Mutual Self-Interest

This week, 4 athletes marched under the Olympic Flag. 4 Athletes whose countries were not able or allowed to enter the Games, Three of them from a municipality of the netherlands, and the fourth is a refugee of Sudan. 4 Athletes competing not for any one country, but instead to prove their worth on a global stage, under a global flag. The Olympic foundation, for all of its faults, provides a way to bring the world together for a fair competition. Even more than that, for a peaceful competition. Makes one wonder.

Maybe dreaming of world peace is not as childish and useless as we thought. Oh, I know, we all dream of utopian society, and of somehow creating a completely fair and just world, but we are taught from a young age to be afraid, and to put up with injustice, because its just the way things work sometimes. In fact, any discussion of world peace is dismissed as childish immediately because we are taught that such things are the product of either totalitarian rule, or the wet dream of a freshman poli-sci major.

We assume the world peace means that everyone is well fed, all wars are over, and unicorns shit their rainbows across the sky. But realistically, is there such a thing? Is the dream of world peace too far fetched? Or can world peace mean something different?

So lets abandon our central term, first off. World peace has too many negative connotations and doesn’t quite accurately portray the goals included. So lets toss something more definable into the mix. how about Mutual Self-Interest?

Thats in interesting set of words. Self-interest implies a small portion of selfishness that cuts far short of greed or malice. By making it mutual, the self-interest is for the entire group, not just the one. Society in any species is spawned around groups of Mutual Self-Interest. Dolphins have pods, Wolfs have Packs, and Humans, in any situation, will group with like-minded individuals to create a system of Mutual Self-Interest.

This started with packs. Humanity exited Northern Africa and grouped into packs, finding that having many trumped having few. Then we settled down, built cities, built nations, and populated a world. In fact, in most species, behavioral evolution occurs far before physiological evolution, societies develop and regulate themselves as a course of behavioral evolution. And as Ecological Boundaries expand, it could be safe to say that humanity will regress to its older societal modes. That is: maybe what we need to enter into Mutual Self-Interest, as a planet, is to have something vast out in the distance. Something to make us stand next to a stranger and say, “I guess we have a lot to get done, now.”

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It Wasn’t Just “English” Pt 1

English itself, as a language, is made up of two component languages; how it is Written and how it is Spoken. We tend to see these two as a pair, believing them inextricably linked. But they aren’t. As anyone who has ever tried to learn a second language can attest, proficiency in reading is not necessarily matched by proficiency in speaking, and vice versa.

Written language is almost universally a system whose purpose is to contain and store the phonetic syllables that make up a language. It is interesting to note that those languages that aren’t written to hold phonetic data (Say, for instance, binary or hexadecimal) are much more efficient at holding data, but nearly impossible to learn how to speak fluently.

Now take for instance, your average English peasant in the 14th century. Here is a person who works, accomplishes complex tasks, knows more about nature than most of our current generation ever will, but he cannot read. Not knowing how to read does not in any way inhibit his ability to communicate, or does it demonstrate anything about his intelligence. The only difference is that he just hasn’t learned the Written Language. All told, this metaphorical peasant knows his spoken language as well as you or I, his lack of knowledge surrounding the written portion does not stand in his way of that.

But, could you try to imagine someone just learning the written language, without the spoken portion? Take a hypothetical world where suddenly no one may speak, but they are forced to learn to write. It seems weird, doesn’t it. This is because spoken language is at the core of our language, spoken language is why our language exists. Learning how to read the letters that represent the syllables without learning how to say the actual syllables seems a little inefficient, doesn’t it. It seems in this way that learning a language requires first the form of its sounds, then the forms of its letters. Here is why.

In addition to the two languages we have learnt once we are free of grade school (being written and spoken English) we learn a third language, and we learn it from birth. There is a reason why a fight is a fight in any language, or why smiles don’t require you to learn Swahili just so you can see if they are smiling. The third language is that Universal Language that most everyone on this earth understands; Emotion.

