Nathan Thomas

january 2006


It strikes me that we people in the theatre get caught in an ancient mind/body dichotomy.  We deal with the mind (mind/heart/soul) as if it were separate from the body.  Consequently we see acting teachers who work solely with the "acting," but don't do "voice" or "movement" as if somehow an actor could act without her voice or body.

Likewise a recurrent comment in acting classrooms and rehearsal halls is, "You're in your head too much."  "Don't think about it."  "Let the voice/body go."  Suggestions that somehow an actor can (or should) become a brainless zombie guided by . . . . well what might replace the "head" is never suggested.   

Over the years I've had the good fortune to work with a wide variety of directors and teachers great, disgustingly awful, and many somewhere in between great and awful.  A capable actor finds a way to navigate work with each of these types.  I've had great directors provide absolute clarity with rhythm-tempo and wretched directors attempt to give line readings that fall dead on the floor as soon as they're uttered.  I've worked with world-class directors and new directors.

Out of this bank of experience one thing strikes me as curious. Regularly these directors want to avoid having us actors "get in our heads."  Being in our heads would be bad.  Bad. Very, very bad.  OK.  Fine.

Then we sit down in chairs and read aloud the text of the play. Often these same directors will have several days of sitting and reading.  Sometimes along with the reading aloud will come lectures labeled as 'discussion' followed by more talk.

Now I'm not saying that "table-work" need be a terrible thing. I've used it myself as a director. But let's be clear about how we engage the material and each other.

If a director desires the actors to have a visceral experience of a play, the characters, and the situation of a scene; many ways may be used to assist the actors with developing that experience.  Active Analysis, Biomechanics, Viewpoints, and/or games can be (and have been) used beneficially by companies to get actors to engage holistically with the material and each other.  And these tools in no way make an exhaustive list.

One thing we need to continue to do is to experiment, search, and explore for means by which actors can engage the whole person.  Great acting seems to engulf the actor, the stage, the audience.  It seems doubtful to me that the best way to prepare for that great acting is to metaphorically split up the actor into pieces.

In actual living reality an actor's body and mind is truly one complete thing not a compilation of several parts.  When we recognize that as teachers and directors, we might be able to move forward our systems of teaching and rehearsal.


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©2006 Nathan Thomas
©2006 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas has earned his
living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in Theatre and is a member of the theatre faculty at Alvernia College.

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january 2006

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