“The Reason for Walking is Destination”
I was downtown today and had an hour to spare before an appointment, so I went to my local Barnes & Noble and headed straight for the theatre section. I picked up a copy of Uta Hagen‘s A Challenge for the Actor, the 1990 followup to her revered textbook for actors and students of drama, Respect for Acting. I had first been introduced to Uta Hagen by my acting mentors and close friends from high school. The husband and wife team were both praising of Uta’s simple, no-nonsense approach to acting and they had been fortunate enough to study with her at the HB Studio in New York City during the ’70s.
Although I wish I could say I have read more of Uta’s work, what little I have read has been instructive, almost deceptively simple advice. One phrase (which she actually borrows from an earlier theatrical artist) is succinctly “The reason for walking is destination.” This is brilliant advice, but advice which is easily discarded by even experienced actors.
The number of times I have seen another actor (or become conscious of myself) walking from one side of the stage to the other with absolutely no impetus for doing so is amazing. Uta talks about actors responding to stage direction such as “wanders aimlessly in confusion” in such an illogical manor. To the audience, yes, perhaps the CHARACTER appears to be lost in though or wandering aimlessly, but the ACTOR must have far great motivation if he is to be convincing. If you get up and walk across the room, Uta says, you always move with purpose. Perhaps you are going into the kitchen suddenly because you can smell the toast burning, or slowly creeping towards the door because you want to hear a conversation outside without others knowing you are eavesdropping. Or the movement could be much simpler; sitting down at your desk, lifting yourself just inches from your chair to grab a stapler just out of reach. And you are thinking during all of this. You are processing information. In real life, you don’t just stand in a doorway like a lemming and listen to someone tell you about who they saw at Blockbuster (well, maybe you do, I’ve done stranger things). No, you are listening to them, bringing the groceries in from outside, getting the frozen food packed away as soon as possible, wondering if you payed the utilities bill this month, and then making a dash for the door because you remember that you left the sunroof open and it’s about to rain.
On stage, it should be the same – listening, processing, and doing are activities that all occur at the same time, not one after the other. This is one of the reasons why theatre and acting have been so useful for me in learning to process information and cope with my Asperger’s Syndrome. If I can learn to respond to human beings during rehearsal in a controlled environment, as a different character, with the lines I have to say already written down for me, it makes such similar situation in real life much easier to handle if and when they occur.
In this way, acting is a therapy and it is also a trial ground, especially for actors on the Autistic spectrum. If you can become more comfortable with yourself in a controlled environment with no consequences for the actions of the character you play, it will be an important stepping stone for real life circumstances. Perhaps you can find your destination on stage and in other venues of life.