the terror we felt and rejection becomes our biggest fear in the world.

In our training, I ask the actors to explore their innermost impulses.  This is very different from a kind of “group therapy” where a director or teacher forces an actor to relive one of their worst memories in front of others.  To access these impulses and allow them to become concurrent with action (doing) requires eradicating many layers of blocks– both physical (beginning with those ingrained by society) and psychic (mental).

Removing psychic blocks is a delicate process for the actor.  The wrong word at the wrong moment can result in a closing instead of an opening.  Each layer that is stripped away leaves the actor vulnerable to experiencing the same rejection that created the block.  This prospect creates a crisis for the actor.

Yoshi Oida, a highly regarded actor who works with Peter Brooks, speaks about crisis in his book An Actor’s Tricks:  “It seems that we have more possibilities than we realize.  Usually, when we perform, we stay within our normal consciousness and understanding.  We do what we know we can do.  Yet when we find ourselves in a state of panic or confusion a power we are unaware of sometimes emerges.”

Training in the Suzuki Method with SITI Company, I was taught to plunge headfirst into the moments of crisis.  These moments are when I learn the most about myself and the moments the audience find most intriguing.

When an actor frees his impulses enough to make a “total gift,” completely exposing the being behind his life-mask and puts himself in crisis by risking not being accepted by the audience, according to Grotowski, “The spectator understands, consciously or unconsciously, that such an act is an invitation to him to do the same thing, and this often arouses opposition or indignation, because our daily efforts are intended to hide the truth about ourselves not only from the world, but also from ourselves.  We try to escape the truth about ourselves, where here we are invited to stop and take a closer look.  We are afraid of being changed into pillars of salt if we turn around, like Lot’s wife.”


Finally on their feet, the actors again avoid the risk of doing.  Instead, they “act” and hope to be to be caught trying.

But the difference is as clear as diving into the water.

-Benjamin Rexroad
Managing Artistic Director


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