The What, The Why and the How

The What, The Why and the How

I see so many actors in a rush, looking to technically execute what they think others will want to see.  They second-guess what others will find interesting, instead of using their own imaginations to tell the truth as they, themselves, experience it.  Simply put, they have forgotten the WHAT and the WHY. 

In acting class, I like to start with “WHAT are we doing?”  There’s silence and then usually, someone says, “You mean…with our lives?”  Ha!  Yes!  What are we doing with our lives, sure, but what are we doing when we act?   

I then ask…“WHY are we doing it?”

And finally, (and only after WHAT and WHY), “HOW do we do it?”  Ah yes!  The reason we take acting class – HOW do we act?!

So often, actors want to jump to the HOW?  But it’s the WHAT and the WHY that bring us to our deepest work.  The what and the why points us in the right direction.  And when we know what we’re doing, we have a newfound freedom. We have permission to enter into creativity and the work of the imagination.  We move forward into the unknown with confidence and purpose.

WHAT ARE WE DOING?  We’re telling stories about the human condition.  We’re telling stories about people who have deeply-imbedded values, who are up against great odds, getting painfully crushed by obstacles and conflict in the name of self-preservation.  And when we tell stories, we’re saying, “This is the truth.  This is how life is.”    

WHY ARE WE DOING IT?  Because humans need to see their personal truth mirrored back to them.  This life needs to make sense, life needs meaning.  What are my limits?  What is my potential?  How do I experience the complexities that make up my life?  We need a shared understanding of ourselves and the world. 

HOW DO WE DO IT? teaches us to execute specific skills. It requires the artist to become a technician.  Actors must learn to tell the truth from a specific point of view, under imaginary circumstances.  The How teaches us technical skills that will deliver that truth to our audience. 

The WHAT, the WHY and the HOW are all important, but one is lost without the others.  The sum will be greater than its parts. 

I like this quote by Edward Hopper, “No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination.”  I believe it’s through your unique imagination that your best work will be made. 

For all actors, I hope you are both creative artists and technicians.  Creative artists engaged in a deep conversation with your WHAT and your WHY, and a brilliant technician with a fierce range of expressiveness.  Never forget, it is necessary to nurture this beautiful partnership to have an impact with your work. 

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