Stop! Sucking! Day 10: You can't suck when you're on someone else

One of the central truths of acting is that if you are on yourself, you will suck.

This does not mean you shouldn't know your lines and your blocking and your "motivation" (urg); in fact, you must must must take care of your bidness before you can be available to your partner in the scene.

What it does mean is that when you're in the scene, if you're thinking about what you look like or where you're supposed to go next or how you sound or how many laughs you're getting, you're off. You're sucking. Because your job up there on that stage, in front of that camera, is to play the scene. And the scene can only be played if you're following the emotional thread.

And the only way that happens is if you're in the moment and on your partner. Trying to get something from them: a gift, a reaction, a confession. Present and aware, moment to moment, of the exchange that's happening between you.

I was reminded of this a week or so ago in, of all places, a Toastmasters meeting. I was discussing the finer points of an evaluation I'd given the speaker I'd been assigned to, and one of the issues I'd pointed out was the fiddling-with-her-hands thing. It's a common gesture of nerves, like saying "um" a lot (fear of having empty space) or staying in your notes and not making eye contact with your audience (fear, period).

She asked me what she was supposed to do with those two damned hands that always seem to be in the way.

"Nothing," I replied.

"But if you're doing nothing, doesn't that look stupid?

"You're not doing nothing. You're up there, telling a story to the people. You're up there, relaying information in the hope you'll make their lives better, that you'll help change the world. Once you're really doing that, your hands will take care of themselves."

I was reminded of it again today. As I drove to my panel discussion for WriteGirl (an amazing organization that is doing profound, world-changing work), I caught myself thinking about what I was going to say. How I was going to describe myself and my work.

And I stopped myself (although I kept my vehicle moving at a fast clip, because I was late.) My job was not to talk about me; my job was to share whatever information would help those girls. Once I got that in my head, it didn't matter what I said about myself; it only mattered in that it would help drive home a point about the nature of writing, or the necessity of a writing practice, or that a writer's path is often more circuitous than straight.

I said everything I needed to say, and, I think, kept the dig-me stuff to a minimum.

I also gave my card out to a number of these excellent young ladies, and I hope that they'll let me know in the comments or in an email if I was helpful. I tried to be; that was my goal. That was my writer/speaker's intention.

If you can't stop for yourself, maybe you can stop for the world. Or for the person across the bed or the table or the desk, who really needs you to be there, now. We are each other's saviors, each of us.

I thank you for stopping me.

xxx c

Image by paulcalypse via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.