These days we have a whole world waiting to judge others but how can they do that without knowing them? And can you ever know anyone else? The old Native American saying “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you judge” seems a good place to start.
As a young drama student, I used to do this for real. I used to walk quite a way behind someone and try to capture their way of walking without anyone, especially them, realising. If you do this, you discover that the walk can change everything. A bit like putting on your best clothes or wearing a uniform – you just feel different. The famous actor Sir Lawrence Olivier used to say that he couldn’t live the character until he got the walk.
As a performer it’s your job to become someone else. That’s not easy at first because that means you somehow have to escape being yourself. You might have the script, the song words or the dance but how can you stop being you and become them? Aren’t you trapped by being yourself? Well yes but it’s mainly down to the power of your imagination. You may be playing the part of a murderer, but you don’t have to commit murder to play the character.
If your job as a performer is to take us, the audience, somewhere else then we are only going to do that if you the performer believes in the reality of that person or the feeling they have. At a simple level didn’t we all do that aged three when we pretended to be a shopkeeper or a customer or a teacher and a pupil? This was called playing or acting out.
When we learn to perform, we are still players, still acting out but maybe a bit more thought out. It is a pretence; it is imagined but it’s what connects us to other human beings. Perhaps it’s the best part of us to be able to lose a sense of yourself and gain a bit of someone else – if just for a moment. And if we can capture the feeling of that person and share it with an audience than we have made something special – especially if we make that audience feel it as well.
So, if at a distance, just for a few steps, you imitate someone’s walk don’t just move, try to do the harder thing of sensing what it is to be them, how they might feel at this moment. And wonder why.
I’m thinking the world needs some of this.
For 28 years Theatretrain Performing Arts Schools have been providing superior quality classes in acting, singing, and dancing to 4 –18-year olds. Our theatre schools provide young people with an opportunity to develop their life skills and explore the world in which they live. To find your nearest centre please visit www.theatretrain.co.uk.