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More Acting Wisdom From Balthasar Gracian

March 23, 2014

Here yet again, from our favorite non-actor with words for the dramatically inclined:

“Be expressive. This depends not only on the clearness but also on the vivacity of your thoughts. Some have an easy conception but a hard labor,  for without clarity the children of the mind – thoughts and judgments – cannot be brought into the world.   Many have a capacity like that of vessels with a large mouth and a small vent…how will the audience understand someone who does not connect any definite idea with what he is talking about?”

Once again, our Medieval mentor strikes at the heart of the matter, and while Gracian is here talking about larger matters of the whole of the world, his words ring true for the actor in stage or in film.

The glue that joins matter to the mind in life – and therefore in acting – is the application of what is being said to the object of the communication. If I am saying to you that ‘you are late’,  it will not matter or even be understood as to why I am bothering to say so,  unless I include in the communication that there are implications to your being late.  The glue that makes the communication stick to the consciousness of the listener – in life and in drama – is that we are always (except if intentionally not) communicating not facts, but rather the implications of the facts related.

When I say to you, or when my character says to your character that ‘you are late’, I am not communicating a matter of the general relativity of time, I am communicating that you are going to miss an important moment in your life: a meeting, an important arrangement, a ceremony, a date, an appointment; that you will look bad, or inept, or unprofessional.

In life we do not waste the time to first give the fact: you are late – and then to give the implications of the fact: boy, are you in trouble!

In life – and therefore in acting – we go straight to the implications of the communication. The words say: you are late. The message is : this may cost you, big time. The line says: “Where have you been?” The communication is “You’re gonna blow it, now move it, fella!” In acting, we never (did I say ‘never’, yes I think I did – with but rare exception) give information, any more than we do in life. We go straight to the meaning of the information. – unless we are intentionally hiding it (or accidentally on purpose).

So, our friend Balthasar is once again out in front of the pack with his life theory. When he says ‘be expressive’ he means to say what you mean with the facts, for this is the glue that attaches the communication to the listener. It is quite literally – the application. I highly recommend the little book, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, as it is one of the most important books on the craft of acting ever written.

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