Mechanical Acting – Spotlites Actor Blog

I’m an actor for Spotlites and I am a fan of Star Trek. I grew up alongside Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was airing everyday on Sky One at 5pm and would be one of the programmes that I most looked forward to when I got home from school.

I could geek out about Star Trek TNG all day (certainly for all of this blog!), but to give it a performing arts tilt, I’d like to talk about Data. For the uninitiated, Data is an android (humanoid robot) whose raison d’etre of the series is to become more human. To this effect, he undertakes a lot of the shows more creative scenes. For example, he takes art, makes pottery, plays multiple parts on the Holodeck, and undertakes acting. In one episode, he tries out Prospero from Shakespeare’sThe Tempest’ and Captain Picard tries to give him some advice on how to act the role.

Spotlites Data from Star Trek pic

Data from Star Trek

This got me thinking about Mechanical Acting (no pun intended on Data). Mechanical Acting is where an actor has found truth in a role, put in the process of doing it several times, that truth has either been lost or is diluted. Movements and expressions that once had great fluidity and meaning to them become rehearsed, stale and remembered.

It’s perfectly natural to become Mechanical. Let’s say that you’re playing Prospero who is faced with an enormous betrayal by his brother and the imminent departure of his daughter Miranda with her new beloved. Feelings of hurt or loss aren’t nice – most of us spend our time trying not to feel them because they unbalance us. So imagine the cost of having to rectify those feelings on cue night after night for many months, sometimes twice in one day. Mid way through the run, you’d be a paranoid wreck!

So the brain, or your psyche, begins to defend itself. When we get hurt in everyday life, our skin toughens. When someone is mean or cruel to us the very first time, it hurts incredibly, but as we gain experience in life we learn to cope. Emotions that were once unbearable become easier for the brain to process the more often we experience them. Therefore, if an actor tries to feel the same emotions again and again, it becomes like continuously photocopying a photocopy. This is bad, because actors are paid to provide emotion, to give the audience truth. If the actors aren’t providing the same level of humour or sadness on the last night as they were on the first, it’ll be noticed. Then that actor doesn’t work again.

So, to keep it fresh and avoid becoming stayed, actors need to find lots of different stimuli which can lead to their emotions. It’s a challenge to “keep it fresh” but the sign of an actor who understands the long haul, not just the one-time phenomenal performance. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you’ll give a performance that speaks to people’s souls, but you’ve got to be able to pull the mind out of its comfort zone when it’d really like an evening off.

At Spotlites where I work as an actor, I try everything I can to not be mechanical.


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