It seems bloody obvious when I say it, doesn’t it. But of course it’s always the obvious factor that we miss. This human language is the most essential language we ever learn. Imagine not being able to tell someone’s emotion, not being able to pick up on subtle body language, and everything else we don’t even notice anymore. There are some forms of autism, brain disorders, and psychological problems that can prevent someone from learning to “speak human” as it were, and the handicap they suffer is as great as any paraplegic’s.

We don’t notice how ingrained emotional language is in our culture, nor do we have any great need to. But it is helpful when looking at any social interaction to realize the depth that such an interaction contains. Looking at a transcript is not the same as hearing a recording, which pales in comparison to being able to actually See the social interaction. Body language is just as important (if not more) to diplomacy as good rhetoric is.

I know this seems like a bit of a non sequitur, and I can freely admit that it started as such, but the significance of this is not to be downplayed. Part 2 will cover how this effects performance.


The Asses in the Audience

Theatre is all about one’s ass, everything we know and love about the stage has everything to do with our asses. Its about how many asses are in the seats, how comfortable those asses are, whether those asses need to pee, whether how often they move, how sore they are, or even how much those asses paid to be there.

And let me make this abundantly clear, it is not about the actual audience members. The audience itself thinks too much, is too swayed by reviews of people they believe to be knowledgeable. Audiences Talk, answer their cell-phones, throw things at actors and they are almost universally know-it-all children. An audience is an exceedingly ungrateful lot. Their asses, however, are remarkably honest. An audience member may say that they loathed a show, but if their ass is happy, then the show was well made.


Art (And Dirty Words)

I spend so much of my life worried about the predominance of culture that I have no clue anymore why culture needs its predominance. They say that culture is the currency of a people, but what purpose does this currency have if its only purpose seems to be to immortalize the creative. If any goal has ever irked me, it is the goal of immortality immortality. Only the selfish aspire to live forever, it’s a goal that only proves that one’s ego is so large they cannot stand to let it ever deflate.

Perhaps I am too cynical. Perhaps it could be said that the goal of creation is to spur change in the world, and it is almost certain that art has done that. Everything from books, to movies, to plays have shown the world something that it hasn’t seen before; that the shadow of hate still exists, what the future could hold, and what the past did, what life means. From a young age we are raised with stories whose entire purpose is to present to us a moral. Perhaps to a certain extent, Aesop raised us as much as our parents did. But outside childhood, are we still taught by stories, or do we just watch them enjoy the brief entertainment, and continue on. More concisely, what purpose does art serve in culture?

  1. To Teach and Inform
    1. Inciting socio-political change
    2. Moral stories
    3. Informing an individual about the past
    4. Positing a possible future
  2. To Entertain
    1. Absorb a viewer into a world
    2. Base titillation
    3. Incitement of an emotion

The first purpose of art, To Teach and Inform is a well-documented one; touted by academics everywhere who love to believe that art is not just for entertainment. To be honest, a fair amount of art is in fact used for teaching, but in recognizing the only purpose of art as education we overlook the driving force of Art. Entertainment.

It seems like such a dirty words when it comes to art. Why create something that merely entertains when it can hold a breadth of intellectual merit? Why create something that everyone can relate to when one can cater just to the critics? People need to be OK with creating Art that exists for the sole purpose of entertainment.

Why is it suddenly “Selling Out” when something is created just for entertainment’s value. God knows Shakespeare appealed to almost every income class in Britain, and he is still read today by students and professors alike. The problem is, academics try and see beyond the entertainment, reading too much into what they think he wrote into the words. Let me make this abundantly clear, When you are an underpaid writer/actor living in a place where writer/actors are considered vagrants, you don’t write to appease intellectuals, you write to appease everyone possible. Now just because someone writes to entertain the masses, doesn’t mean that they are selling out, it means they are writing to entertain the masses.

While teaching is A purpose of art, its value is determined by its entertainment. Art is only remembered if people actually watched it.


