Monday, May 5, 2008

The Cult of the Impossible

When I was 20 years old, after my sophomore year of college, I took part in the SITI Company's summer intensive, which takes place every May/June at my college - Skidmore College.

At some point during this summer, some member of the SITI Co., maybe Anne, maybe someone else, forgive my faulty memory, imparted unto me the idea of the "intention of the impossible." Which I have taken to mean is the goal of all theater.

Mind you, I do mean the INTENTION of the impossible, and not the brining of this intention to fruition, for that truly is, as the phrase suggests, IMPOSSIBLE.

You do not become a Jet when you act the part in West Side Story; Peter Pan does not exist and, sadly, no one can fly without the aid of mechanics. You simply do not, from curtain to curtain, become another person - your chromosomes and heart defects and gap-toothed grins stay, relatively speaking, as they are, as they have been from the day you were born.

HOWEVER, you can lie. You can say you are thin when you are fat, you can say you are tall when you are short, and you can say you are a man when you are a woman. And if you say it with complete intention, if, as any good con knows, you believe your own lie first and foremost, then others will believe it too. Simply put - if you intend the impossible, others will achieve it for you out of sheer belief.

But let me toss you a slight curve ball:
When you train with the SITI Company, as I was remembering on the subway today, and bear in mind I haven't trained in some years, and as I have already proven, memory often fails, but as I remember, this idea of the intention of the impossible is part and parcel of Suzuki and Viewpoints training as well. But here's the thing that got me puzzling on the subway: Suzuki is approached with zealot-like exactitude, that seems to beg you, as the author of your training, not to intend the impossible but to actually achieve it. And so I recall getting caught up in not being able to do it "right," which is indeed impossible, and so I don't think I ever performed as well as I could.

I guess what I'm really talking about it is that it does you no good to worry over being right. Impossibility is an arationality (cheers, Professor Stone-Richards) that we approach but never achieve in theater, and we build a rational system off this intention. So too, perhaps, in all walks of life. Do not fret over your rightness, for you are bound to be wrong...most of the time. Open yourself to the very impossibility that you gain more truth in wrongness than rightness.

Looney Tunes' The Rabbit of Seville

Salvador Dali & Luis Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou

Banana Bag and Bodice's The Sewers


Sacha said...

Dear Risa,

I know that you believe that art/theatre should be the initiation of a conversation with the viewer, and so i thought I'd "respond" to this post.

Trivial things out of the way first:

1. you wikipedia-link all over yourself.

2. you should make links that open a new tab so that the world wide web doesn't escort us away from your blog and erase our memories.

Okay. now i wax philosophical. and not a bit argumentative.

After a first reading of this post, something didn't sit quite right with me. It took until after the third and fourth to finally understand what irked me.

What stands in conflict is this comparison between INTENT and BELIEF. They don't carry the same definition and yet are used interchangeably. You mention that the concept is the "INTENTION of the IMPOSSIBLE," and then go on to say that as an actor, you believe your own lie, implying that in order to exact the "intention of the impossible" philosophy, you need to BELIEVE in the impossible.

A good con artist does not believe his own lie; a deluded person does. Which, I suppose, is what an actor does. He deludes himself into believing what he's portraying. He's not conning the audience--acting is a far more pure endeavor than trickery. The viewer isn't TRICKED into caring for the protagonist or hating the antagonist. The viewer's pathos is coaxed by the actor.

Isn't that the point, though? To PERSUADE the audience to believe in him? If he's deluding himself into becoming a thin person when he is fat, a woman when he is a man, and so on, then he is consequently also deluding the audience. And by deluding the audience, isn't he doing it "right"?

Risa, it seems as though the problem you had/have with your performance in SITI was not due to a lack of ability or talent or training but, simply put, a lack of self confidence. You were so caught up in the fact that the very philosophy you were attempting to act out was contradictory that you forgot that that was the purpose of the exercise.

Like Baudelaire's vision of "l'idéal," it's known that you never reach this impossible state of perfection. But in trying, you discover new avenues of exploration. I'm getting wordy. I mean that in constantly "intending the impossible--telling yourself you can achieve perfection whilst simultaneously knowing it's total crap--you do touch it in some way. And the audience can tell and wants to come along for the ride.

There's a great passage in Philip Pullman's "The Subtle Knife" (have you read it? cause you really really should), wherein a character is attempting to concentrate on a difficult task while in great pain. His friend Lyra says to him that he has to ACCEPT the pain and in some way DIRECT it into his concentration. He has to say to himself, "Yes, it hurts, but I can't do anything about it and right now I have to concentrate." So what I'm getting at is that you were right to doubt your ability to do it "right." But you let that stop you instead of letting it guide you back to itself.

So that's that. ..I may or may not have just blogged.


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