Civilization

Civilization.

In order for a species to develop a civilization that is advanced in a fashion that resembles humanity, the following conditions must be met.

  • Rational Intelligence

The intelligence of a species must be such that it allows for an ability to deduct simple conclusions from relevant data. The most basic aspects of abstract thinking must be present.

  • Social Structure

A species must both be willing to function in solitude and in herd. If a species is purely solitary, it cannot pass on its gained knowledge, and if a species relies on the herd too much, large leaps in growth are prohibited as tasks that are more efficient in solitude are performed in herd..

  • Communication, Memory, and Oral Tradition

In addition to rational thinking, it is necessary for a species to pass on what is has learned to its offspring. Previously found knowledge must first be remembered in order to be built upon.

  • Fine Tactile Manipulation

A species must be able to manipulate its environment instead of allowing its environment to manipulate it.

  • Imperfect Evolution OR Extreme Change in Environment

Without reason to make the switch from adapting to changing an environment, a species will continue along its path. Creatures with near-perfect evolution (i.e sharks and horse-shoe crabs) don’t develop culture. Creatures that are imperfectly evolved, or are suddenly introduced to an environment that doesn’t suit their evolution, are then forced to manipulate their environment, possibly to an extent where civilization is created


Monologue as Music

So this is a thing I discovered via the usual route (being Stumble, of course), and something in it struck me. Zander, herein, talks about Impulses. This is best seen, he says, in young piano players pounding out a sonata or prelude. They hit every single note as an impulse, and the key to exciting and interesting classical music is to take one impulse, one thought, one motion, and use it to carry the entire piece. Some similarities between this and acting intrigued me.
It is increasingly common to have a director tell you that you should know every motivation for every single line you say; each line has to have a motivation. While I don’t doubt the validity of this statement, it leads to what Zander might call “two-cheek” playing.
Think of motivation as Impulse. Having a different impulse, and a different motivation for each line leads to a way of reading lines more befitting a nervous high school student than an actor. Find out where your impulses are, and use them sparingly. The longer you can carry a single thought through a monologue, the better. Big simple thoughts are more easily transmitted through a piece than hundreds of small ones. In an audition monologue, for instance, you should only ever use one impulse, one thought. And that impulse carries from your first words, until you walk off the stage.


We Are Our Art

I am my art. That is the dilemma actors face: We are our art. As artists we are victims to our own self-doubt. Should our art suffer, so too do we. Many a theater teacher has told me, “you are your instrument, take care of your instrument.” Which is all well and good, but actors suffer by this fact more than they know. The world of theater sadly seems to be divided in between those who have IT and those who don’t. It is also generally accepted that those who don’t have IT have no way of getting IT. Talent is a cruel and evil word.

The line between these two groups varies depending upon whom you ask, but it leaves the question open: As an actor, if you don’t get a part, does that mean you aren’t good enough? Whether we like to admit it or not, that is the question that always comes up. Since we are our art, and since we don’t always get the part, we start to question our worth. And our worth seems to be so tied up with our lives and our art, if one falls, it seems like the world itself starts to fall apart.

This is where I start to get highly Emphatic (capital E intended). There is no line between those who have IT and those who don’t, because everyone has something to bring to the table. For every part in every play ever written, there is an actor to play that part.

At this point it almost pains me to draw the comparison between directing and cooking, but I might have to. Every actor has a different way of doing things, and a distinct presence on stage. A great director should be able to feel this out and be able to put actors together who both exemplify their roles, and act as a unit. It’s like cooking a meal; you can’t just toss whatever is most expensive into the pot to make good food. You have to choose your ingredients.

I guess the general point of this rant was to exemplify two things. First: that not getting an audition in no way means you are not a good actor, it just means you didn’t fit what the director wanted. Second: Talent is found in all forms; it is not a single commodity, but a wide breadth of building blocks combined in innumerable ways to create a unique performer. In this way, let it be said that no actor is ever untalented, or that one type of talent is lesser than any other.